Gaming Tech Replaces Soccer Crowds to Cheer on Real, Barcelona

With coronavirus retreating in Europe, soccer fans are impatient to return to stadiums. League officials know that could take time, so they need a way to bring more excitement to matches taking place behind closed doors.

The first German Bundesliga games in front of empty stands were “a soulless experience,” said Taxto Benet, a managing partner at Mediapro, which produces Spain’s La Liga competition for broadcasters.

Mediapro had some ideas from working with FIFA video game owner EA Sports. The EA Sports library contains sound clips of all kinds of match situations recorded at different stadiums to recreate a more authentic experience for gamers.

Now, in a form of reverse engineering, Mediapro is using that resource to bring more ambiance to the televised matches of the league that’s home to Real Madrid and Barcelona.

A sound engineer present at each match inserts crowd reaction clips that were recorded for the video game. If the home team scores, the technician selects the noise of the home crowd celebrating from a previous match, as quickly as it takes an actual fan to react, according to Oscar Lago, who oversees match-day production.

Gaming Tech Replaces Soccer Crowds to Cheer on Real, Barcelona

The realism has strict limits: Mediapro draws the line at anything negative that could be construed as editorializing. So there’s none of the booing and whistling that are common at matches, even from a team’s own supporters. You also won’t hear insults against referees and heckling of players who dive after a hard tackle.

Gaming Tech Replaces Soccer Crowds to Cheer on Real, Barcelona

The next challenge was to fill the stadiums with virtual crowds that are more realistic than the cardboard cutouts used in some closed-door matches. Mediapro tried several approaches, such as editing in shots of the stands drawn from old games. It decided on software-generated images of crowds that can be placed behind the action on the pitch.

Viewers still have the option to see games without the enhancements.

“There was a risk audiences wouldn’t accept this -- but they have,” said Lago.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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