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What online TV distributors can learn from esports producers

By Sebastien Verlaine, marketing and communications manager, EVS

Traditional broadcast-centric sports programming is always produced to the highest standards – especially flagship tournaments and events like the World Cup or the Olympics. 

On the other hand, sports that are distributed primarily using internet-delivered means often don’t meet that standard. This is especially the case for smaller secondary or tertiary sports. But esports is changing the game – events producers are creating content for audiences to a similar level to which broadcasters are covering major events. Just because programming is primarily accessible online, it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be of the highest possible standard. Now in the mainstream, selling out arenas around the world, esports are watched by millions. This is in part due to the high-quality live programming being produced and delivered to fans, something that the sport is continually improving in order to draw in even bigger audiences.

Driven by great expectations

The need for quality in esports programming has been fuelled by the sport’s fervent fanbase. The majority of those watching live games are gamers themselves, playing in 4K resolutions on machines with extremely powerful graphics cards and render engines. They’re a technically minded audience with an eye for resolution, frame rates and most importantly, mistakes.

While it may seem like a minor point, audiences watching are commonly doing so close to the screen. Typically, television viewers don’t watch from one foot in front of a monitor. However, esports games on Twitch or YouTube will be watched on mobile devices and computers with headphones, which creates a much more personal viewing experience.

Tournaments are also usually a time-consuming affair which audiences dedicate a lot of attention to. From start to finish, they can last from anything up to 30 hours depending on the game being played. And programming is designed so viewers are engaged whether they watch an hour or the entire thing. The rounds of any game are intense and gaps between them are filled with punditry from star shoutcasters who present the storylines of the tournament – much like a football or rugby tournament. There’s little downtime such as the breaks between tennis sets or the stop-and-start nature of American football.

The length of a tournament, the intimate viewing nature, the expectations of story and an engaged and connected audience that’s attuned to spotting mistakes means esports producers can’t output a programme that’s anything less than the highest quality.

How to create consistent excellence

Understanding the need to create the best programming possible is one thing. Achieving it is another. While already outputting content in 1080p resolution, esports productions – much like their traditional broadcast-driven counterparts – are always looking for new ways to deliver better and more enriched content to fans.

More than ever esports producers are adopting the latest broadcast technology. The likes of ESL and Riot Games are using the technology that’s used for the world’s biggest sporting events and finding new ways of deploying them. But it’s esports producers’ approach to technology that really makes the difference. They create workflows that use technology only in a way that brings them real value.

Live video switchers for example are used for all live production operations. But esports producers see the value in adopting the latest software-based systems, because of the creative operational efficiencies it gives them. A software-driven switcher is better for cutting together programming with a lot of layers of graphics.

Because of the high-resolution nature of games that use incredibly detailed renders, any graphic elements added by a tournament’s production team need to be designed to the highest standard and included seamlessly.

Switchers built on software-defined architectures also benefit from being completely customisable. ESL for example use theirs to create a programme setup for each of the games played at any given tournament. Then as live production begins, they simply recall a games’ configuration with the press of a button and start cutting together a programme without any delay between events.

These same technologies are also practical inside venues for live events because they can easily control video that spans large displays on stage. Switchers built on software are very well-suited to complex, multi-layered productions, making them the ideal partner for esports events.

A new wave of esports technology

Responding to esports producers’ approach to deploying live production technology, vendors within media and entertainment are increasingly developing solutions dedicated to esports.

A good example of this is a solution EVS developed with ESL to allow the production team to create in-game live replays – a staple of live sports programming. Live feeds from observer PCs placed inside first person shooter games are recorded by live production servers in the computers’ native 120Hz format. Replays are created with LSM remote control panels, slowing down feeds to the broadcast-standard 60Hz. This outputs a half-speed replay with completely smooth playout and absolutely no loss of frames.

Vendors also need to make sure esports producers have the fastest turnaround content management as possible. As well as high-quality programming streams, fans watching online expect supplementary content – like GIFs and memes from the tournament. Because this is done on social media, content now needs to be ingested, clipped and immediately distributed to associated social media accounts. With that in mind, production asset management systems are increasingly incorporating fast-turnaround online distribution functionality to make sure esports organisers can engage with fans as quickly as possible.

It’s this level of attention to detail that helps esports producers meet the expectations of audiences. And they do this using technology and approaching its deployment in a slightly different way to the traditional content producer.

Bringing the highest standard

Thanks to the proliferation of esports and its ambitious events, we’re seeing a change in the quality of programming output by online-only content creators. And there’s no excuse why that shouldn’t happen. The technology is as easily accessible as it’s ever been.

Traditional broadcasting is still extremely popular. Online-delivered services are only making it easier for audiences to watch what they want, when they want. But what esports is doing is raising the bar so internet-centric programming meets the same high standards.

We’re looking forward to being part of an industry in which all live programming is as good as it can be, no matter where it’s being watched.