The 10,000-square-feet ELEAGUE Arena, a partnership between Turner and IMG, has been laser-focused on giving eSports fans an experience beyond regular spectating since it opened two years ago. Through partnerships with startups from across the country, the eSports content and live tournament brand, housed at the media giant’s Midtown headquarters, has expanded its technology offerings from virtual reality to the newly-released eye-tracking.
“It’s all about fan engagement — this eye-tracking technology is the first technology in not just eSports, but sports in general, that lets you in on the player’s decision-making process. Where do they look before they consider that strategic move or throw that punch?” says Robert Occhialini, Vice President of eSports Products and Technology, Turner Sports.
Occhialini explains how, if this technology was applied to football, it would be similar to placing a GoPro camera inside a quarterback’s helmet that pivots to where he looks and tracks which receivers he looks at before he throws the ball.
ELEAGUE’s live event studio has 26 cameras, 12 capturing each competing player, and a 360-degree ceiling camera that captures more than 250 attendees during tournaments. But the eye-tracking technology goes beyond even that, immersing the audience in the game and giving a glimpse into the players’ strategies.
Following a quick eye calibration that requires staring at a few exploding dots on a screen, the control room is able to record players’ eye movements on the screen, thanks to a small bubble which travels with the movements.
Occhialini was previously with NBA Digital, where he worked in a group that built application products. Thanks to his experience with new technologies, he has a long track record of scouting interesting partners in the digital space and bringing them in to explore partnerships. He says he taps into his team and uses conferences and articles as a resource to look for the next technology that could apply to their brand.
Following an initial meeting with a potential partner, Occhialini gets into the studio to test the tech. The eye-tracking technology, for example, is the result of a partnership process with startup Tobii that began nearly 18 months ago.
“We spent a lot of time creating a POV that would match what the player is looking at on stage, and then we brought it onto console gaming. We’re now in a position where I feel like we can do it for any game that we do, PC or console,” says Occhialini.
Another proof of concept released last year introduced VR spectating at home to increase fan engagement in eSports game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Yet another is a mosaic video player, which creates an interactive viewing experience where the observer can select which views they’re interested in. They’ve also introduced several analytics packages to help players analyze their gaming strategies and work on improving their skills.
“When we do the benchmark testing, the players are enthusiastic about the information and want to know what it means so they can act on it. As we bring more sports science in, there’s a straight line between the player’s weaknesses and potential improvements,” says Occhialini. They’re working on a new initiative that will help players analyze and help improve reaction times.
Right now, ELEAGUE is hosting the Street Fighter V Invitational 2018, which is the latest in a series of tournaments that has included Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch®, Dota 2, Injustice 2, Rocket League, Formula E, and TEKKEN® 7 since the brand’s launch in 2016. Occhialini hopes to incorporate more fan engagement, interesting viewing experiences and data analytics into ELEAGUE, while still being mindful of democratizing the access to their technology.
“There’s a lot to explore as a group; the tournament organizers have only scratched the surface,” says Occhialini. “I think continued investment and not just understanding that someone won, but why they won, will help us explore the sports science behind that.”
All photos provided by ELEAGUE/Turner