VR Fitness Insider Podcast – Episode 10: Rezzil

Welcome to the latest episode of the VR Fitness Insider Podcast! Today, we have Andy Etches on the show, who is the founder and sports director of Rezzil, a market leading VR training and cognitive development tool for elite football. Andy and his team are true pioneers of VR fitness and have partnered with some of the largest brands with sports. We're excited to have Andy on the show to share his team's learnings with you.

Welcome to the latest episode of the VR Fitness Insider Podcast!

Today, we have Andy Etches on the show, who is the founder and sports director of Rezzil, a market leading VR training and cognitive development tool for elite football. Andy and his team are true pioneers of VR fitness and have partnered with some of the largest brands with sports. We’re excited to have Andy on the show to share his team’s learnings with you.

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Episode 10 – Rezzil

Preston Lewis: [00:00:00] Welcome to the VR Fitness Insiders podcast, for the creators who are building the future of the VR and AR sports and fitness industries that will revolutionize the way the world will play sports, work out and get fit with your hosts. Preston Lewis and Ryan DeLuca, the founders of Black Box vr, who are building the world’s first full fitness VR gym and bring decades of experience from creating some of the largest fitness technology companies in the world.

They’re bringing together the best and brightest minds to help you and your company succeed in the VR fitness revolution.

Alright, welcome to the VR Fitness Insider Podcast. Today we have Andy Etches on the show, who is the founder and sports director of Rezzil, a market leading VR training and cognitive development tool for elite football. Andy, thanks so much for being here with us.

Andy Etches: No problem. Thank you for having me.

Preston Lewis: Well, let’s dive right in. Why don’t you give us a quick history of Rezzil and just how you first got into VR.

Andy Etches: Rezzil started about six and a half years ago. Nearly seven, coming onto at the end of this year. Its origins [00:01:00] lie in two projects that I was working on, on my own and my co-founders, Gareth and Adam were working on, which is a fun experience product. They asked us to come into the office to take a look at what they’ve built and I think it sounded interesting. So came in, had a look, and basically from there, together, we’ve built this unbelievable app that can get people to train at home in the same way as some of the top athletes in the world.

Preston Lewis: Do you mind explaining a little bit more about when your co-founders and you first met and we’re looking at the VR fan experience and what your insights were?

Andy Etches: Adam was developing this fun experience and he reached out to me on LinkedIn and basically said, “do you wanna come and take a look at what we’ve built?” Obviously, because we’ve got a lot of contacts in sport and maybe we could find a way to work together to grow it. And went into the office for it and was initially blown away. Could see great potential in it for more than just a one-off fan hit. I think altogether, you know, we saw the opportunity to build something that has meaning[00:02:00] and can really take people on a journey. Whatever their goal is in sport. Whether that is to become a World Cup winning goalkeeper, like one of the players who uses Rezzil. Or whether it’s a kid in a bedroom, who just starting out and wants to learn how to train like that world cup winning goalkeeper, or train like an NBA starting point guard and build up that kinda journey on their own.

Over the years, that’s what we’ve been doing. Working with some of the biggest names of sport, doing proper research. We’re not just making this up when we say it works. This is years of intensive research, years of testing with actual athletes, with kids, with professionals across the world. Basically, it’s one of the most in depth solutions you’ll find.

Ryan DeLuca: It just makes me think you know, I remember when it used to be, like, if you didn’t have a coach nearby, you know, back in the eighties, you know, you couldn’t, you just couldn’t get coaches like this. Right? And then eventually we could get, like, video cassettes that you could buy, like, through mail order. Then eventually it was like the internet, “now I could, like, actually, like, read things and talk to people.” And then [00:03:00] YouTube. And now I’m, like, so jealous of kids today. You want to become a great football player, you know, like, you’re watching at the World Cup? You could put the headset on and you get training in such an immersive way in your own home. It’s actually unbelievable.

Andy Etches: That’s exactly it. It’s one of those things that I wish I could have done as a kid, and getting into a sport that you might not have tried as well. You know, traditionally, when you look at the US and the UK, for example, obviously not many people in the UK play American football and not a great amount of people in the US play soccer.

And getting into those sports, at that distance where it’s not the norm, can be quite difficult, because there’s no access to coaches, like you said. There’s no access to training fields or sometimes, you know, there’s no access to equipment like the balls. And Rezzil can give you that first step. To get in and learn about the game, and learn about the sport. And even try to build up confidence to eventually pick up the real sport and get going in there. It’s great for kids these days. The opportunities are just endless.

Ryan DeLuca: So I mentioned kids, obviously that’s a [00:04:00] great audience for Rezzil. What other type of people use Rezzil? Like, what would you describe the audience has been, and has there been any surprises about the type of people that are really engaging with the experience?

Andy Etches: So we always came in it from a top-down view. That’s how we wanted to make sure that we were delivering the right kind of experience. And a validated real experience.

So we always knew that we were gonna start at the top with some of the biggest teams in soccer. Like, our first team was Manchester United. And then over half of the teams at the Premier League use Rezzil currently, which is pretty much all of them to be fair. I think there’s forty odd teams globally who are currently using it at that top end. And all the learnings that we get from them, we’re trying to bring that through to kids at home. You know, I keep trying to draw that direct line between what a player’s doing at the stadium or at training ground, and then what a kid who’s just starting their journey can do. Because that is what we’ve always wanted to do. We’ve always wanted to draw that line directly between those two opposite ends of the spectrum.

