WATCH: 'Caps get 'in the game' at EA SPORTS

Whitecaps FC and EA SPORTS celebrate renewal of partnership

VANCOUVER, BC – At EA SPORTS, they say “it’s in the game.” And that popular tagline took new meaning for Vancouver Whitecaps FC on April 16. 

On a day that Whitecaps FC and EA SPORTS celebrated the renewal of their now three-year partnership, the ‘Caps paid a visit to the EA SPORTS Canada campus in Burnaby, where they got a first-hand look at EA’s pioneering 3D head-scanning technology.

Using an elaborate 12-camera setup, each player had their face captured for consideration in a future FIFA video game.

“It was pretty cool,” said second-year winger/striker Kekuta Manneh. “All my friends said last year, ‘Well we’re playing the game and we’re all excited that you’re in it but it’s not really your face.’ Getting [my head scanned] and being in FIFA is pretty exciting.”

Under the dome

The head-scanning process, which takes about five minutes per player, involves several different steps. The player sits in a diffusion dome and a total of 48 pictures are taken from various angles, according to Digital Imaging Lead, EA CAPTURE Nigel Nunn.  

Each of the 12 cameras are triggered at the same time and then the photos are merged together. And the end result is a 3D reproduction of the player’s face down to the finest detail. Even the tiniest of hairs on a player’s face get reproduced in the video game. 

“You get the shape of the face as well as the texture of the skin,” Nunn told whitecapsfc.com. “You add those two together and it looks crazy real.”

From EA’s perspective, the goal is to take the fidelity of the art and graphics in the game to the next level with new consoles such as Xbox One and PlayStation 4, said EA Studios Group GM Matt Bilbey. Along those lines, a term they often use at EA SPORTS is “uncanny valley.”

When trying to reproduce a real human’s features in a video game, it’s the last five per cent that can actually make the person look like his real life self.

“A lot of what we’re trying here today is that last five per cent, that last piece of technology to really allow football fans and gamers around the world to be involved in the sport rather than just watch on TV,” Bilbey told whitecapsfc.com.

“I’m excited to see how precise and accurate they can get with all the little details,” added Whitecaps FC defender Steven Beitashour.

Nunn said that EA’s head-scanning system is designed specifically for quick set up, quick capture, and easy travel. Over the last few years, they have taken the system all over Europe to capture players from various teams. They determine which teams to focus on depending on the popularity of the teams in online play.  

“Those players can’t come to Vancouver because their schedules are crazy, so we go to them,” Nunn said. “It’s really just about access to the clubs. If the club will give us access, we’d gladly go there.”

A partnership built on passion

With Whitecaps FC, one of the few Major League Soccer teams who have had their players’ faces captured, the access is unprecedented. Not only are the ‘Caps based in Vancouver, but EA SPORTS is also one of the club’s Founding Partners – as well as its Official Videogame Partner.

“The biggest part for us in the relationship we’ve formed is being able to try new things and innovate,” said Bilbey.

And there have already been several examples of this. For example, when EA built BC Place in the game, they used a new geometry technology that they wanted to test out. And more recently, the animated player celebrations shown on the videoboard after goals were first tested at BC Place and are now being used by several Premier League teams.

The access and closeness to the team is one aspect of the partnership between EA SPORTS and Whitecaps FC, but it’s not the only one. Bilbey also spoke about the shared passion of growing the game in British Columbia, as evidenced by the creation of the EA SPORTS Kids First Program - an exciting program that helps support local children's charities and not-for-profit groups by giving them to ability to send youth to a Whitecaps FC match. 

“We’re passionate football fans and we’re passionate Whitecaps fans,” said Bilbey. “Being as close as we are and being able to come out and cheer week on week, it’s great. It’s a partnership built on passion on all levels.”

Fun and games

In addition to getting their heads scanned, Whitecaps FC players also had the opportunity to play the new EA SPORTS 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil game, which was launched just a day earlier.

A number of players went head-to-head, including Manneh and Erik Hurtado. Though Manneh and his native Gambia were handed a lopsided victory in their first game against Hurtado, who played with Ghana, Manneh maintains he “could definitely take him.”

Another matchup saw Beitashour, who is aiming to represent Iran at the upcoming FIFA World Cup, take on fellow defender Sam Adekugbe in a game between Whitecaps FC and … Whitecaps FC.

“I’m bringing YP Lee out of retirement,” Adekugbe quipped as he set his lineup.

The match ended in a 2-2 draw. But Beitashour lived up the billing as the team’s best gamer a little later on, when he cruised to a 6-1 victory over Matt Prior – the game’s lead producer.

“You guys hyped me up a lot so I had to bring my A game,” Beitashour said.

“I have been playing for a while,” added Beitashour, who has hosted a few tournaments with his ‘Caps teammates in recent weeks. “After practice or a long hard day of training, I like to unwind and go sit on the couch and play a little FIFA.”

Can anyone on the team give Beitashour a run for his money?

“I heard Bustos was pretty good, but I beat him yesterday,” he said. “I also heard Nico was pretty good. I keep telling him to come over so we can have a little battle. We’ll get that arranged soon.”

Finally, the afternoon ended with a fun game (a real one) between Whitecaps FC’s U-23 side and the EA SPORTS staff. Beitashour and Whitecaps FC goalkeeper David Ousted served as guest coaches, while defender Jordan Harvey tried his hand at referee.

Overall, it was a fun day for all at the world’s biggest gaming facility.

“This was my first time here,” said Manneh. “It’s amazing. The building is great. Coming here, being at EA SPORTS and playing all these games … it was pretty exciting and fun for the guys.”

It’s not too late to participate in the best sporting experience in Vancouver. Whitecaps FC offer a flexible range of ticket products, including prorated season tickets ($294), half-season tickets ($244), 5-packs ($149), student season tickets ($199), and a youth soccer half-season ticket ($100). Single-match tickets start at $22, subject to applicable fees. For more information on all Whitecaps FC ticket options, call 604.669.9283 ext. 2 or visit whitecapsfc.com/tickets.