Richard Lagow, the young quarterback from Indiana University was placed in ‘shotgun formation’ with the ball at the 7-yard line from his rival, the University of Utah. To his left were two receivers and to his right, another. Not a minute had passed since the game’s kickoff, the Foster Farms Bowl, one of many college bowls that pair college football teams at the end of the regular season. Lagow started the play and two seconds later, he threw the ball hard into the end zone, where he found the hands of teammate Mitchell Paige. Touchdown. Commentators on Fox Sports asked to see the replay, how come Lagow had found Paige so free to get the first six points of the game? The spectators witnessed something new. The replay was from the player’s point of view, they ‘were’ Lagow and what they saw on their screens was the same thing the player had seen moments ago: the backs of his offensive line, his receivers running towards the end zone, the defense trying to guess their movements. They were on the playing field.
That night in December 2016, Indiana agonizingly lost the game 26-24, but the spectators won with a new technology developed by Intel, which was taking its first steps in the world of sports entertainment. Now, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the technology company is on a crusade to transform the way fans watch and experience games from the comfort and safety of their home.
You probably associate Intel as the manufacturer of your computer’s microchips and it is no coincidence, it is a leader in that industry and its ‘Intel inside’ labels on devices make sure to reinforce that idea. But in recent years, the company has moved towards other areas, mainly cloud computing, but also towards innovation in segments such as entertainment.
“Sports is an industry in transformation, it is a product to entertain that has not changed in 80 years, a football game remains the same as it was then,” says James Carwana, vice president and general manager of Intel Sports. “But the interaction has changed, especially due to COVID, people want to interact in real time, with better original content.”
Watching a good football or baseball game will always be entertaining for most fans, but in a time when confinement and confinement make routines monotonous, the sport does not escape from that exhaustion. It is then that, according to the young manager, technology comes to the rescue.
Of all the innovations that Intel has presented in recent years, and whose use has been extended by the pandemic, the possibility of watching replays in real time, from any angle of the field, stands out, as if it were a video game. In fact, that’s where the inspiration came from.
“Esports showed us how people want to interact with content,” Carwana said. “The idea is always to create different stories and allow the viewer a much more personal experience.”
Want to see how Mohammed Salah, Liverpool’s fast scorer, found room to score a goal? It’s possible. And many may call it surprising, but Intel insists on naming it True View. From any device, users can select a player on the field, move the camera 360 degrees, or position themselves from their vantage point and follow the action. For fans of sports video games this is something more or less common, but in the real world it is a complete paradigm shift.
“The amount of interaction that you can generate with this is enormous,” added Carwana. “The fan stops being in the band, it becomes part of the game and that is invaluable for the show.”
Currently, Intel has rolled out True View, Replay 360, and Be the Player to a handful of teams and leagues around the world.
In the end, getting these images is not an easy task, as it involves the installation of at least 38 5K cameras around the stadium to cover all possible angles and generate a kind of virtual cloud on the pitch that covers the actions of the match. According to Intel, each game captures 200 terabytes of information, which are then processed to generate replays and interactive scenes for fans, who can view them on various devices. The results, so far, have been positive.
“With Liverpool, who have a huge fan base, we have a case study on how our content hooks them up,” Carwana explained. “A key statistic is that the videos with our content are watched in full almost three times more than others.”
The manager and the rest of his Intel Sports team are clear that for many the introduction of technology in sport is something negative.
It is not uncommon to hear fans complain about replays in a soccer game or the abuse of graphs with data so detailed that it would take a true statistical expert to make sense of it.
That is not what Intel intends, he says, as there is no direct interaction of the technology they use with the development of the game itself. Rather, the goal is to accompany the viewer and offer them add-ons to enhance their experience.
Carwana reflects on what these changes will bring and is convinced that the pandemic has made fans more demanding.
“They are sitting at home, many of them would like to go to the stadiums and it is not possible,” he said. “This about them in a very special way, they can observe their team as they could not before from their devices, this is already part of the future of entertainment.”
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