By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Ambert Yeung grew up in New Jersey, born to parents that moved to the United States from Hong Kong. Coming from an immigrant background, sports was not in his parents’ mind, but he found success in gymnastics. In light of the shutdown of live events, he spearheaded an online platform, Virtius, that gives fans the ability to see gymnastics performances.
“My parents were classic immigrants,” said Yeung regarding the priorities in a young child’s life. “Education was number 1, sports were cool but that was number 5 behind education (again) as 2 and 3, and music.” In addition to a focus on academics, Yeung played the violin.
He recalled that he started out in gymnastics at the YMCA. With the recognition that he was good at it, Yeung focused on gymnastics as a youth. However, he quit the sport at age 17 after an injury and focused on college. He went west to Stanford and still wanting to be a part of gymnastics, Yeung enrolled in an adult gymnastics class. The head gymnastics coach at the time noticed that Yeung was not like the other people taking the class, and offered him a non-scholarship roster spot on the Stanford men’s team. Yeung was able to compete during his junior and senior years.
“It left a big impression,” said Yeung of his stint with the Stanford gymnastics team. He was able to travel and compete and eventually received a scholarship as a result.
Yeung earned a bachelor of science and master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Stanford. Throughout the course of his career, he spent time as an engineering project manager at Apple and worked in China. He started his own business developing state of the art computer software and applications.
With the pandemic shutdown in 2020, Yeung recognized that the return to sports, specifically gymnastics, would create unique obstacles for family, friends, and fans that would want to watch.
“There are a lot of these sports that don’t have the resources that can capture the video and show it.” Yeung advised that filming gymnastics would be easy with minimal movement of cameras. As a result, Virtius was created. The online competition software, provided to the NCAA and GymACT (Gymnastics Association of College Teams), gave the ability to compete virtually from their respective home gyms. This would address the concern over traveling as none of the athletes would have to leave home.
During the pandemic, the head gymnastics coach at Stanford asked Yeung about ways to help the program. Notably, Stanford cut 11 athletic programs due to the lack of funding. Yeung believes the only reason that gymnastics was not cut was due to the fact that they were National Champions the year prior. But there was a concern that the shutdown would allow for institutions to put an end to athletic programs like gymnastics.
Yeung, who had been ‘playing around’ with filming sports using an iPhone or iPad, believed that he could do something for gymnastics.
He believed that he could produce a product for gymnastics. The concept was to use iPhones to shoot gymnastic performances that occurred in separate venues due to COVID-19. All of the performances would be shown and accessed through the platform’s web site.
“I made this mock up,” Yeung said about Virtius, he was told by his coach that if he could film the meets, he could.
“There was no budget,” Yeung said of his idea-turned reality. He spent three months prior to the start of the gymnastics season doing heavy engineering.
Teams stream their gymnastics routines utilizing the platform, and compete in the same lineups as they would in any traditional meet. Judges would score the routines live from anywhere in the country, and immediately submit it in real time. Each team had an in-person meet referee present to ensure all competition standards were met. The scores and results of these meets hold the exact same weight as any in-person competition.
There was no charge for viewing the competitions.
There were some obstacles at the beginning. Without an actual crew on site, an individual had to be in charge of placing the iPhone in the correct area. There was detailed pre-planning for every event and they have modeled sites in CAD (computer-aided design) to ensure that they were aware of the space they will be shooting. Still, practical issues persisted, including people bumping into the iPhone, knocking it away from the action, and batteries running on empty.
But the product was fine.
“We used iPhone 11s on everything and the picture quality was amazing in video,” the former Apple employee said. “We wanted to simplify and standardize the stream. Quality and consistency of angles were important, as well as the reliability of the stream.”
Personal iPhone 11s were used at each venue and despite the reliance on a personal cellular phone, they were never hard to find. They attached the phones to consumer grade tripods and told the person at the venue to just hit record and let it go.
The extremely low-budget endeavor produced quality content and was well-received by those that viewed the stream. They were able to get gymnastics experts to come onto the stream and talk about what they saw after an event, which added to the content.
Past the pandemic, Yeung sees the company continuing with streaming, and hopes the platform can facilitate live scoring, streaming, and judging.
“Virtius for the future will be focused on delivering high quality virtual based competitions by introducing new formats of play and by expanding to other parts of the sport that could benefit from the increased opportunity for competition.”
Yeung said, “Virtius is open to continuing to pilot with [the NCAA], and to evaluate more broadly how our product and service benefits each sport in their entire ecosystem, not just at the collegiate level.”
Visit Virtius at virti.us.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.