Tennis has spent months suspended but IMG Arena has been using licensed assets to create the first-ever officially branded virtual tennis product, based on the ATP Masters 1000 series. Michael Burns took to the court to find out how it was developed.
Like many sports, tennis was suspended in the wake of the current pandemic, denying fans, broadcasters and also the gambling industry their regular run of live matches. However even before that chilling effect had been felt, sports betting service and content hub IMG Arena was developing an official virtual tennis product in partnership with ATP Media.
The global sales, broadcast production and distribution arm of the ATP Tour, ATP Media provides centralised media distribution across the ATP Tour, host broadcast production for the Nitto ATP Finals and ATP Masters 1000s, world feed production for the ATP 500s, Next Gen ATP Finals and certain ATP 250s, as well as the international distribution for the ATP Cup.
The official ATP Virtual Sports product, called ATP 1000 Virtual Tennis, is a tennis game designed specifically for the sports betting market. Featuring logos from the ATP Masters 1000 series along with official tournament names, it aims to deliver an authentic, fan-first experience.
“Virtual sports mimic the experience of real sports betting. Customers can bet on many of the same markets they are used to seeing on a standard sportsbook,” says Freddie Longe, managing director at IMG Arena. ‘Within the virtual sports arena we calculate the probability of all potential outcomes and set betting prices accordingly. A random number generator (RNG) then determines the result of each point and all markets get updated in real-time based on the outcome in real time.
“Virtual sports have provided much needed content for sports fans and sports bettors,” continues Longe. “Recreating much loved tournaments like BNP Paribas Indian Wells and Nitto ATP Finals puts players right at the heart of the virtual action. It provides our federation clients with new ways to expand their global fan-base and new content for our sportsbook customers.”
Sports fans will be able to access the content via bookmakers around the globe, as well as on apps developed for mobile and desktop platforms.
It’s an innovative move for the London-based IMG Arena, which already works with more than 460 leading sportsbook operators worldwide. As well as the on-demand virtual sports offerings it provides always-on services including 24/7 live streaming.
“This is one of the first branded virtual sports deals in the world. There have been others but not to the same scale,” says Longe. “This is the first branded virtual tennis game. In most markets, tennis is one of the top bet-on sports, so we see this project not only as a manifestation of innovation, but of an innovation with a substantial impact.”
“This is a landmark agreement for ATP Media at a challenging time,” says Mark Webster, CEO of ATP Media. “We are excited to be working with IMG Arena to deliver fans around the world innovative content and new ways to enjoy their favourite tennis tournaments.
“Together we are creating a compelling, always-on product that will boost and diversify our sports betting offering, while helping to continue to further develop our international footprint.”
- Read more: Live sports innovations on track
Having a ball
The virtual tennis was made possible when IMG Arena and Leap Gaming, one of the world’s leading virtual sports developers, formed a strategic partnership in June 2018. This included IMG Arena taking an equity stake in Leap as well as tight collaboration on sales and product development initiatives.
Since then a growing portfolio of virtual products also includes golf, motorsport, football, horse racing, speedway, greyhound racing and cycling.
“When we invested in Leap Gaming back in 2018, our vision was to create official products and unlock new revenue streams and forms of fan engagement for our clients,” says Longe. “ATP Media shares this vision and desire to evolve the way its fans connect with tennis. The result is a game-changing product that maximises player engagement and operator returns. As with all of our virtual sports offerings, we have developed the most realistic look, feel, and betting experience.
“The partnership provides the platform to generate significant strategic momentum for both businesses,” he adds. “There is a shared strategic vision to unlock further value for both federations and the sports fans around the world.”
“We use top of the line motion capture technology to create accurate motions of professional sportsmen and implement this onto state-of-the-art graphics and life-like models to bring hyper-realistic and believable imagery,” Longe explains.
“Using the latest physically based rendering techniques (PBR), and sub-surface scattering (SSS) we ensure our characters look like they were actually shot with film cameras, as we match them with real footage from actual environments.
“This, along with special compositing, makes our scenarios feel extremely realistic,” he adds. “Using a professional commentator for our clips is the final lick of paint that we add to the process in order to complete the excitement level generated from our events.
“We hope that the official ATP virtual will provide a new way for fans to enjoy and bet on their favourite tennis tournaments but also provides valuable content to sports books at a time when content is at a premium,” says Longe.
In a similar move, a virtual speedway betting game will be offered to sports betting operators around the world using licensed official assets from The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). A long-term partnership between IMG Arena and the US motorsports giant will see Leap Gaming create a virtual sports betting game that replicates some of NASCAR’s most iconic tracks, including Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Watkins Glen International.
“Adding NASCAR to our client roster is a proud achievement,” says Longe. “The brand is renowned in sport and entertainment with the high-octane race series providing must-watch, appointment-viewing content for more than 70 years. The partnership significantly bolsters our streaming and official virtual sports offering with a product that we expect to be popular in a number of different markets.”
- Read more: Live sports return