Futurezone Mediapolis: Introducing a Virtual Esports Studio

Keho Intercative took part in an event called Futurezone Mediapolis: Eports organized by Yle in Tampere on May 4th, 2018. The main theme of the day was esports (electronic sports; competitive gaming using PC or console games) and its future in Finland. Esports has yet to establish a visible presence in Finland but elsewhere in the world esports tournaments can inspire the same kind of hype as for example the FIFA World Cup or Ice Hockey World Championships: the big stars compete intensively against each other, the arena is packed with fans, the commentator’s compelling coverage follows every twist and turn in the game, and finally the winning team raises the trophy in the air as the crowd cheers under a confetti rain – and then back to the studio.

During breaks and after the game expert studio hosts analyse the course of the game as well as the performances of individual players as they would in any other sports broadcast. At the Futurezone event Keho Interactive introduced a virtual studio set it had created specifically for this occasion by using AR-technology. During a live stream Yle’s reporter Otto Rönkä and director Rami Pohjalahti showcased a variety of possibilities offered by the virtual studio to the audience. In reality both Rönkä and Pohjalahti were sitting and moving around in the virtual studio’s green room, but instead of green walls the audience got to marvel at a fully-functional studio environment.

Otto Rönkä and Rami Pohjalahti preparing for the live stream.

Keho Interactive is focused specifically on developing virtual studio techniques. Only one TV-camera was used in this particular studio but it’s possible to use multiple cameras to get different camera angles. The lens’s optics are modelled into a virtual lens which will play them in virtual camera that moves in the game engine thus creating a 3D-image. The game engine transfers the image to the mixer which combines the virtual image to the video stream. This is how the actions in front of the green screen – such as the speech and movements of the hosts – are repeated in the virtual world in real time. One can also use virtual light to enliven the stream by creating shadows which makes it practically impossible to tell the difference between a virtual studio set and a normal studio set.

From the virtual studio…

…to the big screen. This is how the magic happens.

In addition to sound it is also possible to add data to the studio Keho Interactive introduced here. This makes it possible to replay parts of the game, add informative interactive graphics, focus on certain players and analyse the progression of the game with the help of various maps. Some of these possibilities were explored during the studio demonstration: virtual player images, a map view of the game from above showing the players’ movements in the field, and a video stream from a real esports tournament as a part of the studio analysis. The video material was from the Counter Strike: Global Offensive -tournament held in Cologne in 2016. Yle broadcasted the tournament in its entirety on Yle Areena and the best bits on TV2.

Esports isn’t some small-scale entertainment for the gamer enthusiasts – at the Cologne tournament mentioned above the participants were professional teams from around the world and the prize was a million euros. The global revenue of the esports business is close to a billion dollars. It has more than three hundred million viewers and the number is growing rapidly as the sport is beginning to attract viewers other than just gamers. There was a wide range of discussion at the Futurezone event regarding the financial aspects of esports, as well as the prospects of bringing the sport to Finland possibly in the form of a national league or perhaps by hosting international tournaments here.

Yle has been broadcasting esports for the last four years and its intention is to invest even more heavily into this. The virtual studio set is also a significant part of Yle’s future – this technology makes it possible to put together a broadcast where a part of the TV crew is on location at the tournament while the actual stream along with the studio set are created in Tampere. The goal is to turn esports broadcasts into versatile high-quality entertainment that everyone can enjoy. Yle’s producer Juha Lahti hinted during his opening speech that great things would happen come fall.

Counter Strike: Global Offensive

The undisputed advantage of a virtual studio is that it can always be modified to fit the theme without physical limitations – the sole limit is human imagination. In addition to the informative graphics, some razzle-dazzle can also be added to the mix. This way one gets both useful tools for analysis and eye-candy in the same package. In the future it’s likely that the hosts and viewers will be able to influence the broadcasts in real time, for example through the visualization of social media big data – there could be graphically presented information on the screen about which player hashtag is trending at that moment and how the situation varies. As the Yle Sport’s Head of Sports Rights and Partners, Robert Portman, said at the end of the event: we are living in interesting times.

In the spirit of the event, Yle and Keho Interactive in cooperation launched a competition which challenges the participants to execute their own vision of a virtual esports studio set with the Unreal Engine. Rönkä and Pohjalahti already had the opportunity to contemplate their own theoretical plans for a studio set: a 3D game field portrayed from above where the characters would look the same as they do in the actual game, or a possibility to “step inside” the game to analyse it. What kind of a studio would You create? More information about the competition can be found here (in Finnish).

The CEO of Starsquad Event Ltd Joel Harkimo addressed the prospects of esports events in Finland without forgetting the most important meaning of the day.

 

Written by Johanna Honkonen

Photos: Johanna Honkonen