After a hard-fought victory over the Korean team Gen.G, all five members of the European G2 Esports stood on the edge of a pool of clear, glistening water to bow and celebrate their victory. Two members then picked up their star teammate, Rasmus “Caps” Borregaard Winther, and held him above the water as if tossing him overboard. Good thing they didn’t – no matter how real the water might look to the viewers, it was nothing but pixels.
The annual League of Legends The World Cup is currently taking place in Shanghai and, like most major events, it had to be rethought to make it possible in our new pandemic-dominated reality. Usually the early stages of the tournament are something like a traveling road show, with different rounds held in different cities. In 2020, things had to change.
With travel restrictions introduced and fans can no longer attend matches, the team of League developer Riot tried something different. They created a set of massive LED screens in a technological setting similar to the one Disney created. The Mandalorianscience fiction landscapes. Used for a shocking effect. The matches looked as if they were held in a cloudy, cyberpunk Shanghai skyline or in a flooded landscape. What could have been a blue race in the absence of fans has become perhaps the most impressive world in the last memory.
“There are a number of days when we come on set and say, ̵
The feat is even more impressive when you consider the compressed schedule. Riot and Possible producers typically spend more than a year planning Worlds, but that just wasn’t possible this year. It was only in May that it was decided to use this technology in a studio without fans.
The setting is powerful, and Riot says that the LED screens – there are more than 900 LED tiles in total – show visualizations with 32K resolution and 60 frames per second. These visuals were made using a modified version of Unreal Engine and the team consisted of a total of 40 artists and technicians. Nick Tropp, executive producer of Worlds 2020 in Riot, describes it as “a creative tool that effectively gives us infinite power to bring any of our collective imagination to the fore.” And he says one of the most important elements of the whole setup is the way things are shot, powered by four specialized real-world cameras.
“Instead of having one projected camera perspective, we actually have two working simultaneously, efficiently all the time,” he explains. This allows the broadcast team to work in a more traditional way; they can switch between the two simulated perspectives at will, using four cameras to capture the action on the set. “That means the broadcast team can do what they think is a ‘normal TV show,’ but in this select and beautiful series,” Troop said.
For viewers watching on Twitch or YouTube, the LED scene is transformed into a stretched fantasy world, with AR technology used to expand the images off-screen. You still see players sitting at desks and playing, but their environment is quite complex. In nodding to the current state of League of Legendswhere four elemental dragons are key in the game, each of the four preliminary rounds of Worlds is shaped with a different element.
Originally there were many crumbling rocks and mountains that represented the earth dragon; this was followed by the cloudy silhouette of Shanghai for the air dragons; later, the kit appeared flooded with water that stretched forever. This weekend, during the two semi-final matches, things will change.
Although this technology has been used before, it is mostly included The Mandalorian, this is the first time it’s done live. “Almost everybody [cross-reality] an expression that has been broadcast so far has not been live, ”explains Figge to Possible, whose company has worked on everything from the Super Bowl halves to Justin Bieber’s concerts. “It was pre-shot, like a lot of AR stuff for awards in North America. It is risky to do it live. We do up to 10 hours a day live TV on this stage. There is no second chance for that. “
One of the challenges was balancing the desire to make things look great without interfering with the players. Everyone on stage – teams, coaches and support staff – has a slightly different visual experience than the spectators at home, as the AR elements appear only to the spectators at home. This has become something of an advantage for the broadcast team.
“When we make these games, it’s really important for the competitive integrity of the sport that players can’t see the Jumbotron game or anything like that. That’s a really difficult design problem, “says Fiji. “At this stage, everything that is above a certain level of stage height is completely virtual. This is augmented reality. So our game is played in the background and players can’t see it. “
However, although the players did not get the full experience of the audience, it was still important to feel special on stage. This is the World Cup, after all something that teams from all over the world strive for all year round. Without the roar of the crowd to blow the players, the performance with a lively fantastic background is a solid second option. Those on the stage can’t see the AR elements, but they can see the graphics on the screens around them. “It helps ground the player,” says Troop. “It simply came to our notice then [game] global reaction, in a way that I think helps with their experience in the worlds. There is a certain way of thinking that comes from being on stage and we wanted to keep it. “
For most of the years, the Worlds technical showcase has been reserved for the opening ceremonies of the finals. In the past, this included an AR K-pop concert and a holographic hip-hop performance. It’s not yet clear what this year’s big show will look like (though it will probably include K-pop again), but you could argue that early rounds have already stolen the show thanks to this new technology. Each round even opened with its own mini ceremony, including choreographed dances set in the fantasy realm; performers jumped over crumbling stone bridges and spun around with magic spells. Despite the circumstances, Riot turned what could be a restrained edition of Worlds into a surprisingly memorable edition.
“It was more educational than disappointing,” Troop said of the experience so far.