As more esports-specific venues pop up across the world as the sport gains popularity, there is an opportunity for brands to use 5G to create new experiences that can be delivered on-ground to engage their consumers.
Jasper Mah, the esports director at Lagardere Sports, sees 5G as being both a boon and a bane for venue organisers looking for physical footfall to esports matches.
With 5G networks expecting to significantly lower latency and increase speeds up to 10 times faster as compared to 4G networks, he predicts bringing the event live in 4K quality to the homes of fans will no doubt transform the home-viewing experience.
“One of the things that we can expect 5G to boost is the adoption and use of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) formats in sporting venues. Broadcasters streaming content live will be able to give fans an in-stadium feel, taking them into the point of view of players and giving them a front-row seat at matches,” he explains to The Drum.
“In July last year, South Korean operator SK Telecom, which is one half of the esports team venture T1 Entertainment & Sports, kickstarted VR and AR services on its 5G network. Like any sport, this ups the ante for production value at venues, where organisers can now bring multiple angles of gameplay to the sofas of fans on a 5G network who might be streaming it on multiple screens with 4K quality and minimum lag.”
This means in the near future, angles, replays or particular cameras are sponsored and skinned by brands, or where T1’s star gamer, Faker, would have a first-person 360-degree camera angle sponsored, with on-demand statistics for fans to choose from, giving them the ability to study his moves.
Mah also points out that 5G networks and the ability to deliver bigger content faster and more immediately is also going to boost the stadium experience as delivering AR streams and content to the phones of stadium audiences are going to be a new normal as they walk around.
Equipping fans who pay for top-tier tickets with VR goggles to experience various angles within the stadium from their box seat is also going to be possible with better bandwidth.
“Ultimately, all this is dependent on stadium organisers, venues, their set-up and the access to logistics,” says Mah.
“Costs will continue to be a barrier to stage high-production setups and streaming, so 5G’s capabilities and 4K or 8K rollout will also depend on the appetite of endemic and non-endemic brands to step into the scene and give fans the most immersive experiences of their lives.”
Over at Riot Games, Chris Tran, the gaming publisher’s head of esports for South East Asia, Hong Kong and Taiwan tells The Drum its esports Technology Group is responsible for the tech behind its biggest esports events, one of them being the League of Legends World Championship.
Every year, Riot’s broadcast production team, which is part of the Technology Group, explores new ways of implementing cutting-edge technologies, from partnering with vendors to integrate mapping and augmented reality for its esports opening ceremonies, all of which are ways for Riot to experiment with techniques to surprise and delight its players.
“The 2017 Worlds dragon was the first of its kind - we created an augmented reality spectacle of a virtual dragon modeled after an in-game monster flew around the stadium, and even received an Emmy Award for Outstanding Live Graphic Design for this activation!” says Tran.
“In 2018 and 2019, our opening ceremonies were powered by holograms that blurred the line between the real world and the virtual realm of League of Legends. Ultimately, the main emotion we want to elicit at every World Championship is excitement.”
He adds: “With the introduction of 5G, we hope for players across the region to experience faster connection speeds and lower latencies for mobile and PC gaming. We expect this to bolster the industry, especially mobile esports. It could mobile gaming from being just another means to pass the time, into a ubiquitous experience.”
Aside from relying on 5G, Singapore-based esports platform Garena, emphasis there is a need for brands to be inclusive to fans from all over the world, given the global scale of esports tournaments today.
It points to two key aspects of community building, which includes holding grassroots and regional tournaments in the lead up to global tournaments, and understanding the esports ecosystem well and executing the basics with excellence.
Justin Lye, the regional esports manager at Garena, explains that for the recent Free Fire World Series (FFWS) 2019 held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this past November, it partnered with world-famous DJ and record producer Alok, for a multi-sensory experience, both online and offline.
DJ Alok was a playable character with a unique skill set in the game and offline, where he performed live at FFWS itself, exciting the crowd with his iconic hit, Vale Vale.
“We also work on reaching our fans and viewers from all across the world, and we start by executing the fundamentals well. This includes having broadcasts of our regional and international tournaments available in local languages - through shoutcasters - to be more inclusive for all our esports spectators,” Lye tells The Drum.
“We see positive feedback and reception from our communities globally; for our Spanish-speaking Latin American audience, more than 10 million cumulative online views, with a peak concurrent viewership of 340,000, were recorded on Garena Free Fire’s Latin America YouTube channel, which broadcasted the stream in Spanish.”
He continues: “By delivering on both fronts, we have grown our global community of Free Fire fans and players, with our esports events achieving record audiences. FFWS had over 2 million peak concurrent viewers online, which is a world record high for a mobile esports tournament, according to Esports Charts. In total, the World Series racked up over 130 million online views around the world.”
As 5G starts removing restrictions regarding venue locations and layout, it will let venue organisers broadcast more elements, making the viewing experience more interactive, streaming multiple feeds, selecting between views and overlays, enhancing live commentary, just to name a few.
That will bring immense value that brands can create for players through technology, player experience, for spectators on-site for live events, for viewers at home via live-streams, and for the community by opening venue facilities to the public for year-round engagement.