Mitch Liu is the Founder and CEO of SLIVER.tv, a tech streaming platform which is making great strides in offering esports VR integration.
The company has worked with ESL and Intel at events such as ESL One NY and Intel Extreme Masters Oakland to bring virtual reality content to fans, and give them a new consumer experience by putting them in the game. We’ll soon be seeing a lot more from them too after SLIVER.tv penned a deal to be involved with 14 events this year. These are all ESL and DreamHack competitions.
This is clearly a platform with fantastic potential, and even at this relatively early stage, it was well received at both events last year.
We visited Mitch at their home in Cupertino to discuss his own background and SLIVER.tv’s plans for bringing more VR to more esports and disrupting the esports spectator experience.
Esports Insider: Tell us about your own background.
Mitch: I’ve been in Silicon Valley for well over ten years involved in various start-ups. I started playing Counter Strike 1.6 back in the day around 2003, so I’ve been fascinated by FPS for a long time. I got into the Facebook social gaming apps space around 2009 by working with likes of Zynga and Playdom/Disney. From here I started developing my own mobile games for iOS and Android in 2010, and then we saw the emergence of Twitch and started to think about better ways of improving the spectator experience.
This is how SLIVER.tv first emerged.
Esports Insider: Clearly the organisers were happy with ESL One New York and IEM Oakland as they’ve come back for far more…but what was the feedback from their side on these events?
Mitch: Our Beta was do or die. Doing what we do in real time at a live event for the first time, especially one the size of ESL One NY, was daunting but it went fantastically well.
They invited us along to IEM Oakland following this, and other events in Korea and Brazil late last year. We passed on Korea and Brazil to give us more time to develop and enhance our product and technology. As for feedback what we found were two groups. There were the early adopters of VR headsets and they were blown away. It seemed like they weren’t expecting something this immersive and to really feel as if they were in the game.
“Our Beta was do or die. Doing what we do in real time live at an event for the first time, especially one the size of ESL One NY, was daunting but it went fantastically well”
The other group however watched on their desktops without VR. The constructive criticism was helpful too; for example some of our camera angles weren’t perfect so we’ve worked to improve them but overall those watching were excited, they enjoyed them and it’s safe to say they want more.
Esports Insider: Are certain titles better suited to VR streams than others?
Mitch: If you look at the top esports titles, it clearly wouldn’t work with 2D games so card games such as Hearthstone won’t be a great fit. For FPS meanwhile it’s excellent; we can provide different camera angles and combine the first person view with the bird’s eye view to make for an augmented viewing experience. It’s also an interesting way to watch team strategies and analyse game play in real-time.
For MOBA games it works well too. Both League and Dota are notoriously hard to get into, they’re difficult to watch for a novice so using our system we’ll allow for better cinematics by bringing viewers closer to and inside the game.
Esports Insider: Patent pending for the Live Replay technology?
Mitch: Most of the technology we build is complex and we file patents to protect ourselves. We have two that we’ve put through, one is around video-on-demand content and the other is focused on the live streaming content. Our third and pending patent is around our real-time Live Replay technology.
“Both League and Dota are notoriously hard to get into, they’re difficult to watch for a novice so using our system we’ll allow for better cinematics by bringing viewers closer to and inside the game”
This is a novel way of using the virtual cameras that we developed; we borrowed some aspects from Hollywood film-making from cameras that track the action, to freeze frame, battleground kill cams and more. We developed a unique way of pre-designing the camera angles and movements. Understandably, we want to protect that!
Esports Insider: When do you anticipate VR technology going mainstream?
Mitch: VR is still new and there are a limited number of headsets out there. Lots of great players are getting into the space but it’s going to take time. We’re first and foremost an esports company and we’re focused on the best spectating experience across web, mobile and VR, though we are big believers in VR/AR capacity in the future to enhance esports viewing.
Esports Insider: Can VR offer a lifeline to arcades and casinos?
Mitch: You see a big trend of this happening in China. The issue is of course the price point, and because of this even the more traditional gaming cafes are setting up physical VR environments for their customers.
There is definitely an opportunity for this in the US. At Oakland last year Intel set up Oculus Rift viewing stations, and these worked really well. It’s a wider trend in the US and the likes of IMAX for example is experimenting with VR technology in its movie theatres. For the emerging esports lounges surely it makes sense to have a VR corner with food available and a stocked bar?
Esports Insider: Where does the future of VR streams in esports from a consumption perspective…will they be a top up to events or just used at home?
Mitch: I think the true opportunity is in the remote. When you go to live esports events, there is so much energy. Everybody is excited and what we’re looking at is how to replicate and bring some of that energy into the home. Or rather, wherever you happen to be remotely. We have a true opportunity to transform the esports spectator experience.
“Of the 130,000 that watched the Intel event in November, around 15-20,000 watched on virtual reality headsets”
VR is very much an integral part of making this happen. The first step is the spectator mode which we showcased twice last year, but there’s a lot more that we’re working on.
In terms of interactivity, social and a participatory audience we’ve got lots of ideas. Our stream is not only VR of course so you don’t have to have a headset. Of the 130,000 that watched the Intel event in November, around 15-20,000 watched on virtual reality headsets.
Esports Insider: What new titles and features do you have planned for 2017?
Mitch: We’ll be launching our Dota 2 product around midway through the year. We go from a top down strategy, and those titles that are coming up quickly pop up on our radar too.
“Viewers will be able to engage with one anothers’ avatars all immersed inside virtual stadium. Imagine that”
We have to adapt our technology to work with each individual title to generate these 360 immersive views. These are all done through public APIs meaning all the heavy lifting is happening on our side.
As far as new features go, as mentioned we have lots of ideas! In Twitch there are limited options for interaction, but with a 360 VR stream there’s more to play with and more fascinating social capabilities. You can interact far more with those watching with you. Viewers will be able to engage with one anothers’ avatars all immersed inside virtual stadium. Imagine that.