British Columbia

EA Sports lends its recorded stadium sounds to bolster crowd-deprived soccer matches

The video game company Electronic Arts is lending its vast library of crowd sound to augment the broadcasts of real-life soccer matches played in empty stadiums due to COVID-19.

COVID-19 means many professional leagues around the world are without a live audience

Liverpool's Sadio Mane celebrates a goal during the Reds' win over Crystal Palace on Wednesday. Matches in England's Premier League are currently being played in empty stadiums due to COVID-19. (Phil Noble/The Associated Press)

Spain's La Liga and England's Premier League are seeking the help of video game company Electronic Arts (EA) to help enliven their sports broadcasts which are currently being played in empty stadiums due to COVID-19. 

EA has a major gaming studio in Burnaby, B.C., where its popular FIFA series, a soccer simulation game, is developed. 

Audio artist Paul Boechler works on the series and said the leagues reached out to the company as they restarted their games playing to crowd-less stadiums in mid-June

"Much of what makes sports compelling is the roar of, you know, 50,000 fans," Boechler said. 

"So when you remove that from a TV broadcast, it just sounds a little bit flat. A little bit like a regular kind-of Sunday pick-up game."

Enter the EA sound library.

Boechler said the company was able to share 1,300 different audio assets with the leagues. The audio is surround-sound, broadcast-ready quality and best of all it's "clean."

"It's all been reviewed, because I'm sure you can imagine, there's a certain amount of offensive content that comes with trying to record real-life football fans," Boechler said. 

During the broadcast, a sound engineer will work with a software system that both allows for automated crowd backgrounds, as well as control of the artificial crowd's reactions to goals or misses.

"When you think of live sports, there's already a live performance. For so many people, not just the athletes themselves, but commentators are doing an oratory performance, the camera operators, the mixers behind the scenes," he said.

"So really, it's just adding another layer to that which is somebody that's controlling this automated crowd system."

A ball is cleaned as play resumes in an empty stadium in England's Premier League. (Ben Stansall/Reuters)

As for criticisms that the digitally enhanced games are "inauthentic," Boechler agrees.

"That's incredibly valid. It is inauthentic," he said. "I think what makes it succeed is the vast majority of viewers will have the option to not listen to it. So even if somebody thinks it's too artificial, they don't like it, then they can choose to listen to a stream that doesn't have it."

Boechler says the enhancements are a short-term solution for what will hopefully be a short-term problem.

"I would rather fans get back in the stadium as soon as possible when it's safe because that means that I can go back to recording crowds and improving our game."

With files from On The Coast

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