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Drawing from industry experience

In the 1980s, the University of Arizona and 3M researchers developed a “24-point font rule” that applied to the 35mm slides that were being produced at the time. The study determined that 35mm slides projected on large screens had an ideal font size that was based upon a minimum arcminute. This minimum arcminute has been studied to provide quick, accurate reading and information absorption for viewers of large-screen displays. In more recent times, this study has been used for digital image projections to derive the popular 6:1 (distance to image height rule) that is popular in audiovisual design. Changes to technology, most specifically display resolution, have made these older measurement rules unreliable and misleading. UHD/4K screens have stretched the limits of readability and, as a result, traditional measurement rules like the “24-point font rule” are now generally unusable.

Understanding Arc Minutes

Most notably, Extron Electronics, a prominent global audiovisual manufacturer, has simplified these studies and pushed aside all of the variables with one simple rule that applies to any digital screen. This new rule states that a minimum text height of 1″ per 15′ of viewing distance (2.5cm per 4.5 meters) is a reliable standard as long as an average arcminute between 10 and 20 (higher being better) is maintained. Extron notes that text which occupies “10 vertical minutes of the viewer’s vision” can be legible but “15 to 20 arc-minutes” is a safer rule of thumb.
The industry uses “arc-minutes” to measure how legible text on a screen will look to spectators from various distances. As a result, the further that you move away from a screen, the narrower your vision arc becomes and therefore the information becomes less legible. Because this rule deals with the final size of text on a screen, resolution and scaling with modern 4K screens are no longer an issue. Therefore, the Esports Spectator Display Rule uses the same principles and applies standards that most esports displays can follow as a rule of thumb (Extron, n.d).

Esports Spectator Display Sizing

Furthermore, how do you appropriately size the spectator display for your esports arena, stadium or classroom? Unfortunately, there is no simple or universal answer. There are many variables that will affect the success of your esports spectator display. These include but are not limited to the following:
This may seem like too many factors to manage but with a bit of thoughtful analysis and some research-based information, you can fairly well predict what size of display will accommodate the worst-case viewing distance for an enjoyable spectator esports experience. First, consider what you are trying to control with your selection. Since you cannot control the text size inside the game, the only reliable option is to make sure that the resulting text shown on the spectator display is large enough to read from the cheap seats.

Bigger Displays are Better Right?

“Well, how big does text really need to be?” might be your next question. How would anyone know that? Luckily, decades ago, a group of university and corporate researchers collaborated to discover how big textual information needed to be when presented to groups for it to be easily ingested, processed, and recalled. While you do not expect to be tested on the current contents of a player’s health stats or inventory, you can use these results for any application where readable text is the goal. What researchers discovered is that humans need the height of text to take up a minimum of about 10 arcminutes (or ⅙ of a degree) of our vision to be readable.

Bigger than this is even better. Of course, font style and contrast can have a big impact on this as well, but because these factors are baked into the game they cannot typically be modified. So, with a basic understanding of a single arc-minute being the same as ⅙ of a degree and a prescription to provide at least 10 arc-minutes for the height of each letter, you can break out a calculator and determine the correct esports spectator display size. Unfortunately, there are still too many variables between games to make any universal statement. However, using League of Legends 2020 as a standard baseline of information, by extension the “Esports Spectator Display Rule” attempts to provide a more general prescription for games that use similar font sizing, etc.

Applying the standard

In this way, League of Legends does indeed provide its own setting for ‘Window Size’ that scales the game to better ‘fill’ your screen (albeit sometimes partially and sometimes fully). Using a Windows PC that can scale its displays for easier text reading (in Windows Display Settings), you can see how League of Legends adapts to these settings and what it might look like on today’s high-resolution flat panel and projected displays.
The table below shows the results:
Display Resolution Display ScalingGame SettingFull ScreenSmall Menu ~H%Maximum Viewing Distance to Display Height Ratio*
1080p 100%1920×1080100%1.333.1

*max ratios presented are approximate and are based upon 15 arcminutes of text height of the ‘small’ menu text in LoL specifically. Other games and other text within the game (if smaller) may not follow this recommendation. A strong contrast between text and its background can have a significant effect on results.

