Making it to the Olympics is a bittersweet moment for many athletes: the achievement of a lifetime takes them far away from the friends and family who helped them get to the top. For sisters Marissa and Hannah Brandt, who have played hockey together since they were 5 years old, competing in PyeongChang—for Team Korea and Team USA, respectively—meant two solitary years of training to step onto the ice without their closest supporters in the stands.
But this is 2018, and there are now few distances technology can’t close. The Brandt sisters will have their families with them throughout the Games thanks to Intel, whose new campaign "Experience the Moment" highlights large-scale tech deployments in PyeongChang, the brand’s first Olympic activation. For the Brandts and two other athletes, Intel’s VR technology will keep their relatives closer than ever, and their stories are being highlighted in three Intel spots released over the last week.
"VR is such a powerful way of bringing people together," said Intel VP of Global Creative Direction Teresa Herd. "If they can’t be at the games, this is the next best thing."
Each of the videos tells the story of a young athlete (or in the case of the Brandts, two) and the loved ones whose support made their Olympic competition possible. Chinese short-track speedskater Fan Kexin’s parents, godparents and coach helped bring her from deep poverty to a silver medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, while Japanese snowboarding prodigy Ayumu Hirano’s small village created a network of support for their hometown hero. For Marissa Brandt, who is adopted, qualifying for PyeongChang also meant returning to the country of her birth, where she hopes to reconnect with her birth mother.
"We looked for compelling stories—for us, that is what the Olympics is about," said Herd. "[We wanted] to show people the impact the tech has in the viewing experience and show the marriage of technology and humanity."
To capture these stories, Intel sent a production crew on the road for over 40 days, filming in locations from Minnesota to Murakami, where Hirano grew up. They set up multiple VR sessions for the athletes and their families to talk, and come competition time, VR capture technology will put those families in the stadium to watch the athletes live. They’ll be joined by VR viewers around the globe: PyeongChang is the first Olympics to be broadcast live in VR, with Intel live-streaming 30 events to users of the NBC Sports VR app. For viewers without VR headsets, Intel is also capturing 360° video viewable on smartphones.
With huge crowds and freezing temperatures, PyeongChang is an excellent testing ground for the company’s 5G technology, which they have deployed in the Olympic Village and will use in VR broadcasts. The exponential speed and quality bump up from 4G LTE will fundamentally change the way people watch sports, making these Games the first step in a new viewer experience. "We are ensuring you don’t just witness the moment—you experience the moment," Herd said.
With the Games underway, Intel is continuing the campaign with social updates on each of their featured athletes. Team Korea, and Marissa Brandt with them, were knocked out in the first round of women’s ice hockey on Saturday, although the symbolic significance of their game persists. This morning, Ayumu Hirano qualified third for tomorrow’s men’s halfpipe final. Fan Kexin did not qualify for the women’s 500m final this morning but will compete with the rest of Team China in the women’s 3000m relay next Tuesday.
But regardless of results, Herd said the campaign has been a success at communicating how the brand’s tech and its mission can interweave. "The love and support that goes into making these athletes successful is tremendous," said Herd. "I am so happy we were able to help bring them all a little closer."