What’s really been surprising for us is the [00:05:00] amount of people who picked it up just as a purely fitness product. We’re trying to make some real physical demands out of you by the movements that we, kind of, put you through and the movement patterns that we’re trying to make you do. It obviously has, like, a reasonably decent calorie burn. And that whole fitness, and pure fitness, element of Rezzil is what’s really taken us by surprise. Because the amount users out there who are doing that are pretty high. We’ve actually spent a lot of time doing research into that side of the game as well.

We’ve got metabolic rate analyzers in the office that we use to actually work out, you know, what games are given the greatest calorie burn, and how we can expand on that. You should see more detail on that over the course of the next year. But we are pretty confident that we’re one of the highest calorie burning games on the market, just because of the unusual movement patterns that we push into users.

Ryan DeLuca: You know, we all wanna be a superhero. And I’m 45 now, so I think I probably am not gonna be able to become an American football player. Like, you never know with biotechnology. I’m [00:06:00] still crossing my fingers, you know? But just, there’s still something about us that, like, wants to, like, live that life and pretend you can do, kind of, more boring fitness experiences. Or I can be training like some of the top Manchester United players and, you know, actually doing things that feels like I am that hero out on the field while burning calories and getting a great workout. That’s really cool to hear.

Andy Etches: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s the main difference as well, you know, that kind of feeling like you’re doing it is what makes it real. You know, we use really simplistic methods to, kind of, make you feel pressure or game style pressure. Well, they work and they really get you engaged. You know, they’re good enough to be scalable. So that, you know, we’ve got, I think four starting quarterbacks in the NFL using it as a pregame warmup. And they’re using it in rehabilitation. Most people don’t know that, because we don’t have a license, so we don’t talk about it that much. But that is something that’s out there and it’s happening. And you can, you know, me, I’ve never really thrown an American football in my life. But I can get that same kind of training [00:07:00] experience in a different way, and I’m using it as fitness. But a kid, you know, at high school is looking to get that extra bit of validated cognition training that is, let’s be honest, that’s the difference between the players these days. And, you know, Rezzil’s the perfect way to kinda build on that.

Preston Lewis: I think that’s so cool. I mean, thinking back to, you know, the high school football days as well as the, you know, college track and field days.

I don’t know how you would be able to train. I was a pole vaulter in college. I don’t know how you’d be able to train pole vault with this. But maybe football and…

Ryan DeLuca: I can see that in the living room. It’s, like, what does that guy doing? With the controllers on it.

Preston Lewis: Yeah, that’s a fail in many ways to happen. I mean, high school, yeah, it’s all about the reps, right? Especially when you’re playing a skilled position like quarterback or something like that. We always say it’s tough to get out there and get all the team members out there, everyone running their exact route. Having the energy to do it full speed. Game speed, right? Because game speed versus practice speed is also another thing you always hear, right? So, really, really cool to hear you can get those those [00:08:00] reps in a much more accessible way in your living room for sure.

Andy Etches: One of the things that we look at is where we say, “increase your chances of success.” Rezzil will increase your chance of success. We were asked the question a few years ago by a, let’s call it, a giant sports brand. Take a wild guess who it is. And they were asking, there’s a pivot point in a young athlete’s life where they could be a running back, they could be a sprinter or they could be a basketball player, and they’d have a great chance of success in all three. But the chance of success in one of those would be greater than the others. But let’s say they’re equally quick, so obviously that gives them good advantage in two sports, and then they’re technically gifted a good advantage in another sport. But what the difference is, it’s generally gonna be how they think from a mental level. Super reaction time or ability to track fast moving objects, or ability to think quickly from an unpredictable stimulus.

If you could tell that kid, you know, your chances of becoming a professional basketball player increased by thirty percent, as opposed to being a sprinter. Then all of a sudden there’s some gold there for that kid. [00:09:00] You know, their life could be changed by the decision. And hopefully, you know, we’re trying to deliver little bits like that, you know? To say, “if you are thinking in this way, you’re gonna be excelling at whatever sport it is that you’re doing in Rezzil.”

Ryan DeLuca: You know, you think about getting warmed up for a sporting event, and of course you’re thinking about, you know, warming up muscles, but really, getting your brain ready is such a big part of it, too. You know? So like, you might be, like, shooting around in basketball and getting motor skills, kind of, connected and that kind of stuff. But, like, the reaction times and making sure your brain is ready to go, like, that’s such an interesting, different way to think about getting ready and improving. You know? And, like, what’s fun about this, even for the not serious athlete, is improving reaction times and being able to see that you’re athletic ability is improving. It’s, you know, getting that sense of mastery from this like that. And that directly transfers to on-field performance.

Andy Etches: Definitely just the fast thinking. And that is something you can apply in all areas of your life. You’ll feel more confident driving if you’ve got great focus, flexibility. You’ll feel more alert and awake in certain situations.[00:10:00] If it’s good enough to warm up an elite athlete for a game, it’s great to want to start your day with. You know? It’s a good way to get you up and running and get you moving, thinking naturally.

Preston Lewis: Oh, that’s interesting too. Yeah, so even outside of sports, just the mental training. That’s interesting.

