Turner Adds AR Sizzle to Rocket League Broadcast
Fans can watch live coverage on Twitch or ELEAGUE.com or edited version on TBS
There are three ways to catch the action from the ELEAGUE Cup: Rocket League 2018 tournament. Fans can tune in to live coverage of the entire three-day event on Twitch or on ELEAGUE.com starting today, or, if they can stand the wait, they can view an edited and produced version of the event running on TBS on four consecutive Fridays starting Dec. 7. Whatever fans choose, they’ll get a show enhanced by augmented reality, with rocket cars driving through the arena. That should ramp up the excitement level a few notches.
Rocket League, created by Psyonix, is one of the most popular titles in competitive video gaming. Teams play soccer with flying rocket cars, and, yes, there are explosions. Las Vegas hosted the sixth Rocket League World Championship last month. With 52 million players around the world, it’s one of the rare games with longevity. ELEAGUE, created by Turner and IMG in 2016, is one of the leaders in multigame esports production.
The prize for this weekend’s ELEAGUE Cup is $150,000, and, for the first time, Turner is turning the entire physical stage into a digital arena. AR cars and balls will roll by as the teams compete. Although spectators at the Atlanta arena won’t see the AR, fans and casters (the hosts calling the action) — plus anyone looking through a monitor — will.
“One of the fun things we’ve had with the AR is the audience reaction to it, or even the caster reaction to it,” says Ben Winter, interactive coordinating producer, Turner Sports. “We literally had one caster jump up out of their seat with joy seeing their favorite creations, their favorite characters, their favorite game components come to life here in the studio. So I’m looking forward to getting the reaction of the fans, the casters, the players when they see that AR, when they see those cars, when they see that ball up on the stage like it’s real life.”
What makes Turner’s AR different from standard onscreen graphics is the way it lives in the physical space and seems to exist in three dimensions. Unlike an overlay, these AR elements aren’t static. As cars move, for example, they’ll increase or decrease in size to give the illusion that they’re really there. AR is a natural fit for esports, since the digital elements already exist; it’s simply up to the production team to bring them into the broadcast. Turner’s production team is practicing with the AR elements to ensure that they seem like part of the physical space.
Once the event is over, Turner editors will choose the best moments and stories to create the four-part TBS production. The first episode will be Rocket League 101, a perfect introduction to anyone new to esports, with the next three episodes focusing on the three-day tournament. Hardcore fans can catch the live streams; Turner expects the TV production to convert new fans.
During the event, producers will capture the action with the ELEAGUE Arena’s Sony HDC-2500 studio cameras and Marshall POV cameras, as well as a Techno-Jib telescoping crane used with Frontier AR characters. The control room features a Grass Valley Kayenne switcher and a Lawo audio console, with recording and replay handled by EVS XT3 servers. Event graphics are generated with Ross Video Xpression, and the produced stream is fed through an Elemental encoder preconfigured to stream directly to ELEAGUE’s Twitch channel.
Sports are sports at Turner, and many of the people working on ELEAGUE also work on Inside the NBA or produce MLB postseason and NCAA March Madness coverage. Esports gets the same staff and production quality. And, just like in traditional sports, the players are often miked up: fans will get to hear everything from the pregame huddle to the last cheers for teammates.
“I know it’s an old trope, but that agony of defeat and that thrill of victory is on display,” Winter says. “These athletes, these pro players pour their hearts and lives into this game to be the best they are. The amount of practice they put in sometimes rivals or eclipses [that of] professional athletes. It is nuts how much they work to perfect their game. I would love for people to check it out, and I think Rocket League is the perfect chance for them to see what esports is all about.”