Esports set to redefine entertainment & sports broadcasting after UK Government awards £4m of funding to create new AI powered, immersive audience experiences.
"The Weavr Consortium has answered UK Research and Innovation's call to look at Audiences of the Future, with a groundbreaking demonstrator project exploring a cross-reality, data driven, highly personalised viewing experience for esports. The consortium consisting of ESL, York University, dock10, Cybula, Focal Point VR & Rewind will operate a £5.8mil project over two years, £4mil of which is funded by UK Research and Innovation"
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the UK Government's non-departmental public body for innovation and research, has awarded the Weavr Consortium a two year demonstrator grant that focuses on esports broadcasting, as part of the Industry Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF). The ISCF's "Audience of the Future" challenge looks to bring the UK's creative businesses, researchers and technologists together to create the next generation of highly immersive experiences. The Weavr consortium was selected as the winner of the Sports & Entertainment category and awarded £4 million in matched funding for the project.
Weavr will create cross-reality viewing experiences allowing fans to immerse themselves in high fidelity statistics, visualisations and data-driven stories that give them deep insights into the live match. Enabling them to seamlessly move between virtual and physical viewing, as well as utilise second screens to watch immersive esports content on the go. The use of AI & data learning to create highly personalised viewing experiences will allow for fully interactive and individualised insights for the audience. All of which will permit this project to demonstrate insight into how audiences of the future engage in immersive experiences and the pathways to future commercialisation.
ISCF's Audience of the Future fund sees up to £33 million being invested in the evolution of storytelling and how the UK can continue to lead the world in the creative arts by exploiting immersive technologies. £16 million of the fund has been put into the demonstrator programme, which sees four industry-led consortia from the creative industries create new immersive experiences and test them with large-scale audiences. Weavr has won the Sports & Technology portion of this fund, and will utilise ESL's experience and market reach in esports to demonstrate the technology to their global audience.
"For the first time in generations, we're witnessing the birth of a new major sport, and it's happening with unprecedented speed." ESPN The Magazine, Senior Editor, Megan Greenwall
Esports is competitive video gaming at a professional level which has a current global audience of around 380 million people. The esports audience is the 'audience of the future' here and now with 80% of the demographic being made up of 18-35 year olds. During 2018 there were over 2.6 billion hours of esports content consumed globally across a multitude of online platforms including; Twitch, Youtube, Mixer, Facebook, Twitter etc. As well as a wide variety of consumption points such as live audience, VR and traditional single screen content. The esports industry has been on the rise with recognition from the mainstream and steady growth for the last five years of 38.2% CAGR.
"The UK esports industry is growing rapidly, and ESL UK are right at the heart of its expansion. I'm excited to see how the Weavr project will create innovative and immersive experiences for esports fans across the globe, helping to get them even closer to the live action." Margot James MP, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries.
Through a consortium led by ESL, the largest esports company in the world, and including leading academics and innovators across VR/AR, AI, data-driven content production and broadcast, Weavr will transform the experiences of millions of fans not only in esports, but in traditional sports broadcast and live entertainment more broadly.
As part of the 2 year demonstrator the consortium will be creating a total of 45 tech focused jobs, with scope for hundreds more UK based roles to follow in subsequent years, as well as generating services and platforms creating UK based revenue. ESL will be focusing on the overall project management, utilisation of their esports events for proof of concept and the user experience feedback for those tests. University of York will be bringing their expertise in machine learning, UX design, Human Computer Interaction & research into the convergent space between games, interactive media & TV to help sculpt the overall framework. dock10 will be leveraging their cutting edge production facilities to help test the framework during ESL's live esports events. Focal Point VR will contribute their live 8k 360° video capture hardware & software with Rewind helping to create the VR & XR apps & environments for the viewer experience. Cybula's performance computing clusters will be utilised for big data analysis & delivery.
"At the forefront of an emerging and rapidly growing esports industry, we're in a very fortunate and unique position to have insight in the live viewing habits and interactivity of young, tech savvy and early adopting audiences" said James Dean, MD ESL UK. "We're ecstatic to be working alongside industry leaders across the Weavr consortium to pave the way for the next generation of immersive technology and, with UKRI's support, to realise a framework for the future of live entertainment and sports"