For IPL 2018, we at Hotstar wanted to create an immersive viewing experience for our audience. We wanted to create something that in addition to taking the match to them, brought them closer to the game by allowing them express themselves the way they might whilst watching the match live in a stadium.
One way to do this was to create a pack of emoji made up of cricketing emotions and moments, topical reactions, (and, to our sales team’s delight,) even branded icons; all this designed especially for the fans to react to the matches in real time, reminding them that even though they may be watching by themselves, they were by no means watching alone.

Why emoji?

Well, why not? They’re everywhere.
They’re in your chats, apparel*, the latest tattoo trends, and entirely unwatchable movies that even Patrick Stewart couldn’t save.
Their popularity is on a steady upward climb, and only growing, in part due to their ubiquity in modern communication, and the rest because they’re so damn cute. This upward trend, coupled with the ease of expression that they provide, live emoji seemed like an idea we could bet on.
*Yeah… we went there.
Identifying key moments (AKA compulsive list-making)

With a little help from our cricket-loving friends, we identified the moments in a cricket match that elicit a reaction. From standard mnemonics and expressions to cricket-specific reactions, and key moments. We itemised them all. At one point we had a list of over 300 options, with stuff like ‘Nyan duck, ‘helicopter’, and ‘pom-poms in every team colour’ making a petulant appearance.
However, despite being a relatively new phenomenon, the understanding of our relationship with emoji has gained academic levels of attention. We know enough to know what works. For example, that positive sentiment emoji tend to be used more than negative ones. And that no matter how much you tell me that the emoji that looks like a Namaste is a high-five, I will ignore your pedantism and continue to use it as a Namaste.
Learnings like these helped us sift through all the pipe dreams, whims, and indulgences. Several iterations and a few heated debates later, a final list of 38 was decided on.

The Design Process (Is Holy)

Major influences for the set of emoji — both in the way of form, as well as function — came from live reaction buttons across Facebook, Periscope, and Bigo Live.
The aesthetic itself was slated to be clean, minimal, yet playful, and synergic with the platform’s own aesthetic. 
We reached out to designers and animators as far out as South Africa (in an attempt to limit ourselves to cricketing nations, because we’d hate to have to refer to it as baseball, but the rules are different, and the game itself is actually exciting.) But in a fine exemplification of Occam’s Razor, the simplest answer was the best one, and so we got to work designing the emoji in-house.

We only had three months to design, develop, and deploy these emoji — and Watch ‘N Play — and a whole lot of limitations including but not limited to BCCI guidelines not permitting anything to be displayed over the match feed, platform real estate, and virtually no precedent for something like this being done at this scale.

We started out with the three things we knew:
1. We would need a happy face, a heart, a six, a four, and an out.
2. What yellow is to unicode emoji, our platform colour (green) would be to our pack.
3. Our emoji needed to be — above all — recognisable and relatable. Even at a tiny 20X20 pixels.
Additionally we retained two primary elements from our brand guideline — the bright green as the primary colour, and Gibson as the typeface of choice.
Only the brave display their first round of designs
The first round of designs, while rudimentary, set the tone for what we wanted, and more importantly for what we didn’t want.
The designs needed dimension and polish. Additionally, they needed to be both — round and cuddly, as well as sharp and sporty.
Gradients, we realised, were how we were going to be able to solve for the above.
And a few iterations later…
As the worked our way down the list, we recognised the need for more colours. As we were simultaneously designing for Watch ‘N Play, we pooled our resources and agendas to work out a distinct colour palette that did both — stand out, as well as blend in. What’s even better than gradients, you ask? Why, gradients in pop-pastel, of course!
Finally, we needed something to bind our little babies together, and make sure each individual unit was as visible on dark backgrounds as light ones, and so we added a thick black outline to each of the icons, except the faces (to keep them looking cute and cuddly, whilst not loosing detail. This went a long way in creating a cohesive design language across the set, and increasing visibility across backgrounds and sizes.
And so, we had our palette. And soon, our entire pack was a flurry of bright colour and relatable emotion, waiting to be tap-tap-tapped on.
Answer icons for Watch ‘N Play
We asked ourselves some tough questions along the way — as most young parents do, we wondered what colour the poop should be.
We laboured over debates like, ‘are wayfarers still cool?’ or ‘does the fire look too threatening?’ and took bets on whether the ball on fire would be used more to connote a fast ball or a powerful shot hit out of the park. We also pondered on whether eggs or tomatoes were more likely to be thrown at an innings going south (eggs won 3–1 by show of hands).
Mmm… clickable.
Branded emoji

The project was fun, but it wasn’t all fun and games. Sponsored emoji helped us work with brands like Coke, VIVO, and Vodafone, to leverage the popularity of the IPL to create buzz for themselves.
[Vivo, Vodafone, (Rum, Coke) ]
So, How’d we do?

(Good enough to deserve being on the front page of several national newspapers.)
VIVO IPL 2018 was a special one for Hotstar. We broke the world record for the maximum number of concurrent video viewers at 10.3 million concurrent viewers towards the end of the final match, whilst marching bravely into the world of live stream play-along gaming as well as emoji reactions for live sport.
A huge thanks to everyone that played along, expressed themselves, provided valuable feedback, and helped us make the IPL emoji a success. Here’s to more innovation, year on year, every year.
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