ESPN + debuts “McEnroe vs. McEnroe”, the first ever tennis match between a real person and his virtual avatar – TechCrunch

The premiere will take place on May 7 at 22:00 ET on ESPN +, Michelob Ultra, in collaboration with the technology and production company Block 9, presents “McEnroe vs. McInroy”, the world’s first tennis match involving a real person against a virtual player – both versions of entertaining, confrontational tennis player John McEnroe. In the match, the real McInroe will meet with his final opponent – his younger. In this case, a virtual player running on AI

The 45-minute film will showcase how the match was created using a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, as well as five virtual avatars by John McInroe from key moments of his career. Machine learning is a subcategory of AI that allows a machine to automatically learn from past data without the need for manual programming or adjustment.

The Block 9 team spent the day with John to enliven the vision by scanning the whole body, capturing movement and Unreal Engine MetaHuman technology (a cloud application that creates photorealistic digital people). The game’s avatar system will be projected onto a particle hologram screen and will be a gameplay simulation with a system of launching balls and robots to return balls.

When McEnroe sends the ball through the net, the avatar responds to the direction of the real ball. When the avatar turns, a new ball is released from the ball gun, which then flies through the smoke screen at a precise point in space so that it appears from the position of the avatar racket. From what is shown in the trailer, the screen of holographic particles makes the virtual John McInroe blurry and distorted. So we’re going to have to see what it actually looks like on the big screen when the movie airs.

The Block 9 team analyzed hour-long footage from John’s matches throughout his career and recorded hundreds of shots, punches and movements. In total, they recorded 308 shots with more than 259 loops and mixes to really capture his footwork and well-known throwing and volley skills.

The best part is that the team recorded many key phrases and sayings so that McInroe could talk to his virtual self (and maybe even smash a couple of rackets).

Image credits: Michelob Ultra

Michelob Ultra has also hosted younger brother John Patrick, who will host the match and give an idea of ​​John as a person for years in real time. Sports commentator Ashley Brewer and former professional tennis player James Blake will take action and show fans this one-of-a-kind match behind the scenes.

“McInroe vs. McEnroe” is the latest spectacle in the Michelob brand “Joy is the highest trophy”. The virtual match is a significant shift in the company’s strategy and is in line with its 2020 Virtual Fans experience called “Michelob Ultra Courtside”, A partnership with the NBA and Microsoft that led to Fr. growth of 32%. in sales.

Ricardo Marquez, vice president of marketing, Michelob Ultra US & Global, told TechCrunch how they chose the turning points in McEnroe’s career.

“He will play his avatar in 1979 – then he came to tennis. Then we are 81st, when he reached the top for the first time in his career. 1982 was not a great year for John, as he felt a little difficult. He then returned in full force in 1984, before retiring in 1992, ”Marquez said.

У 1979, McEnroe won his first career Grand Slam title in the men’s singles. Despite being at the top of his game in 1981, he remained a controversial player, swearing at referees and shouting at referees. Despite that, he was the first male player since the 1920s win three consecutive US Open singles titles, approaching becoming No. 1 in the sport.

The tennis player loses in Wimbledon final 1982 and had an early exit during 1983 US Open. The following year he was dismissed for three weeks because his behavior was very bad exceeded the fine limit of $ 7,500. He was too disqualified from the Wembley Indoor tournament as a result of his racket strike and harsh words. While in 1984 there were dark areas, McInroe had his best season and had a record of 82-3 matches, the highest figure in a single season in the Open era. The last year of his tour was in 1992.

John McInroe is now 63 years old, and he will be the first athlete to participate in this type of technology competition, according to Michelob. The company approached John with this opportunity because they knew he was an ardent, intense competitor and would be prepared for this kind of challenge.

“Who wouldn’t want to be able to literally look back at where you started and note how much you’ve grown and learned along the way?” said McInroe. “I, like everyone else, had ups and downs, and over time I learned to appreciate travel. Whatever happens, you need to find time to enjoy the experience and remember that it is worth it only if you like it. ”

Along with the virtual tennis match, the film will also allow John to reflect on his career and share the stories and lessons he has learned over the years.

“That’s why John McInroe makes such sense for this project. Apart from the fact that he is, of course, a legend of the Tennis Hall of Fame, he has evolved as a person … His outlook on life coincides perfectly with what we stand for, ”Marquez said. “So it’s really a journey, looking back on those moments when he was a very busy player on the court to where he sits today.”

The idea that such a famous and passionate tennis player will play the AR version of himself will definitely turn heads and he could become a risky partner for the brewing company. For example, McInroe once said Serena Williams (who collaborated with the brand) would have taken 700th place in the rankings if she had performed on the men’s circuit.

Image credits: Michelob Ultra

The stark contrast between Michelob Ultra’s happy slogan “It’s only worth it if you like it” and John’s fighting attitude will at least be an interesting combination. The result, of course, will be unique, because “one of the most colorful people in sports has learned to find joy later in his career,” – said in the company. The film will allow viewers to see how a competitive player has evolved over time.

“After all, it’s a message of joy and fun. Reminding people to make the most of every day and enjoy the trip, ”Marquez added.

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