Esports titles traditionally have one thing in common – the respective competitive scenes were forged by the community. Games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Dota 2 and League of Legends have been around for years, with competition and esports helping extend the games’ shelf life considerably.
We’ve now started to see a shift, with game developers beginning to factor in esports from the get go. Building an title that will succeed in an increasingly saturated market isn’t easy and there’s clearly several factors to consider when developing a game with competitive gameplay in mind.
One of the hardest parts is making a game spectator ready. MOBA titles such as League of Legends and Dota 2 are potentially the easiest to observe – with a general top-down view being preferred and action being concentrated in certain areas at any one time. FPS titles such as Counter-Strike have been around for a long time – yet with all of the above titles, companies are still innovating and creating new spectator experiences. Blizzard even launched the Overwatch League and played a full season without fans having a way to spectate who they wanted. Take the Battle Royale revolution – games like Fortnite and PUBG are incredibly difficult to spectate and the viewing tools weren’t, and still aren’t quite there.
At Unite Los Angeles 2018, Unity Technologies, the developers of the Unity engine teased CineCast, their new solution that is set to become available for game developers headed into 2019. The new technology will provide casters, observers and viewers with high-level, director-like controls to provide the desired gameplay shots in real-time.
Here at Esports Insider, we had the pleasure of sitting down and talking to Unity’s Head of Cinematics, Adam Myhill to find out more about newly revealed CineCast.
ESI: What inspired Unity to design and develop a product to have esports applications?
AM: While esports have been around in different forms for decades, their immense popularity in recent years has changed the way that we interact with the genre. Historically, video games were experiences that were appreciated entirely for their interactive nature, but thanks to the growth of esports and live streaming, games are now becoming just as popular as real sports and the rest of television entertainment. The industry has been slow to adapt to this change, and — aside from a few notable exceptions — has thought too small about how video games could be presented differently to viewers other than to those engaged in active play.
CineCast not only addresses this problem but as part of Unity, makes the solution accessible to game creators working at all levels of the industry. In addition to this dynamic camera system enabling the creation of movie-like cinematic sequences from variable gameplay, it also powers in-game replays and enables footage for trailers (think marketing cameras), it’s a powerful streaming and casting tool with this huge goal: Make esports watchable and accessible.
There’s so much room for improvement in how games and esports are cast and viewed. We want to make powerful tools needed to elevate this space and put them within the reach of all creators.
ESI: With regards to the esports market, there’s obviously a huge variety of game titles. These range from the likes of FPS titles, through to MOBA games and even Battle Royale titles. Each of them has built-in, unique spectator tools (of varying quality) – does this pose a particular challenge to your product?
AM: Different companies have tried different solutions, but as you’ve mentioned, the quality varies wildly in how they’re deployed. There are some, like what Blizzard has done with Overwatch League, that we absolutely applaud, but solutions like these are largely out of reach for most developers. Even some of the biggest games out there have spectator options that seem completely misguided. This is not a criticism because we know how hard it is to do this right, which is why we have taken on this challenge. How do you make a beautiful cinematic cast of a game – in real-time – when nobody knows what’s going to happen next? It really is a tremendous problem with buckets of challenges in all sorts of areas like “What’s a good shot?” “What’s interesting?” “What’s the next best shot given the situation?” All the way down to how to make a camera dynamically compose a variable number of subjects. Those camera problems alone have taken us years to figure out. I’ve been working on video game camera systems for over 15 years now and believe me, it’s really hard to design camera robots with enough smarts to act anything like human ones.
“There’s so much room for improvement in how games and esports are cast and viewed. We want to make powerful tools needed to elevate this space and put them within the reach of all creators”
With CineCast, we’ve put some real thought into what makes a great game broadcasts work, and we’ll be making that solution available to everyone in the near future to improve the overall esports arena.
ESI: There are clearly games with bigger difficulties in spectating, but it may largely be down to the intricacies of the game being observed rather than the tools at observer and caster disposals. How can CineCast adapt and help casters?
AM: While CineCast will allow for the broadcast of all of the best action as it happens in real-time, there are going to be some games and genres that will be a better fit for broadcasting than others — in the same way that football or basketball makes for a more exciting TV sport than croquet. How CineCast will be deployed in a game is ultimately up to the developer, but if it’s a game that’s focused on real-time multiplayer action, CineCast will be tracking and broadcasting the excitement as it unfolds everywhere on the map.
While games vary, there are some universal things which CineCast knows, such as understanding the basic rules of cinematography and evaluating basic shot quality. We’re making it easy for developers to ‘teach’ CineCast what’s important in their game so it can make the best real-time footage. Plus, at any point, teams can have manual controls to pick characters, subjects, and different kinds of lenses.
With CineCast initially out for GTFO, is there any other titles we should be keeping an eye on? Is there any way for developers to retrospectively implement CineCast and replace their existing spectator interface?
AM: GTFO is the first game so far to use CineCast, but we will be making the technology available to all Unity developers when it releases next year as it is still in the experimental phase of development. As part of the robust Unity toolkit, creators will have the option to update their existing games to take advantage of CineCast at any time, as well as build it into any new projects that they will be bringing to market. Given the benefits of making a game that is as much fun to watch as it is to play, we’d encourage all developers working in Unity to consider implementing CineCast in their projects once the tech is ready. We’re just as excited as they are to watch their games in action! All that said, yes, there are other games we’re in discussion with and you will definitely see more about this, we’re just getting started.