Ryan DeLuca: I feel like you need something like this for, like, a therapist, marriage therapist. Like, because if I’m debating with my wife, I need that facts fast mental reaction time, you know? Cause then usually later, “she got me on that one.”

Preston Lewis: Have you met some of your childhood heroes with being able to connect with Manchester United, and being able to meet all these teams and see them use your product? That’s gotta be pretty cool.

Andy Etches: Yeah, there’s definitely a benefit and a cool element of knowing that, well, our team has made a difference to my favorite team. That is always nice to see. It has it’s downsides; we also work with other teams, our rival. You know, and then you see that they’re doing well and you know that they use us as well.

I know that we can turn on the TV [00:11:00] and we can see, you know, an NBA player, I know that guy uses Rezzil. There’s an NFL player, I know that guy uses Rezzil. Just won the World Cup, goalkeeper, I mean Martinez, he uses Rezzil.

And they’re not using, not all of them anyway, are using our private athlete stuff. They’re using the same game that you can buy on the Quest or the PlayStation. That’s the big thing here. This is very accessible.

Ryan DeLuca: I think there might be a chance for me. I think I still might be able to make it to the pros.

Andy Etches: You never know. We can’t say the names, but in our leaderboards there are, like, some top players in the leaderboards. Especially in the goalkeeper one. They’re in there under pseudonyms, or in there under their coaches’ trainer’s names.

But, you know, Emi Martinez is in there. You’ll find goalkeepers from Manchester United in our leaderboard. From Juventus. There’s definitely a couple of quarterbacks from the NFL in the pocket game. It’s crazy, you know? That they’re in there and there’s kids are in there, you know? Some of them are doing really well.

Ryan DeLuca: Describe a little bit more about what type of experiences are in Rezzil. Like, what type of sports? Just a [00:12:00] quick overview of the type of experiences that you could expect when you put on the headset.

Andy Etches: I think we start at the bit I always demo first, and that is our Reaction Wall. So the Reaction Wall is basically a BlazePod system. So reaction lights that light up and you hit the light straight away. The big difference between us and going out and buying some BlazePod lights is that you’re limited to six sets of, well, six lights with a BlazePod set.

Whereas with Rezzil you can click a button and all of a sudden these nine lights that are in front of you all of a sudden wrap around you, or they come on and they’ve gotta hit the ceiling light and a floor light to promote a lot more agility. We can add confusion in there, so your left hand can only hit a blue light. Your right hand can only hit a red light. We can make them move to give you a target to hit. All kinds of things like that. So it’s a really expandable and modifiable version of what is a well-established training system. So that’s always number one.

Then we look at things like heading, so obviously soccer heading. At the moment we can only do upper body, but that’s not always gonna be [00:13:00] the case. But as we’re a football business predominantly, we focused on heading, for two reasons. One, it’s a hot topic in sport, especially in football, at the moment, around concussion and repetitive head injuries. And kids learning how to head the ball. Thankfully, a lot of the damage is done in training. So some kids might head the ball fifty times a week in training, but they’ll only head the ball four times in a game maximum. How can we teach that skill in VR without any impact and get the same benefit? I’m pretty certain there’s gonna be some research coming out soon that will show that you can actually become a better header of the ball by training in VR.

And then you would do is if you were training with a real ball, which is insane when you think about it. That is, you know, the second part of the game. So if you train in Rezzil, how to head a ball, you’re gonna be a better header of the ball than someone who trains in the real world. Which is brilliant, because that means you can beat all your friends and you don’t get any of the pain that comes with it.

Goalkeeper training, so the goalkeeper stuff basically is a game that we developed with a Premier League Goalkeeping [00:14:00] team. They had an issue where they were like, ” we use these deflector boards in the actual training game, and the ball comes in and it bounces off a board.” And they’ve gotta, obviously, react to it because it’s an unpredictable flight path. And we’ve replicated that in VR. They wanted it, because they wanted to reduce injuries, because these balls in the Premier League are coming nineteen miles an hour, so it hurts. Obviously you cannot do that so many times. So, we can do it in VR and they can just react to it without actually risking hurting themselves. You then, at home, can do exactly that same game. So you’re getting all that training benefit. You’re obviously not gonna get hurt, you should be able to learn the same way as some of the top players in the world.

Then we’ve got a basketball vision game. This is the one that most people find the most physically challenging. So this has got a really high calorie burn compared to pretty much any other VR game, because we’re not just challenging basic movement. We’re making you move two, two hands at once as opposed to a single hand. And you’ve got a wide range of motion, plus you have to sometimes, like, jump left and right and duck and do all [00:15:00] kinds of things. It’s a rhythm game. But there’s concentration in there, so all the time an important skill, not just in basketball, but any sport, is to be able to see in your mere medium of far vision at the same time as tracking what’s happening on directly in front of you. So, not just peripheral, but, like, central near vision. In basketball, it’s a really important skill. Sort of the top of the key and someone’s making a run down the back, you need to be to see them, but also see what’s happening in front of you, and react to what’s happening in front of you. And Hoops does that in a really entertaining and really high paced way. It’s probably one of our most popular games.

