Words by Professor Andy Miah
Three years ago, the architects at Populous released a concept video for the esports industry, which described a ‘gaming village’ for the future, packed full of digital, interactive screen technology, complex projection mapping experiences, and an array of interactive, connected encounters with technology.
It remains the most compelling visualisation the world has seen of how media architecture is transforming the physical arena experience. Every surface is a digital screen or LED light array, with graphics, animations, and gaming content layered into the spaces, a cacophony of light and sound, interspersed with the branded gaming content for all to see.
It also beautifully embodies the aspirations of mega event producers in recent years, who have sought to transform stadium experiences into porous venues, where visitors can encounter content wherever they are within the physical grounds, not just while they are in their allocated seats.
We see such desires also to maximise revenue in the creation of live sites at sports events, which have become hugely popular venues in their own right, showing screen projection of the sporting content, alongside a raft of other activities for spectators to enjoy.
But what lies below the surface is a series of transformations to the physical event industry that may be described as the creation of transmedia architecture. This concept draws together work within the field of media architecture with processes of transmedia storytelling found commonly in practices of media content creation. Esports is an expression of these converging worlds, which explains in part why it is such a compelling proposition for designers, architects, and media innovators.
What’s happening in esports today is a full frontal assault on the concept of physical space. A good example is found in the 2020 Australian Grand Prix, which switched into full on virtual delivery mode, when the physical race was cancelled due to the coronavirus. The graphics are so good that viewers of the YouTube broadcast could easily believe that they were watching the race played out on the physical track, raising the question, why bother with the physical race at all?
And isn’t this exactly what we all imagined at the beginning of the computer games era? With enough processing power, we’ve finally been able to make graphics look like high definition camera capture. This new hyperreality is another major component of the transmedia architecture movement, but it doesn’t stop there.
For some time now, stadia producers have been advancing the idea of the connected stadium, which brings seamless content and service experiences to live spectators across their physical environments. Spectators can watch their mobile phones to experience additional content from the match, or they can order their food from the nearby kiosk and have it delivered to their seat.
Central to this proposition is the single most reliable technological system within the stadium, which is the mobile phone network and hardware which all spectators bring with them. Event producers have been quick to make use of this opportunity. For instance, In 2017, at the League of Legends final in China, producers created an augmented reality dragon, which flew – virtually – around the stadium as part of the opening ceremony. Spectators could see the dragon by pointing their phones at the stadium, which used AR in a way that is similar to how many other games now integrate AR into their game experience.
All of these efforts make a lot of financial sense for the event stakeholders too. When spectators log in to an event experience, they data starts to do work for all of those organizations seeking to maximise the value from their audiences. The chats taking place in the social channels, the limitless ad placement opportunities afforded by CGI, and the continued importance of the physical space, all work towards optimising the financial value of the events.
However, perhaps the most exciting aspect of these trends is the way in which it has become a catalyst for innovation. In 2019, Sony filed a patent for a virtual reality esports experience, which would allow spectators to locate themselves within the field of play.
Here again, we see how architecture is now accommodating the potential to transcend the physical boundaries of an arena and reposition the audience into new environments.
While both media architecture and esports have been around for some years, their fusion, coupled with the growing involvement of the sports media industries is generating a new language of transmedia architecture, complex design propositions that work across platforms, hardware, and interacts that, in turn, remake the physical spaces in which we move around.
Esports is an industry to watch, as it expands into new territories, not least because many of the world’s pioneers in sport, entertainment, and technology are all finding it to be an exciting playground in which they can stretch their creative muscle to completely reimagine the world.
Words by Professor Andy Miah