John McEnroe is playing tennis with a virtual version of himself on ESPN+

Michelob Ultra and ESPN decided to use AI to answer a long-standing question: what if tennis legend John McEnroe played himself? The upcoming ESPN+ special titled “McEnroe vs. McEnroe” will feature the 63-year-old star, who retired from singles in 1992, playing against an AI-trained version of the complex.

Based on TechCrunch, the process for the actual game is quite involved. After the real McEnroe sends a ball over the net, the AI ​​avatar will react to its direction and “spin” – at this point, a new ball is launched from a cannonball, obscured by a ball cannon. smoke screen. The placement of the cannonballs and the smoke screen are designed to make the ball appear as if it were flying out of the avatar’s racket. The avatar itself is projected onto a holographic particle screen. The trailer below shows an amazingly small amount of footage.

As for how all of this comes together, the real McEnroe spent a day with the production company of Unit 9, who used full-body motion capture and scanning in conjunction with Unreal Engine’s MetaHuman Creator Technology. Adweek said that the McEnroe avatar and its programming are based on five different points in McEnroe’s career, including his debut in 1979, his ascent to the top of the sport in 1981, and his senior year. his last as a professional in 1992.

Besides working with the real McEnroe, Unit 9 also analyzed hundreds of hours of footage during his career and recorded 308 different shots for the virtual avatar. Given that McEnroe is now 63 years old, he will be competing against a much younger version of himself – which, of course, means that the AI ​​will still have the edge to be seen. If this somewhat odd combination has caught your attention, TechCrunch says the special will air tonight, May 7, on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.

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