Tech And COVID-19: Stop Using Video Game Graphics For Fake Crowds, Fox

from the not-working dept

Professional sports is now fully in the weeds trying to navigate reopening live sports events during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not going great, frankly. NFL players are beginning to opt out of the season, citing health concerns. Golfers have been trickling out of events due to positive COVID-19 tests. MLB, meanwhile, just found itself with four teams unable to play the other night due to roughly a third of the Florida Marlins popping positive for the virus. Given that these leagues just started reopening, it’s not a good sign.

Still, I won’t lie and say it hasn’t been nice to see baseball back on my TV again. And, as we wrote about recently, what the league is trying to do with innovation around piped in crowd noise and its MLB app is downright cool. But not all tech solutions are good ones and Fox Sports’ use of video game graphics to input fake crowds into stadiums on the screen is pretty terrible.

While I would still argue that even that promo video shows some of the problems with trying this, please don’t be fooled with how relatively good it looks. The Cubs played on Fox the other day and I was shocked at how bad it all looked. From the pitching angle camera, the crowds aren’t there. During wide cutaways, they suddenly were, but not in the seats along the foul walls or right behind home plate. Any view of the crowd that was closer than a wide shot looked childish.

Fox Sports felt like that without a crowd, the games would feel like practice, so it enlisted production company Silver Spoon, which does motion capture and character creation, to create the virtual fans.

“Our goal is to make sure that the view looks normal,” says Zager. Normal this ain’t, but neither is 2020.

Sorry, but it doesn’t. While I certainly appreciate the attempt to make us feel like we’re in normal times, there are limits to what technology can do and creating realistic and consistent fake crowds at MLB games is apparently one of those limits. We got the crowd noise, but I think we’re going to have to cede stadiums filled with fans to COVID-19.

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Comments on “Tech And COVID-19: Stop Using Video Game Graphics For Fake Crowds, Fox”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'They were the best crowds, the greatest.'

Fox inserts fake people to make an event look more crowded than it actually was? Well, I certainly know someone who might be interested in that sort of thing, and luckily they’re already a fan of the channel.

Humor aside I think they’d be much better off without the fake crowds, not only because it’s pretty much guaranteed to look bad and distract people from the game but because maybe seeing an empty stadium of two might get the problem of that little ‘pandemic’ thing into particularly thick heads who also happen to be sports fans.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 'They were the best crowds, the greatest.'

Shame. The pattern I’ve been seeing is some idiot going "I didn’t take it seriously. Now, everyone I know has been infected due to my actions so I take it seriously".

This is the real disease in some circles – people so incapable of empathy they will actively undermine everybody until they are affected personally, then demand everyone else now take it seriously (see also: anti-LGBT crusaders who suddenly support rights when one of their kids comes out).

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It could add entertainment value if the crappy looking fake fans were to act like thier counterparts … you know, and act like the crappy fans they are. You coud have fights break out over some stupid t-shirt while an adult steals a fly ball out of some kids hand. For added realism you could have your SO dump a hotdog and warm beer on your head.

Flakbait (profile) says:

Visible vs. audible

The first game I watched had crowd noises only. It was a bit odd hearing crowd noises from empty seats. But then someone hit a home run – and the crowd went wild! The sounds were realistic and it was actually a very good thing. Hearing only one bench cheering for a dinger would have been very weird.

But yeah, the visual compucrowd is genuinely bad.

Koby (profile) says:

Production Value

Years ago, I remember watching professional wrestling on TV. It was some smaller wrestling association that lacked the production value of what we typically view as standard today. The event looked like it was in some small auditorium, with folding chair seats, bad lighting, and a small crowd that left the venue half-empty. It screamed "cheap" and "low-budget".

But the wrestlers weren’t doing anything different from what they do nowadays. With some better camera work, better lighting rigs, and a few thousand screaming fans packed into that auditorium, it could have looked awesome. Over the years things improved. I expect that other sports will similarly upgrade the realism and production value that goes into simulating spectators. It attracts more viewers and makes it more exciting to watch. Give it time.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Production Value

"The event looked like it was in some small auditorium"

Because it was? No event starts with packed stadiums, they have to build up to that. British wrestling suffered from a similar problem in the 80s, because despite a niche Saturday afternoon TV slot, it wasn’t really all that popular. WWE packs stadiums because they made a lot of money as they built their brand, and can now guarantee a return on investment when they pay for those large venues. Production value costs money.

"a small crowd that left the venue half-empty… But the wrestlers weren’t doing anything different from what they do nowadays. With … a few thousand screaming fans packed into that auditorium, it could have looked awesome"

As with Twitter’s competitors, sounds to me like the problem wasn’t visuals, it was that people weren’t actually going there. Maybe tricking people into thinking it was more popular than it was might have attracted some, but I dare say that you’d mainly have just got a bunch of people disappointed that what they saw on TV didn’t reflect what the experience of going there was actually like.

If you want better production value, you have to be able to pay for it, which means building a paying audience. MLB doesn’t have to fake that long term, they just have to keep fans happy till they’re allowed to congregate back into their favourite seats. But, it’s not really going to work long term if you’re trying to attract new people who will not have the experience they see on TV when they go.

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