ESPN+ launches ‘McEnroe vs. McEnroe’, the first-ever tennis match between a real person and their virtual avatar – TechCrunch

Premiering May 7 at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+, Michelob Ultra, in collaboration with a technology and production company Unit 9, features “McEnroe vs. McEnroe”, the world’s first tennis match to pit a real person against a virtual player, both being a version of the entertaining and confrontational tennis player, John McEnroe. In the match, the real McEnroe will face his ultimate opponent, his younger self. In this case, an AI-powered virtual player

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

The Unit 9 team spent a day with John bringing the vision to life through full body scanning, motion capture and MetaHuman Unreal Engine technology (a cloud-based application that creates photorealistic digital humans). The avatar game system will be projected on a holographic particle screen and will be a gameplay simulation with a system of ball launchers and ball return robots.

When McEnroe sends the ball over the net, the avatar responds to the direction of the real ball. When the avatar swings, a new bullet is fired from the bullet cannon, then flies through a smokescreen at a specific point in space to spawn from the avatar’s paddle position. From what is shown in the trailer, the hologram particle screen makes the virtual John McEnroe blurry and distorted. So we’ll have to see what it actually looks like on the big screen when the movie airs.

The Unit 9 team analyzed hours of footage from John’s games throughout his career and recorded hundreds of shots, kicks and moves. In total, they recorded 308 shots with over 259 loops and blends to really capture his well-known footwork and shot-and-volley skills.

The best part about it is that the team recorded plenty of key phrases and statements so McEnroe could talk to his virtual self (and maybe even smash a few racquets).

Picture credits: Michelob Ultra

Michelob Ultra has also enlisted John’s younger brother, Patrick, who will host the match and provide real-time information on John as a person over the years. Sports commentator Ashley Brewer and former professional tennis player James Blake will be calling the action and giving fans a behind-the-scenes look at this one-of-a-kind match.

“McEnroe vs. McEnroe” is the latest show in the Michelob brand’s “Joy is the Ultimate Trophy” campaign. The Virtual Match is a significant shift in the company’s strategy and follows its 2020 Virtual Fan Experience titled “Michelob Ultra Courtside“, a partnership with the NBA and Microsoft that has led to a 32% increase in sales.

Ricardo Marques, Vice President of Marketing, Michelob Ultra US & Global, told TechCrunch how they picked pivotal moments in McEnroe’s career.

“He’s going to play his 1979 avatar – that’s when he entered the tennis circuit. Then we have 81, when he reached the top for the first time in his career. 1982 n “It wasn’t a good year for John because he was struggling a bit. Then he came back strong in 1984, before retiring in 1992,” Marques said.

In 1979, McEnroe won his first career Grand Slam men’s singles title. While at the top of his game in 1981, he remained a controversial player, insulting referees and yelling at referees. Despite this, he was the first male player since the 1920s to win three consecutive US Open singles titles, coming one step closer to becoming No. 1 in the sport.

The tennis player would lose in the 1982 Wimbledon final and had an early release during the 1983 U.S. Open. The following year he would be suspended for three weeks because his behavior was so bad and exceeded a $7,500 limit on fines. He was too disqualified of the Wembley indoor tournament following his racquet snap and harsh words. While 1984 had its dark spots, McEnroe had his best season yet and had an 82-3 game record, the highest single-season rate in the Open Era. His last year of touring was in 1992.

John McEnroe is now 63 and will be the first athlete to compete in this type of technology-based competition, according to Michelob. The company approached John with this opportunity because they knew he was a fiery and intense competitor and would be up for that kind of challenge.

“Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to literally look back on your beginnings and celebrate everything you’ve grown and learned along the way?” McEnroe said. “I’ve had ups and downs like everyone else, and what I’ve learned over time is to enjoy the journey. No matter what happens, you need to find time to savor the experience and remember that it’s only worth it if you enjoy it.

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

“That’s exactly why John McEnroe makes so much sense for this project. Aside from being, of course, a Hall of Fame tennis legend, he’s evolved as a human…His vision of life aligns beautifully with what we stand for,” Marques said. it stands today.”

The idea of ​​such a well-known and hot-tempered tennis player playing an AR version of himself is sure to turn heads, and he could be a risky partner for the brewing company. For example, McEnroe said once Serena Williams (who has partnered with the brand) would be ranked number 700 if she played on the men’s circuit.

Picture credits: Michelob Ultra

The stark contrast between Michelob Ultra’s carefree catchphrase “It’s only worth it if you enjoy it” and John’s combative attitude will be an interesting couple, to say the least. The result is sure to be unique as “one of the most colorful personalities in sport learned to find joy later in his career,” the company said. The film will allow the public to see how a competitive gamer has evolved over time.

“Ultimately, it’s a message of joy and fun. Remind people to make the most of every day and enjoy the ride,” Marques added.

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