And then finally we’ve got two NFL games. One is a straightforward the object downfield, throw the ball into that field. But we make it more complex as the drills progress to basically work on timing, to work on concentration. So you’re not learning routes here, you’re learning the on the line of skills that enable you to play at the top level. Which are [00:16:00] concentration, movement tracking, speed tracking, object tracking, timing, working out confusion, various things like that. And then finally, we were asked by an NFL team to develop a game, not too dissimilar to the way we approach the goalkeeping side of things, but to work on pocket training. Where, again, sometimes they’re throwing sticks. The quarterback, whilst they’re running, again, they were looking for an injury-free way to train like pocket stimulus. And we put that in the game. We’ve made it available to everybody. It’s a really cool game. It’s very fast paced. Again on hard, it is so hard. I’ve got a video, unfortunately we’re not allowed to share it, but I’ve got video of a quarterback in the NFL doing it. And he makes it look so easy. He’s just basically gliding from left to right, but when any normal person does it, they just go manic. And that’s, you know, the difference we’re trying to make. you that kinda serene, you know, swan-like movement they have. And is how you learn it. You learn it through these kinda activities.

Preston Lewis: So [00:17:00] what types of feedback do you get from members? So anything that’s surprised you?

Andy Etches: We’ve got some really good feedback. And we’ve tried to implement any kind of constructive criticism where we can. So the game has evolved not just from athlete input, but also from general public input. You know, sometimes we’ve found that we needed to be a little bit more playful in the way that we approach some of the games. There’s more entertainment in them than there would normally be. We’ve managed to implement a whole bunch of training and competitive training into there. So every month we run a challenge system, which basically has loads of prizes to give away, some cash prizes as well.

And people are competing on that, because what people were feeling was not just, you know, “I’m doing well against myself, but I wonder know how I’m doing against the world.” And the standardized leaderboards weren’t exactly supportive of that. So what we did was we created our own engine that we can spin up a tournament around an event, or around a sequence of games, and see how the whole world competes against each other on it. You don’t have [00:18:00] to be great at just the headers, you could be good at hoops as well and so on, to see who’s the best overall. That was a really good bit of user feedback and that set us really well for getting people engaged in the game for over a long period of time.

Preston Lewis: How big is your team currently?

Andy Etches: there’s about seventeen of us.

Preston Lewis: Okay, wow. That’s still a nice lean team to be able to bust out these titles, and these mini games, that you call them, these mini training modules. So it sounds like you guys move pretty, pretty rapidly. You have the testing and, kind of, user feedback down. That being said, how do you go about, obviously no product is just kind of a linear path, right? There’s all these iterations and stuff like that. So maybe can you talk a little bit about some of the interesting iterations or challenges that you and the team have encountered? And maybe how you’ve overcome them to create your current experience?

Andy Etches: Throughout our entire organizational history, we’ve always had one goal and that is to bring elite training to the masses. You know, we wanna bring that to the masses, and that has served us really well and it’s something we’ve stuck to. However, it does take us [00:19:00] down lots of different rabbit holes. The good thing is, as you said before, we’ve got an exceptionally great team. Our dev team, everybody who works with us are unbelievably talented, and that enables us to be quite nimble in the way that we approach stuff.

So for us to be able to deal with elite gaming or elite training, we need to be able to read all kinds of different data from different sources. And we built the engine that can import and ingest game data, real game data from Premier Leagues, from the NBA, from the NFL, and recreate game moments that look like the players are moving like they did in that moment and so on.

So we’ve got that kinda detail and fidelity. But off the back end of experiences like that, it helps us learn how to build more meaningful movement patterns, and more realistic movement patterns and more dynamic ways of interacting with it. So that obviously helps us go down there. It’s not necessarily directly fruitful for us from a consumer perspective, but it’s definitely helping to feed into the product itself.

[00:20:00] So that’s, like, an example of a rabbit hole, albeit a lucrative one. Then, you know, we’ve got all kinds of different things that we’re looking at. That’s products in, yeah, products in the mix and in the works at the moment that aren’t even sport related. You know, to try and exploit some of the experiences and the learnings that we’ve taken from the years of development because there’s so much being built in the business that we should do everything that we can to get it out there.

Preston Lewis: Very smart. One of our previous interviews with one of the founders of Golf+ is, kind of this, Real Life Sport right? Aspect of it. You have the Real Life Sport aspect where you’re teaching people how to actually perform. You’re doing this experience in VR, but it’s kind of this mirror of reality, right? And so that’s kind of a cool thing. And correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like that’s, kind of, a nice little rocket fuel for your development. Is the sense that, kind of, you mentioned before, these light patterns. I forget what you called them, but the blaze, blaze lights or whatever.

Andy Etches: BlazePods, yeah.

Preston Lewis: Yeah, BlazePod. Yeah, the fact that you can actually look at what’s being used out there [00:21:00] today and say, “well, wait a minute, like, VR is this amazing technology to take that existing solution that’s proven, and backed by science, but requires all this hardware and it’s very limited.” And to be able to, like, take that to the Nth degree is really cool to be able to, kind of, pull those patterns. Um, yeah. Yeah. Really cool.

Andy Etches: Some of the equipment that’s in Rezzil, you would either need a giant football field, American football or soccer. Or a full basketball court. Or a BlazePod system. All of these different, kind of, kinetic movement and stimulus that you would get in a gym or, you know, in a training environment, you’ve got it all in a tiny little headset that you can put in a backpack and take with you anywhere in the world.

