Artificial Intelligence helped 63-year-old John McEnroe to play with the younger version of himself. In the special issue of ESPN + “McEnroe vs. McEnroe” the outstanding tennis player played against his virtual avatar, trained with the help of AI.
The first tennis match between a man and an avatar was created by Michelob Ultra and ESPN with the support of technology company Unit 9. For the 45-minute program, released on May 7, the developers combined artificial intelligence and machine training, as well as 5 virtual avatars of John McEnroe from the key moments of his career.
The Unit 9 team spent a day with the athlete to embody the idea of the match by fully scanning his body, capturing movement and with the help of technology called Unreal Engine MetaHuman – cloud application that creates photorealistic digital people. The avatar game was designed on a screen of holographic particles and supplemented with a system of mechanisms that launched and bounced the ball.
When McEnroe passes the ball through the net, the avatar responds to the direction of the ball. The avatar moves – and a new ball fires from a special cannon and flies across the screen – a smokescreen – so that it appears from the avatar’s racket.
To develop an avatar, Unit 9 analyzed the hours of matches with John McEnroe throughout his career, as well as recorded hundreds of strikes and movements. In total, they recorded 308 strikes with over 259 loops and combinations to truly show his famous movements.
Also, the development team recorded numerous key phrases and statements of the tennis player so that McEnroe could talk a little with the virtual self.
John McEnroe- seven-time winner of the Grand Slam tournaments in singles and ten times in doubles. Former world number one racket. Many experts consider him one of the greatest tennis players in history.
McEnroe’s career lasted 15 years. In addition to victories, he was also remembered by the audience for his passionate temperament and frequent arguments with the judges.