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Game on: the ever-growing production values of esports events

By 21st February 2020 February 25th, 2020 No Comments

Head of marketing & communications at live production specialists EVS, Sebastien Verlaine, gives a view into the world of esports production

Across online and TV it is estimated that more than 500 million people around the world are watching other people play video games.

Yet, as esports continue to grow in popularity, tournament producers are faced with the exciting yet challenging task of creating the most immersive experiences again and again to keep their huge fanbase engaged, both inside the venue and at home.

It’s therefore important that esports promoters, broadcasters and producers have a grasp on the challenges and opportunities of covering such events.

There are many production challenges when it comes to delivering live esports events, including replicating the truly immersive experience for viewers at home. Replicating a like-for-like cohesive broadcast narrative of an esports game is difficult.

There are a multitude of cameras covering the players as well as the action inside the arena and the fast-pace in-game signals. A producer would need the equipment in place to allow him to easily switch between the live in-game action and the real-world players, as well as provide in-game replays, commentary segments, and be able to engage with fans across social media platforms such as YouTube, Twitter, Twitch, and many others.

This is crucial to the production of an esports event as they help bring live storytelling to life for audiences and fans, making them feel like they’re a part of the game.

Despite the added technical pressures in setting up an esports event and bridging the gaming and broadcast worlds, the expectation from the audience is that the production quality will be high.

For example, the slow-motion replay capabilities have to replicate a half-speed replay at 50 percent, with completely smooth playout and absolutely no loss of frames.

ESL has worked with EVS to build the industry’s first in-game slow motion replay solution. One of the ways they have been able to achieve this is by placing observer PCs into a live game, viewing the action as if they were cameras.

Feeds from these are recorded in 120Hz, ingested by a live production server, and slowed down to the broadcast-standard 60Hz. It provides in-game replays that create the immersive experience demanded by viewers, creating output similar to what would be delivered to fans watching any live football or basketball game on TV.

The speed of programme production is equally very important. Esports promoters and producers now look for all-in-one solutions that allow them to cut together material and trigger the delivery of in-game content across the screens showing the action to fans watching a live stream and those within the venue.

Solutions, such as high-end video switchers, provide producers with creative capabilities and can adapt to the complex, multi-layered nature of esports productions.

A producer can instantly split up traditional MEs into sections, meaning that the esports assigned buttons controlling the views of one team can be placed in one quadrant, while the corresponding sources for the other team are in another quadrant.

This is important for fast-paced complex live esports events, especially when considering the operational costs associated with hardware-based solutions and the need for employing several operators to do what one or two can in a live-production environment.

What makes setting up an esports event challenging is the sheer difference and scale between various games such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike and Fortnite.

For example, a Fortnite game requires many POV cameras placed in-game in order for the public and the producers of the event to review the action. Compare that to a Counter Strike game, and you drastically reduce in-game cameras and add in in-game observers, people that are not playing the game, but have direct access to it, positioned strategically to view the action live in any mode.

Another interesting aspect of engaging esports fans is social media. Esports stakeholders like ESL and Turtle Entertainment (ESL’s owners) realise that live programming, the extra behind-the-scenes content/commentary and the social media content is what keeps the fan base engaged.

Realistically, esports has a dedicated social media fan base through platforms such as Twitch and YouTube, making it crucial to have an implemented workflow to facilitate the fast and easy creation of social content.

Going forward, esports will continue to grow and develop across many territories, more specialist production companies will be deployed in producing events, more viewers will also attend live competitions, forcing producers to replicate the live-stream experience for in-venue.

This will include added commentary, social media engagement on the big screens inside the venues, player/fan engagement during a match, higher-resolution screens inside venues, better lighting, better music, more armchair functionalities (such as voting for your favourite player, choosing who’s facing who in the latter stages of a competition) and many others.

One thing remains certain and that is that the industry will benefit from using more professional tools in simplifying live-productions, and ultimately improve fan engagement both inside and outside of an esports venue.

 Sébastien Verlaine is head of marketing & communications at EVS.

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