There is a reason why teams are traveling with headsets that work with us, you know? And they’re taking it with them because they can just put it on in a changing room before the match or before the game, and just do a quick thirty second warmup that’s gonna prime them. You know, they call it neuro priming, that’s gonna get their brain ready to go. We’ve even got [00:22:00] some people in eSports who are using it just for the same reasons, because obviously, we can give you a shot burst of here’s a thirty second visual warmup that’s gonna get you ready to play.

Ryan DeLuca: So often I’ll see some type of athletic training equipment for sale, like BlazePods, and it’s like, you know, a couple hundred dollars or something and you have to bring them with you. And I’m guessing you have to charge them or they have batteries, you know? I’m like, “yeah man, it’s like with VR that just goes away”, you know? Like you just said, he can bring it with you and I dunno how expensive an American football field is, but to pack that with you, buy that, that’s gonna be way more expensive than a headset. Like, I haven’t done the math fully. But it’s, it’s kinda amazing.

Andy Etches: Yeah, the other side of all is to access to teammates, you know, team sports. A big part of this. You know, one of the federations, I won’t name them, but one of the massive soccer federations that we work with, they are looking at the next generation of people not playing the sport, not playing the physical sport.

And one of the reasons for that is because people can sometimes be a little bit frightened of playing a team sport, because they’re worried [00:23:00] about, you know, what happens if I throw it wrong or what if I kick it wrong? Is someone gonna say something? Or, you know, building up confidence to play is really important and it’s very difficult to do in a team sport environment.

VR is something that you can do that in a way where you practice on your own, build up the confidence, and then go out in the real field. And then you never know, you probably might end up being better, having a distinct advantage, because you can read the game so well or you think faster.

All of these different things that will give you that little edge. There’s a very real benefit to doing it, and it’s being taken seriously by, you know, some of the biggest names out there.

Ryan DeLuca: All I can think about when you’re saying this is either, like, Neo from the Matrix, you know, when he finally downloads all the information and you get to, like, block all the bullets and they end up fighting. And it’s almost, like, imagine this kid that, like, is nervous about playing the game in front of real people. Maybe he’s not that good. He gets made fun of or doesn’t do well. Goes home, takes Rezzil, you know, using his Rezzil for a while. Comes back and now all of a sudden he is got these skills and you know? Or maybe, like, I know Karate Kid One. It’s like, yeah, like them doing wax on, wax off, karate kid. I’m like painting a fence with him. Now I’m [00:24:00] gonna fight some bullies. And all of a sudden, you know, it’s like the sport version of that. I’ve got this amazing skill that I’ve been able to transfer, which is just super fun.

Andy Etches: There’s a legit thing in that, by the way. So elite training systems that we’ve got called Rezzil Index, one of the characteristics you measure is called Dwell Time on the ball. So how long it takes you to receive the ball, control it, find your target, put the ball back in the target. Elite players will go on this and their dwell time’s like half a second. And obviously people who are just starting out, it can be much longer. But the difference is the players who are half a second, it feels like two seconds to them. Because they’ve got this, kind of, like, the world slows down and they read everything so well, and the characteristics that they’ve learned about how to scan the field, see everything around them, take that information in, means that when they actually have the ball, their feet feels like they know everything around them.

You know, for us, we have to take two seconds to look around and make that decision. We’re trying to, kind of, teach you bullet time in sport. You know how to get to that. I see everything and everything [00:25:00] slows down. I get the ball. I know exactly what to do. That is in the pocket game, it’s in there on Rezzil Player.

Preston Lewis: I kind of wanna double click on that, kind of the features that you’re mentioning, right? Previously you mentioned adding, I think leaderboards, you said, certain game elements. You mentioned a little bit on the social aspect, and before I dive too deep into that, are there any specific mechanics that you’ve implemented into the platform that have made the biggest difference for retention to get members to fully engage? Any specific gamification strategies you guys have used?

Andy Etches: One of the big ones is that people can see benefits straight away, you know? So that, in itself, by adding and being careful to make sure that we are making a positive difference, that is a real big way to keep people retained. You know, if you all of a sudden see that I’m getting fitter or I feel better or I’m better at this sport, you’ll keep picking it up. And that doesn’t matter if you are someone at the beginning of the journey exasperational, or if someone who is a top, top player. [00:26:00] Because if you’re gonna be getting better, you definitely would keep picking it up. So that is in there, built in already.

But there’s the less subtle side of things, which are things like our challenges. And we run a weekly, monthly competition. And that is, come in, try these games, see if you can win. And obviously that brings people back every month. Because, you know, like the old archades, you wanna see your name at the top of leaderboard and that leaderboard changes every month. So you need to come back to keep your name at the top. That’s quite non-subtle. We’ve been quite clear about breaking the games down into leaderboards per level, per discipline, per even challenge and so on. So, again, some really clever thinking by the team to get that kind of, um, system running in the game.

Preston Lewis: You’ve also mentioned, I mean, you guys clearly have been very smart about using the hardware, the accessible hardware. Thinking about it with the gamification aspect, combining that also with the real world metrics, like reaction time, dwell time. What other kind of [00:27:00] challenges have you faced in building this, in this product? Whether it’s tech, or just general game learning or product market fit? What kind of challenges have you guys come across?

