Sports Graphics Forum: As Snow Fell Outside, Turner Sports Talked Red-Hot ELEAGUE to Packed House

Despite blizzard conditions outside, SVG’s Sports Graphics Forum heated up the Microsoft Conference Center in New York City on Wednesday, spotlighting the latest in sports graphics creation and technology – and the industry leaders responsible for bringing those graphics to air – in front of 180 attendees.

The fourth-annual Sports Graphics Forum, which expanded to a full day this year, kicked off with a morning of informative panel discussions that addressed the latest technological advances and creative achievements in broadcast graphics. The afternoon program split into two workshop tracks that offered a deeper dive into Graphics Design/Creation plus Graphics Technology and Augmented Reality.

The highlight of the day was a Keynote Presentation by the team responsible for Turner Sports’ ELEAGUE brand. Turner Sports’ Jordan Shorthouse, Sabrina Llenza, and Zach Bell were joined onstage by The Future Group’s Lawrence Jones to discuss the design, development, and expansion of the ELEAGUE brand to include an ever-growing collection of games; the introduction and integration of augmented reality; and the constant focus on fan engagement.

From left to right: Turner Sports’ Zach Bell, The Future Group’s Lawrence Jones, Turner Sports’ Jordan Shorthouse, and Turner Sports’ Sabrina Llenza

Reflecting on the launch the ELEAGUE – which turns two this year – and the creation of its now-iconic logo, Shorthouse, creative director, emphasized Turner Sports’ desire to build a strong brand that could be extended to other properties as they were acquired. In addition, respecting fan expectations regarding their favorite video games was always top of mind when creating graphics.

“It’s been a challenge designing overlays during game play,” he said. “In some circumstances, we want to try to elevate or embellish the look of some of the graphics, but it’s important that we stay true to the fanbase because they’re used to seeing graphics the way they’re used to seeing them. It’s a process that we have to be very careful with.”

Llenza, design director, echoed Shorthouse when discussing the creation of insert graphics. While eports fans have certain expectations about the look and feel of a game like Counterstrike: Global Offensive or Street Fighter V, Turner Sports was tasked with translating that look and feel for television.

“You want to adapt them as best as you can to make them familiar to the game player, but at the same time, it is TV,” she said. “[Viewers] are not going to be able to read a lot of that stuff if we do it exactly the same way [as the video game], so it’s finding a happy middle ground.”

Last year, Turner Sports began discussions on how the network could take its esports coverage to the next level. Wanting to do more than their current workflow allowed, Turner teamed with The Future Group and, in late 2017, introduced augmented reality to ELEAGUE. Now, fans tuning in to watch games like Street Fighter V or Injustice2 see characters from those games brought to life in studio.

“Our goal for ELEAGUE is to create an amazing experience for the fans, one that we would want to see. But, more importantly, we are creating something that the fans really embrace and engage and connect with,” says Bell, senior CG artist. “When we looked at our workflow it wasn’t able to get us these big dream ideas, and so instead of creating something that lives within the confines of what we had at Turner, we decided, let’s break the mold. Let’s find new solutions. Let’s reach out across the world and talk to a whole bunch of different people and find a way to make these big dreams happen — to take elements and aspects out of the game, bring them into the real world, and have them as if they’re really there.”

The Future Group’s work with Frontier, a 3D visual effects solution, and Unreal game engine led to the creation of augmented-reality characters outside the game. Through an additional partnership with the companies responsible for creating the videogames, Turner Sports and The Future Group were able to create characters that could move, interact with the set, and be viewed from multiple angles.

“We want to place those characters that look a certain way in the game into the real world [and] we want them to look integrated,” says Jones, VP and head of operations, North America, for The Future Group. “We want them to have real lighting, we want them to have real shadows, so it was challenging. I think we did a great job at sort of finding the creative balance… and integrating those characters pretty seamlessly. Even though you know they’re not real, they’re stylistically right there and they’re believably planted in the real world, which is what we wanted to do.”

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