An inside look at how 3D replays, interactive on-screen stats and other streaming technologies are feeding a growing audience of live online game viewers.
Miles above ground, a man falls through a clear afternoon sky, equipped with nothing but a parachute. Pulling the ripcord, he gracefully glides onto the rooftop of a dilapidated, multi-story building. Making his way to the first floor, he finds a weapon just in time to thwart a surprise attack and then carry on his war-torn mission.
This could be a scene from a big-budget action movie — instead it’s a movie-like cinematic video made by a player using in-game footage from the popular esport game PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG).
In this case, Andrew Barajas used the 3D replay theater mode in PUBG, which stitches together clips of in-game, non-scripted gameplay in near real-time. This feature, along with screen overlays of gameplay info and montages, is just some of the built-in streaming tools redefining the way users watch games, according to Barajas, editor and producer of entertainment and educational channels on YouTube.
“At first, I really wasn’t thinking of it being anything more than a creator tool,” said Barajas. “But it’s a great way to get multiple perspectives out of a single story.”
Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, motion tracking and computer vision are changing the future of live streaming, giving viewers more interactive options for watching not only video games, but also esports competitions and other live sporting events.
“Gaming – and people watching gaming – is a cultural experience,” said George Woo, Intel’s esports marketing manager.
Viewers’ interest in live streaming continues to grow. Nearly 87 percent of users prefer watching online versus traditional TV for behind-the-scenes content. It’s a fascination with unscripted moments from real people and a fear of missing out (FOMO) that keep people glued to their devices for live streaming content, according to Koeppel Direct.
Almost 10 million users tune in daily to mega-streamer Twitch, spending on average 106 minutes watching live streams. In February 2018 alone, League of Legends, the most popular game on Twitch, tallied nearly 81 million hours viewed while PUBG racked up 43 million hours, according to Statista.
The live stream audience for esports competitions is skyrocketing. The 2017 Intel Extreme Masters World Championship in Katowice set the esports record for the biggest online audience, attracting 46 million unique viewers, according to a report by Business Insider. That’s 35 percent more online viewers compared with the 2016 event in Katowice.
“Gaming is like any real sport, and Intel Extreme Masters is a platform where we bring the community together to socialize and interact,” said Woo.
Capturing All the Action
Barajas, who posts his cinematics to a YouTube channel simply called 50, attracted the attention of Minkonet, the company behind the 3D replay technology in PUBG. Minkonet recently contracted with Barajas to make more cinematic content.
“We want gamers to interact with the data by creating cinematic highlights, catching cheaters, or using their own gameplay footage to train and become better players,” said Gilbert Kim, Minkonet’s CFO and COO.
Since PUBG is a massive game, it’s easy for viewers to miss much of the action during a single match. In this battle royale, up to 100 players are dropped out of an airplane onto a remote island to fight to become the last player standing. Minkonet’s 3D replay ensures that no exciting play goes unwitnessed, Kim said.
Innovations in esports streaming don’t only serve spectators a variety of gameplay perspectives and insights, they’re making it easier to spot foul play. The 3D replay could potentially help catch cheaters by examining cinematic videos containing suspicious avatar deaths as well as players who are revived too quickly.
Barajas believes every esports match will be broadcast in real-time, and viewers will to choose the cinematic angles they’d like to see.
Though streaming services like Twitch and Mixer are becoming more popular as entertainment platforms, there are still issues with the way esports are broadcast and spectated, he said. Experiencing a game via a player’s screen, especially from a first-person perspective, can be disorienting and limited in capturing all the action in a match.
Twitch has been working on encouraging more interactivity between fans and their streaming platform with Extensions — live apps and widgets integrated into creators’ streams. This means interactive on-screen overlays that depict player statistics for titles like Overwatch or Hearthstone, or details on equipment and abilities in Destiny.
“Extensions are intended to grow the unique relationship between creators and their communities, leading to higher engagement and more dedicated fans,” said Justin Dellario, Twitch’s director of Esports Programs. “Content has been mainly a one-way conversation for too long.”
Dellario noted that fans often sit back passively as content washes over them. Twitch is trying to change the conversation by having more dialogue between players, leagues, brands and viewers.
“They are finally having two-way conversations directly within the content,” Dellario said.
Stats for the Win
Los Angeles-based startup Esports One is currently developing a platform that uses computer vision, motion tracking and machine learning to provide real time player and team stats during a match. The system will also calculate more nuanced information such as the likelihood of a team winning if they complete a specific objective.
For Matthew Gunnin, founder and CEO of Esports One, adding more control for broadcasters and fans alike leads to better storytelling.
With Esports One’s real-time engagement modules, fans can control and customize the stats and stories shown on screen. Broadcasters also will be able to dictate what information gets shown to fans.
“We’re building tools and applications that enhance viewership no matter what platform you’re streaming on, focusing on engagement and the storytelling experience,” Gunnin said.
This is good news for someone like Barajas, who envisions a similar future for esports spectatorship.
“In the future, algorithms will help cameras recognize where the action is,” he predicts. “You as a viewer will be able to simply press a button and view from different angles, whatever angle you want to see.”
This revolution won’t be televised, but streamed instead.