Andy Etches: I think product market fit is probably the biggest challenge that we have, especially because we started with the pro side of things. Because you go into an elite training facility with a headset and say, “I’m gonna improve your players.” And people look at you like you are crazy. It takes a lot of convincing to make sure that people can see the difference. And, we are, you know, we’re six years old as a business, partly because that takes so long to do, to get people to believe in you and to understand that there is a positive difference. And that is not a small amount of time, an investment to get to that. And we’ve overcome that now and obviously now we’ve started to see the benefits of that, not just for us, but for the people who use the system. So obviously that’s probably our biggest challenge. But then translating some of that into a consumer experience has been, you know, it was quite difficult at the [00:28:00] beginning.

But now we’ve found our feet and we really can transfer, you know, that exciting realism and the benefits that you would get into a consumer product, that it is also having a great impact as well. I think those are our two biggest challenges. One of them I’m pretty confident we’ve all but eliminated, you know, teams are now approaching us. They wanna talk to us, they wanna work with us. Players are picking up the headset at home, you know, even if the team doesn’t have it. I happen to know of a Champions League winning footballer who missed a header in a game, and he went home and practiced on Rezzil Player. That is a real story that’s happening. You know, and it’s only a matter of time before kids who don’t necessarily already have VR equipment are going out buying VR equipment, because they think it’s their path to whatever sport they wanna be successful at.

Preston Lewis: And you just reminded me, one thing I also wanted to, kind of, double down on was what you mentioned about kind of that intimidation factor of getting into a new sport. And I wanted to mention that’s something that we do at Black Box as well, is a lot of [00:29:00] people just going to a traditional gym, they’re worried and they’re super insecure, right? They don’t know what program to do, they don’t know what to lift and stuff like that. And so that’s also been something that we’ve seen that’s been a huge benefit of virtual reality is when you come into Black Box, you go into your own private room, put on the headset, you’re immersed in your own world, no one’s watching you. You have this AI trainer helping you out. So, it seems like that pattern keeps coming up again and again in some of these interviews. And so I think that’s just kind of an important thing for our listeners to consider is that this technology, one of the huge value propositions is the fact that it’s so accessible, has so much potential for growth, and it’s something that you can do in the privacy of your home, or the privacy, you know, of a gym in a private area, I guess. But without the fear of ridicule, without the fear of, as you mentioned before, injury.

Andy Etches: Totally.

Preston Lewis: And being able to learn, right? Being able to have that slow learn versus feeling like you need to come into an experience and know everything day one. So, just wanted to mention that.

Andy Etches: Yeah, exactly, I couldn’t agree more. You know, that’s one of the biggest points [00:30:00] of this, you know, of VR for us is it’s about accessibility. We always talk about athletes and we talk about elite training, but you know, this is a game for everybody. It’s something that anybody can start their journey with. The thing is, we’re just giving you elite training methods. Doesn’t mean it’s gonna be hard to start with anyway. It get harder definitely. But only when you’re ready for it, and that is a big point.

Ryan DeLuca: I think what you all said about the product market fit resonates with us because, like, everybody dealing with VR, just in general, especially like being around six, seven years like you have been, that look of people just thinking like, “this is crazy, like, what are you even talking about?” You know, like, we got that quite a bit. Like we run, like, an Idaho VR Council meeting and people would show up and we were like, “I’m pretty sure some of these people think they’re here for RVs, like, they don’t even know what VR is.”

Luckily, kinda got past some of that. But it’s like with anything new, that’s such a new thing, like, you have to be able to show the benefit. And so like, we’re not gonna switch to some brand new type of phone or something. You know, I’m used to my iPhone, I’m [00:31:00] comfortable with it and it would take a lot for me to switch. And it wouldn’t just be, “oh, there’s a couple little small benefits.” You gotta prove that this is gonna make my life better.

And I think in sports and fitness, it’s even more true, because there’s just the traditional methods which have been going on for a hundred years, you know, for like sport. And you’ve gotta be able to say, you know, “hey, barbells, chalk, in the gym doing these things with the team on the field, that’s what I’ve been taught my whole life, that’s the paradigm that I know and that’s the only one I know, and now you’re trying to tell me there’s different way to workout?” Like, you have to be able to show with data. And what’s so cool is like there’s so many, you alluded, like, university studies and things coming out, and we’ve actually done some UCLA studies showing you can get more fit faster using Black Box VR than a traditional gym.

Or putting people through a ninety day transformation where they only use Black Box VR, like, they did nothing else. And look at the results. Like, we have to struggle so much just to say “it works.” You know? And I think even in our own mind, sometimes it’s like, “oh, I have to go do, like, squats with normal dumbbells and barbells.” And [00:32:00] so I think that’s what you’re saying is, like, you’ve gotta be able to prove it. Like, “look, this isn’t just cooler and more fun, like, this works better.”

