EA Sports’ GameView Scales Down To Tell Big Game Story

Leading up to last night’s BCS Championship game between LSU and Alabama, ESPN approached the rematch between the SEC rivals with the latest tool in its technological arsenal.

Recent addition to EA Sports Virtual Playbook shows play developing on a tabletop.

GameView is the most recent chapter in the EA Sports Virtual Playbook. A collaboration between ESPN and EA Sports, it brings players into the studio and puts analysts out on the field, all within the confines of the Full Sail Sports Lab Powered by ESPN in Winter Park, FL.

Unlike previous incarnations of the EA Sports Virtual Playbook, which placed ESPN analyst Desmond Howard in a particular play, GameView allows Howard to have total control over a play unfolding on a tabletop.

The motivation for creating GameView, explains ESPN VP of Emerging Technology Anthony Bailey, was size.

“It was hard to show all 22 guys and the amount of space it takes for a football team to line up without tying up a big field and having a lot of equipment,” he says, comparing GameView with previous generations of the Virtual Playbook. “The idea was, what if we did a miniaturized version on a tabletop where the talent stood behind it? Now [the analyst] can really [go] in depth into many different angles of the play from different player perspectives.”

Emerging Technology Meets Storytelling
ESPN aired four GameView segments leading up to the BCS Championship game. For each, EA Sports created the plays using the EA Sports NCAA Football 12 game engine.

ESPN’s Emerging Technology team then wrote the software to control the movement of the players (in motion as well as standing) and allow Howard to rotate seamlessly among angles, zoom in on plays, and telestrate in real time. From concept to final product, the entire process took less than four months.

In addition to the NCAA Football 12 game engine, ESPN deploys a 70-in. touchscreen, four Brainstorm real-time graphics workstations, and an in-jib rig to provide camera shots of the touchscreen to be rendered in 3D. Although Howard sees discs bearing each player’s number and can move them accordingly, the viewer sees 3D virtual players from multiple angles.

“It really helps us tell the story,” says Bailey of the LSU-Alabama rivalry, “and give a new, unique perspective for the fans to understand why these two schools — defensively and offensively — were the two best schools in the country.”

The Game From All Angles
EA Sports GameView provides a bird’s-eye view of the on-field action — regardless of where that bird might be. Howard, a former NFL wide receiver, can show plays in real time and then break them down to explain the various components that play out over seconds during the game.

“[Howard can] give insight into the option read: what the quarterback’s looking for, the decision that the defensive end and the linebacker have to make, how the quarterback’s looking for that and then makes a split-second decision on where he’s going with the ball,” Bailey says. “Or [he can] highlight one player and why he is so disruptive, why he had a great season.”

Howard can shift seamlessly between team plays and individual points of view, show offensive and defensive formations and how one side of the ball reacts to the other side, or highlight a particular player’s ability.

Elements of the previous-generation Virtual Playbook have been retained. At the end of one particular segment featuring LSU defender Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu, Howard is “joined by” Mathieu in the studio.

“Man, if I was six years younger and 7½ lbs. lighter,” says Howard to the life-size virtual Mathieu, “you couldn’t do anything with me.”

GameView Plays the Field
Although there is no timetable for rolling out GameView for other sports or studio shows, Bailey believes the technology has a future beyond football.

“It allows you to show the sport in the dimensions of the sport,” he says. “You could show the full 100 yards [in football], you could show the full court in basketball, you could show the entire hockey [rink]. [GameView] allows you to show, in totality, how a team is lined up and how they’re going to attack and defend.”