Where am I? Gaming whizzes put geography on the map
The world's best gamers who can identify a location anywhere in the world after seeing an image in less than a second face off Saturday in a world championship in Stockholm.
The world's best gamers who can identify a location anywhere in the world after seeing an image in less than a second face off Saturday in a world championship in Stockholm. A picture of a sunny paved road appears on a computer screen, bordered by trees and bushes. A red dirt road crosses the paved road, in what appears to be a tropical landscape. "We're going to be in Indonesia because of the sticker on this pole," Trevor Rainbolt of the United States tells AFP.
He clicks on the map and selects what appears to be a random location in Indonesia.
Bingo -- he's just 88 kilometres (55 miles) from the actual spot.
Rainbolt, a fast-talking computer geek, is one of the biggest stars in the GeoGuessr game community for his uncanny ability to determine the location of a Google Maps picture in a tenth of a second -- less than the blink of an eye.
An AFP reporter watching him play is barely able to see the image in that amount of time, much less guess the country, city or village.
"It requires a lot of work and research," Rainbolt admits.
"During the pandemic I played around 18 hours a day."
Created by the Swedish trio Anton Wallen, Daniel Antell and Erland Ranvinge, Geoguessr was born on May 10, 2013 when it was published on a popular platform for coders.
The idea is simple: a player is dropped somewhere in the world on Google Maps' Street View and has to guess where he is.
He puts his cursor on the world map and clicks on the location he thinks is correct. The closer the player is to the real spot, the more points he gets.
"My friend Anton was playing around with the Application Programming Interface (API) that Google released publicly, so he made a small game and put it on Reddit," Antell told AFP.
"Then it went viral."
Poles and plants
On Saturday, 24 players from around the world compete in Stockholm in the first official world championship organised by Geoguessr, with a $50,000 prize pool.
Some 500 spectators are expected, according to event host Space.
That's small in the gaming world: the 2022 League of Legends world championship finals was watched by 18,000 live spectators in San Francisco and around five million others online.
Geoguessr has flourished into a company with sales of 200 million kronor ($18 million), with Antell as chief executive.
But neither the company nor the players seem too concerned about whether the game becomes an official eSport.
It's different from other eSports in that "it's more accessible", with both a free and a premium version, explained Wallen.
It's also frequently played by kids and in schools.
The game now has 65 million registered users worldwide.
"Now we are growing most on mobile and that's a lot more casual players," Wallen said.
The world's top players have a range of clues and tips they use to help them identify locations, after hours spent scrutinising pictures online.
These can be black dots on Argentinian license plates, ground markings in Greece, vegetation or the colour of the soil in Africa, or even the position of the camera on Google's cars, which is lower in Sri Lanka and Japan for privacy reasons.
"It's a bit of detective work, you have to put all the puzzle pieces together to figure out where you are," says Mattias "Macken" McCullin who is representing Sweden in the championship.
The game has made Rainbolt want to see the world in real life.
Last year, he went to Botswana. "Would I have ever gone to Botswana before I started playing this game? Absolutely not," he said.
“I have this new-found love for these countries, that I wouldn't have had without this game.”