Andy Etches: That is it. You know, nobody really questions a lot of stuff, you know? And if you go into, “this is heavier”, for example, let’s go into a gym environment. No one’s really gonna go like, “well, it’s not heavier.” It’s either heavier or it’s not. Whereas we have to go in and go, “this is gonna improve you because it’s so abstract and because it looks so different and it’s a lot more difficult.” But that’s why we’ve come armed with science. We’ve got two PhDs, we’ve got two Masters, we’ve got a team of researchers who look at and spend time with some of the best coaches in the world to get the best training methods from them and to translate that into VR. Then do the research and then present it back to those coaches and go, “here we’ve got this product, that essentially you helped to build.” And you know, there’s no way you can not want it now, because it’s basically your design and it’s been tested. But it’s still a tough path.

Preston Lewis: Well, the good thing is you have those huge [00:33:00] names behind you and the fact that the more momentum that builds the more kind of FOMO, the fear of missing out, people are gonna have. Saying like, “wow, there’s this tool, this very inexpensive tool, backed with PhDs” and I mean, as Ryan mentioned, the whole industry of science behind VR and performance, cognitive and physical is growing. So anyone that doesn’t adopt it, there’s kind of, now this pressure on them, which is good. Because we weren’t in this position six years ago. When we started it was, like, this chicken and egg problem. But now it’s, as you’re mentioning, the Pandora Box of VR fitness and cognitive training using VR technologies is out. It’s open, so gotta adopt it.

Andy Etches: It’s coming. It’s definitely coming. For sure.

Ryan DeLuca: So on that note, part of the goal of this podcast is to help to engage and educate other people that are creating VR sports and fitness experiences, and augmented reality experiences, because we believe that a rising tide lifts all boats and we want to get more of this out there. Because that’ll be great for all of us. So for those people that are creating a sports and fitness experience, in VR, AR, like, what feedback would you give them? What quick [00:34:00] pointers would you give ’em to help them to be more successful?

Andy Etches: I think authenticity wins. That’s the key. You know? Especially if it’s a sports and sports related products. You know, you’ve gotta have some kind of real DNA in there that proves that you are serious about it. Just moving more doesn’t necessarily mean a better experience or a fitness experience. You need to get someone to move in the right way, in a positive way. That would be our biggest, my biggest feedback.

Ryan DeLuca: So at Black Box, we’re very excited about the new, it’s the HTC Vive, self-tracking tracker. And it’s because we believe that’s gonna be really something that’s gonna be useful for us, but that seems like it’s going to be really lucrative.

I think I saw, like, at GDC that you guys had experienced there, where they’re on your feet, you can actually now kick a ball and things like that. What other type of hardware or software improvements do you hope to see? Like, what would be the best for you from a VR standpoint that if you had this hardware, software now you could create a better experience, and that you think will be here in the near future?[00:35:00]

Andy Etches: I mean, for us, obviously as a software-based platform, being able to run foot tracking is a huge deal for us, especially to the level of fidelity that the HTC trackers do. And you know, it’s certainly gonna be a big change for us when that comes out. Anything along those lines in terms of better hardware, more fidelity and so on.

Ryan DeLuca: What are your thoughts on the overall feature of VR, AR, sports and fitness? Like, where do you think it’s gonna go? Like, obviously, you understand where you want Rezzil to go, but where do you think in general sports and fitness AR, VR is gonna go in these next three to five years?

Andy Etches: I think obviously hardware is gonna be a driving factor. Lighter, more fidelity. I think, from experience, this is anecdotal by the way, it’s not based on any kind of anything other than my own personal opinion. I think AR is a great way to get people into the headset, but then the benefits of VR become quite apparent quite quickly in that the distraction of the real world is one of the reasons why you wanna engage with something like that.

So being able to say, [00:36:00] “okay, well here’s a Hit the Lights experience in mixed reality, so you can see the real world around you.” Or if you wanna get the next step out of it, let’s just get rid of the real world and put you in a virtual world where we can control every element and really build people up. That is, you know, I think the next step. Wider acceptance, and it’ll probably come through with better devices. And that’s not far away, is it really? We all know it is an ever changing landscape, so.

Ryan DeLuca: That’s the fun part. It’s always changing, there’s always something new. And new ways to use them, especially if you’re a mission focused company. Like you guys mentioned, bringing elite training to the masses. Every time something new comes out, whether it’s a self tracking tracker or some type of new software capability, that just makes it so you’re able to reach your mission. So on that, last question. What’s next for Rezzil? Like what are you currently working on? What’s the next couple years for Rezzil?

Andy Etches: I got a number of different products in the, um, in the works at the moment. Some of them are, I think, the [00:37:00] most exciting things that people are building in sport. You know, we are really going to blend game data with real at-home experiences. And you know, the ability to experience playing like you would be if you were at the top end of the game. Those kind of experiences are gonna be incredible. Plus, you know, we’re looking at diversifying into different areas of VR as well. We’ve got a part of the business we are focusing on non-sport specific training, like gaming. That is gonna be quite interesting to see what happens there. And, obviously we are just fully behind further research, further development and further products in the space in which we’re very good at it. We consider ourselves to be number one in the sports training space. I don’t think anybody out there could hold a candle to what we really do and how greatly we believe in it. How much time we spend on making it right and making it perfect.

Ryan DeLuca: Can’t wait, can’t wait to see all that play out. I’m very excited about everything you guys are doing. You know, I kind of had this thought in my mind as we’re talking, some data’s gonna be [00:38:00] this, like, viral video of this rural kid and the middle of UK somewhere that didn’t have access to coaches or training facilities, and he used Rezzil and he uses all the other, you know, live coaching experiences that’ll be able to come in the future. Becomes like the first World Cup player that, like, primarily grew up training in VR. Like, that will happen and it’s just a matter of time.

