Weavr Consortium make esports a dream
Weavr Consortium is a UK-funded project using data and AI to make esports a fully immersive experience Data is the heart of esports. Video games themselves are literally no more than a visualisation of data manipulated in real time by humans. A new UK tech collaboration, the Weavr Consortium, aims to take the mass of data embedded in esports and create a new way of viewing competitive content. Weavr is a collaboration between six UK companies with expertise in esports, education and entertainment, supported by a grant from UK Research and Innovation. The Weavr platform uses live and historic game data to create mixed-reality experiences for fans of both esports and traditional sports. The aim is to create a kind of data-driven entertainment with greater commercial opportunities for brands and teams, and a much more immersive, interactive experience for viewers. ESL, the largest esports organisation in the world, has been at the centre of the Weavr project, which kicked off in January this year. The company had been collaborating for some time with researchers at the UK’s University of York, experimenting with using AI to improve the storytelling at ESL tournaments. “It was cutting-edge stuff at the time. The industry hadn’t seen this sort of thing before,” says James Dean, ESL UK CEO. “Suddenly out pops this opportunity to bid for some funding as part of the Audience of the Future programme.” Dazzling data ESL’s James Dean shows off the Weavr app at ESL One Birmingham
Funding winThe Audience of the Future initiative, run by the UK’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), aims to bring creative businesses, researchers and tech experts together to create new types of storytelling, with an aim to make the UK more competitive in content creation and development internationally and to create experiences that are culturally impactful. Out of a total of £33 million available for research, £16 million was to be split between four “demonstator” projects in four categories, one of which was sports. ESL put forward its Weavr concept. “Lo and behold, we won it. We at ESL had never actually won any funding before – or even applied for it, for that matter. Although the University of York was quite attuned to the process.”
Three levels of immersionWeavr is basically a B2B framework that focuses on enabling three levels of content immersion. The first is sensorial immersion, which is generated by the basic visual and audio content that most of us are familiar with. Sensorial immersion could even include AR or advance audio through headsets, or even, in the future, haptics engaging the sense of touch. The second level is cognitive immersion, which involves engaging audiences in data, including game stats as well as using audience data to provide a better service. The third is social immersion, which is about sharing and communication. This could be about sharing between sports fans. “We take those three levels of immersion, and we combine them all,” explains Dean. “What we’ve seen is if these types of immersion exist in a siloed experience they tend to turn out fairly gimmicky. People don’t want to have ten apps open. They just want one experience. So while we combine those three levels of immersion we also personalise it for each person. We use machine learning and AI to customise the narrative so it has more meaning and choice for those individuals. If we get that right, I think we’ll find that people will be willing to part with money rather than expecting all their content to be free.” Potential revenue models for a “Weavr’d” sports viewing service might be through viewer micro-transactions or the support of a sponsor, or as an inducement to buy merchandise. “Because it’s a framework, we can connect any number of technologies or platforms into one systemic experience, no matter how the user wants to engage.” In addition to the University of York, the other partners in the Weavr Consortium are immersive content studio Rewind, Manchester-based studios dock10, machine-learning specialist Cybula and virtual reality company FocalPoint VR. The first major demonstration of the Weavr project took place over summer 2019. Weavr’s trial mobile app was shown to a stadium full of fans at ESL One Birmingham 2019, a major Dota 2 tournament and esports confab.
It’s a massively challenging and very complex system. It’s got a lot of moving parts