01.28.2020Personal Tech

How Verizon 5G and the NFL are reinventing mobile gaming

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A next-generation network has the potential to bring massive breakthroughs to gaming—both on and off the field.

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As the football season marches toward one final showdown, an equally fierce competition has been raging away from the gridiron.

Part of a two-year innovation partnership, Verizon and the NFL launched the Verizon 5G NFL Mobile Gaming Challenge this past June, calling on U.S.-based developers to create a football-themed game that would harness the power of Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband. 

With the goal of reimagining mobile gaming for a 5G world, the challenge attracted enthusiastic responses from design studios across the country. Submissions were ultimately narrowed to five finalists, who then built prototypes of their work over the course of a breakneck, 48-hour game jam in late August. 

Days later, two winners were announced. But for the victorious teams—Colorfiction and Juncture Media—the ensuing months have revealed the real challenge.

Endowed with $400,000 in prize money, as well as access to the Verizon 5G Labs, 5G technology and the NFL’s IP and library of assets, both teams have been working feverishly, fine-tuning their designs and preparing to unveil their finished products this week in Miami. 

The stage is now set: Over one of the most hotly anticipated weekends in sports, Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband will reveal itself to be truly a game-changing technology. 

5G, gaming and the next level

The hard work that has gone into the Verizon 5G NFL Mobile Gaming Challenge supports a higher goal than mobile entertainment: to prove that a next-generation 5G network is here today, delivering fundamentally new experiences.

“There are eight performance attributes—eight currencies, if you will—to consider when evaluating whether a 5G network can deliver on its full potential. Several of those currencies  are particularly important to mobile gaming,” explains Julian Gompertz, Innovation Program Manager at Verizon 5G Labs. “Mobility, data volume, reliability, connected devices—they’re all essential elements for this type of gaming, and together make Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband critical to success.”

Ultimately, mobile gaming provides Verizon with a critical platform for showcasing some of 5G Ultra Wideband’s core features, namely higher bandwidth, lightning-fast speeds and ultra-low latency. For gaming to reach the next level—from massive-multiplayer formats to mixed-reality experiences—5G is essential.

Mobility, data volume, reliability, connected devices—they’re all essential elements for this type of gaming, and together make Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband critical to success.

— Julian Gompertz, Innovation Program Manager, Verizon 5G Labs

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And with mobile edge computing (MEC)—which allows complex functions to be performed closer to the user and away from centralized servers, essentially shortening the distance data has to travel—battery life can be extended and hardware can shrink. An even greater unlock for gamers: Cloud-based models could eventually overtake the old-school console, effectively making all games mobile and playable on any device. 

Playing to win

To help recruit developers and identify top talent, Verizon and the NFL enlisted Playcrafting, a community of game developers who specialize in collaborative game jams. 

“We invited five finalists into the 5G Lab for a hackathon,” says Gompertz. “We brought food and drinks and said, ‘You have 48 hours to build a prototype version of what you submitted.’ After a lot of work and very little sleep, we were all pretty blown away at the level of quality.”

Games were judged on a range of criteria, including overall concept, quality of teams and tools used, 5G impact and necessity, and degree of NFL integration. Colorfiction’s winning entry, Endzone, challenges a player to navigate a series of shape-shifting mazes to score a touchdown. The game’s futuristic look earned it the affectionate nickname “Football Tron.” 

“In the spirit of the NFL’s 100th season, we thought Endzone could resemble the game of football 100 years from now,” Gompertz explains. “The artwork is next-level, and 5G will be key in regard to the fidelity of those graphics and the cloud rendering.”

Juncture Media’s winning entry, NFL Ultra Toss, creates a massive-multiplayer experience in which players positioned in an NFL stadium attempt to throw footballs into the bed of a truck parked on the 50-yard line. A favorite feature among judges was a trick-shot element that has become increasingly popular on YouTube. 

“Being able to throw that Hail Mary is super-fun and, from a 5G perspective, we were excited about a game that takes advantage of multiplayer possibilities,” says Gompertz. “It’s easy to envision a game like this being played in a venue in which everyone has a 5G device.” 

Road to the Super Bowl

Since the announcement, both Verizon 5G NFL Mobile Gaming Challenge winners have been working feverishly to hone their prototypes—enhancing the backend, cleaning up wayfinding and navigation, incorporating music, and addressing other suggestions provided by Playcrafting, Verizon and the NFL. 

Now, the Colorfiction and Juncture Media teams are embarking on a crucial next step: collaborating with Verizon’s technology and network teams in the Verizon 5G Labs to put their game builds through their paces, test 5G integration and perfect the final versions, which will be unveiled in Miami’s Bayfront Park. 

There, Verizon is building a massive dome structure with IMAX screens and stadium seating, with 5G devices attached to every seat, so attendees can experience firsthand the ways in which 5G will help transform the fan experience. Inside, the public will get the first eye-popping glimpse of the victors’ fully functional games. “That’s where the action is going to be,” says Gompertz. 

For Verizon, the NFL and the winning teams, it’s the culmination of months of work. But when it comes to 5G and gaming, we’re only at the kickoff. 

“Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband offers a whole new creative playground for developers to push the limits of what's possible and disrupt mobile gaming," says Nicki Palmer, Verizon's Senior Vice President of Technology and Product Development. “By putting the power of our Ultra Wideband network in the hands of the many fans of the NFL, we'll see gaming concepts we couldn’t even have imagined before 5G.”

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