Andy Etches: It’s coming.

Ryan DeLuca: It’s so cool to see.

Andy Etches: Yeah. A hundred percent, it’s coming. You know, we already know the next generation of the talent is using Rezzil. It’s only a matter of time.

Preston Lewis: You’re creating Rezzil to create athletes, basically athletes of the future, using the technology to sharpen their acts, so to speak, to play the real sport. Right? But there is a world where all the things you’re training them with, you’re training them all in VR, where there is a completely virtual version, a completely… a complete eSport of all these exact same skills, where they never even go to the field. Right? Like, these are athletes all over the world. That’s an even more compelling thing.[00:39:00] You have the rural kid that has the headset and that normally would’ve played on the pitch, right? And instead is in the larger league, the league that’s even larger than all the soccer leagues, or the NFL or anything. And that’s the eSport tournament. And that’s kinda the vision we’ve always had at Black Box VR as well. Is like, that we think the future of sports is very heavily in virtual reality, right? Because, like we mentioned before, it’s accessible, it’s using all the same motor skills, it can be way more epic, right? You can have explosions and all these crazy things. You can still have all the fans, you can still have all the spectating. So really interesting to think that you’re currently doing something super futuristic, in using futuristic technology to train these athletes that are still gonna play the quote unquote traditional sports, but the fact that all the tech you’re building could be used for fully virtual sports as well. So that’s very interesting.

Andy Etches: Yeah, absolutely. And I think they are a lot more compelling to the viewer. The thing with eSports is the viewership isn’t always that great, and that’s because it’s quite static to view. Whereas [00:40:00] obviously a VR eSport is way more engrossing to watch, because you’ve got realistic movements and you’ve got, you know, people like to see superhuman feats. Whether that is fast movement or something. It’s always gonna be a draw to people if we can see a future generation of VR athletes.

Preston Lewis: Yeah, and one other question, you mentioned all these different titles that you guys are developing. So, you know, starting with soccer sounds like, because maybe that was your personal passion area. Then going into NFL and football, american football. Seems like, you know, if you have a goalkeeper for soccer, you can have a goalkeeper for hockey as well. You could expand into hockey and all these different things. So for our listeners and viewers, is there any, kind of, way that you decide what to focus on? Because I mean, you could tackle pretty much any sport. How do you guys choose which ones to focus on? Is it the audience raising their hand for it? Is it the partnerships? Is it just kind of your personal, kind of, gut intuition? How do you, kind of, balance those priorities?

Andy Etches: You know, we’ve always been driven by authenticity and saying we can deliver the same experience at [00:41:00] home as you would get in a training facility. So we need the partnerships to begin with. So that tends to be the driver for us. You know, we got into NFL at the request of teams. There’s a video actually that the Atlanta Falcons, Emory SPARC put out a couple of weeks ago, where they’re using our football games in rehabilitation of the American football players, which is quite interesting.

So, you know, there doesn’t always need to be a direct correlation in the sport either. So when you say about a goalkeeper for soccer, training the goalkeeper for hockey, it’s very feasible that you could just step right in and use our Goalkeeping game because it’s doing the same kind of thing. Get your hands to an unpredictable movement. We could obviously flip the environment and alter it to it, but in the way that we are, we’d wanna do it right. So, you know, it would have to be right and it would take a bit of time to research it. But opportunities are there.

And like you say, you don’t have to be an American footballer to use the American football game. And again, I’ve got a video of a Manchester United [00:42:00] goalkeeper doing an American football game. Because they wanted to promote him; more news of him of being on his toes rather than his heels. So it was a great way to get him to alter his stance. Those kinda variances are trained and are quite interesting.

Preston Lewis: Alright, well that’s all the time we have. Thanks so much Andy, for joining us, sharing your team’s story, insights and passion for creating the future of VR Fitness with our audience. For any of you in the audience, if you’d like to get in contact with the team, we’ll put all the info in the show notes, so be sure to check those out. And thanks again.

Thanks for listening to the VR Fitness Insider podcast. Do you know of anyone that should be on our show or have feedback? Don’t forget to email us at podcast vr fitness insider.com and follow us at VR Fitness Insider on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. You can also join our Discord channel. Until next time, keep creating and dreaming up the next big thing that will revolutionize the world of fitness.[00:43:00]

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Preston Lewis
Preston is the Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer at Black Box VR. Preston is a fitness fanatic, UXUI junkie, product design ninja and product visionary. Preston has provided creative direction and product management to some of the largest brands in the world. His passion for amazing products and solving difficult design problems has earned him numerous awards for projects ranging from traditional print campaigns and packaging design, to chart-topping mobile applications with complex information architectures. After helping grow multi-million dollar brands, Preston decided to leap back into the world of entrepreneurship with a mission to combine his passions for technology, games, fitness, and changing lives, to create the future of fitness; with this vision, Black Box VR was born. When he's not creating new digital products and growing brands, he can be found enjoying paleo treats with his wife that she posts on her blog, AmazingPaleo.com, playing the guitar, singing, working out in VR and dreaming up the next tech innovation.