The math behind the rule

This table displays: the native resolution of the display (e.g. 1080p, 2k or 4k); the display scaling setting used in Windows 10; the game scaling “Window Size” setting used in League of Legends; whether the combination of the two settings result in a full-screen rendering or a ‘windowed’ game view; a measurement of the approximate percentage of the total display height that one line of text takes up (in this case, the ‘small menu’ text was measured); and finally a resulting ratio that we can apply to our farthest viewing distance and screen size to achieve our minimum target. This example increased the target from the rock-bottom minimum of 10 arcminutes by a factor of 50% to achieve approximately 15 arc-minutes to provide for a more enjoyable experience.

Display Height, Width, and Diagonal

So, as a result, what do we do with this ratio? Looking at the bold rows, you can see that all of the “Full Screen” renderings require a 3.1 – 3.2 maximum distance to screen height ratio. Of course, the “windowed” renderings require viewers to be even closer and show the PC’s desktop or other applications running in the background, which are undesirable. Let’s look at a real-world example. Say that I’m thinking fairly “big” and I hope to have spectators sitting as far back from my desired display mounting location as 30 feet. As a result, using the ratio of 3.2:1, this means that my display must be at least (30’ / 3.2 = 9-⅜’) or 112.5” in height. For a modern 16×9 display, that also means it will need to be at least (112.5 / 9 * 16) = 200” wide (or in the normal display sizing vernacular 229.5” diagonal).

You can bend the rules!

Can you sit spectators farther than this 3.2:1 ratio? You certainly can, and no one will be injured by the experience. However, they might find the experience less enjoyable if they are unable to read the on-screen game text. In conclusion, if you can positively increase proportional scaling from your PC and game combined with a full-screen rendering, and if the text experience in your game of choice is similar to that of League of Legends 2020, then you can use the factor of 3.2:1 (Viewing Distance: Display Height) to achieve readable text for your spectators for an enjoyable eSports experience.

Is your existing spectator display big enough?

First of all, every game is different and many esports facilities already have large screen displays installed, here is a method you can use for testing your displays using the arc-minute rule for viewers in your space: measure the text height and the distance from the farthest viewer and then use a scientific calculator (or the excel sheet included in our online course) to calculate arc-minutes.

School Esports Classroom Example

Now let’s take an example of a school computer lab and apply the Esports Spectator Display Rule in a real-world example. The computer lab is a standard rectangle classroom that measures 20’ x 24’. There are 12 gaming stations set up for a five on five League of Legends match with one coach observer computer for each team. The gaming computers are set up on the edges of the classroom with a production computer in front of the classroom to display an “Observer” view to the spectators.
In the center of the classroom, there is a spectator space set up with 20 chairs in five rows of four. The furthest viewer is at the back of the classroom almost 17 feet away from the projector. Because there are so many different types of display resolutions and scaling options, let’s assume that you are using a 1080p projector with the default 100% scaling option; therefore, this example can use the ratio of 3.1:1 to calculate our suggested display size.
The above equation gives a suggested display height of 63” and a width of 112”. With this information you can calculate the diagonal below.
This equation recommends a display with a 128” diagonal or 10 foot 6 inches. While again this is a massive display, it just goes to show how large esports spectator displays should be in an ideal environment. In the next segment, you can review tips for accommodating more viewers and optimizing their esports viewing experience.

Other practical advice for esports spectator displays

If you can’t fit into a space that is big enough to accommodate the further viewers, consider removing the last row of chairs. Remember that viewers closer to the screen will be able to have a better view and you may want to change your goals to prioritize the majority of spectators. Remember that contrast is king when it comes to legibility. While League of Legends, for example, has options that you can use to increase the contrast on the screen, you generally do not have control of the background with which the text can contrast with. Similarly, remember that you do not need to affect the competitive video gamer’s screens to achieve higher levels of contrast on your Observer PC.
Finally, you can optimize the settings on your Observer PC to increase the size of the HUD display, show a scoreboard, and even team frames. You should also set a frame rate cap on your Observer PC to match the frame rate capabilities available on your display. Higher-end esports productions will use broadcast graphics packages to display important details larger than the game would normally display them for competitive players. Through the process of understanding the video production elements used to live stream an esports tournament, students can gain a better understanding of the role audiovisuals play in their gaming experience.
Check out PTZ camera optical zoom calculator here.
(Photo Credit – Photo by Stem List on Unsplash link)

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