Virtual cameras and virtual directors: is this the future of esports camerawork?

Battlerite is a game currently out on Early Access that takes the teamfight aspect of your favourite MOBA and distills it down into the purest form.  2 minutes per round, best of 5, currently either in teams of 2 or 3.  Everything is a skill shot, and there’s little room for luck or random chance.  With its small arenas and quick fights, it ends up having more in common with Street Fighter than Dota.  And it’s gearing up to become an eSport that people take seriously.

Developer Stunlock Studios understand the fundamental requirement of a good eSport game: being fun to watch.  The Early Access version shipped with a replay system beyond what most games have way later down the line:  not only are they extremely fast loading, but you can cut them down using the in-game editor and then post them to the “Odeum”, an in-game video feed where other players can like or share your best clips.

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This is only the beginning of their plans for eSports spectating, however. In the office they have been experimenting with using VR, but not in the way you might think. While other competitive games are looking to VR as a fun and immersive way to watch live games, Stunlock Studios instead saw the utility that VR brings in enhancing the normal 2D experience:  using “virtual” cameras and cameramen to direct shots of the action, to film the match using the same – except virtual – equipment that a match of football or rugby would use.

Traditionally, eSports cameramen/observers have been limited to a mouse and keyboard for controlling shots of the action.  They’ve gotten really good at it, but it’s far from ideal equipment.  What if there could be multiple cameramen standing in the game itself, with a director then being able to cut, in real time, between these cinematic action shots and the regular gameplay view?

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Many gamers will claim that the only right way to watch eSports is to see it from the same perspective that players do, because it provides the most accurate display of the game.  Arguably, though, if that was the case, football would only be shown using first-person cameras running around the field, or perhaps a sterile top-down view of the entire pitch.  In reality, a huge amount of effort is put in to ensure the best shots that create the most excitement; it’s a constant balance between zooms of the action and more wider views of the field.

TopVR.co.uk recently had an interview with the man responsible for the idea, exploring the ideas behind it, as well as all the potential applications not just in eSports, but gameplay trailers and perhaps even film in general.  Be sure to check it out, this might be the future… and you don’t even need to own an expensive VR headset to enjoy the benefits! Read the full interview with Tobias here.

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