12.03.19

Digital champions: Obstacles and opportunities for AV in esports

Digital champions

Tim Kridel speaks to AV specialists Krzysztof Grabowski, Dave van Roon and Chase Neukam about the challenges and opportunities the AV industry faces in the growing space of esports. ​

Krzysztof Grabowski, technical solutions specialist, EMEA, at disguise, explores how Disguise factors into the workflows of esports. 

TK: What types of facilities are used for esports?

KG: Depends on the type of the event. In the past, it started from small events, hosted at movie theaters premises, with good visibility to the public, easily accessible for people, preferred with some video screens (LED / projection).

Otherwise, these had to be mounted separately in a light environment that would not disturb the players.

The events in the arenas were becoming more and more popular in the meantime. Now if you have a look at Intel Extreme Masters’ website https://www.intelextrememasters.com/ (esports event series branded by Intel), for almost every event they create, it requires an arena or at least large part of the expo show.

Recent ones:

- Spodek Arena, Katowice, Poland

- Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney, Australia

- Wintrust Arena, Chicago, USA

- Chinajoy, Shanghai, China

A curio: photo of the queue to the entry, IEM 2015 in Katowice: http://i.imgur.com/RprH0Ui.jpg

There is also growing interest in creating dedicated eSports TV studios.

In Poland, there are at least two now. One of them created by one of the largest private television - Polsat: https://esportsinsider.com/2018/10/polsat-in-collaboration-with-aram-open-tv-station-owned-esports-studio/

The one owned by Polsat is running on disguise 4x4pro.

ESL - they own multiple eSports studios globally.
Esports

TK: What types of AV technologies are used for esports?

KG: Everything that is used for regular TV and broadcast, i.e. vision mixers, lighting consoles, cranes, media servers, dedicated outside broadcast vehicles, internet streams and more.

Sometimes there is also an addition of some custom-prepared elements, such as apps extracting information from the game and using it for triggering control in regular media server applications.

TK: How does disguise factor into their projects/workflows?

Disguise workflow fist perfectly in their needs. Projects can be easily created, pre-viewed and delivered.

Also applying changes to the project (i.e. to deliver the same or similar show in a different place) is easy. Disguise servers are also the black boxes where all the control protocols are received to deliver the final outcome on the physical stages.

TK: What sets disguise apart from other solutions in an esports environment?

KG: Ability to control them easily with external protocols, along with lighting, workflows that can be adapted with a benefit for the entire production, real-time engine integration, which is the thing already being used by Wizja to create logic for actions not possible to create in disguise alone.

And then things we do best - large canvases of video playback and LED / projection control.
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Dave van Roon, senior media and video specialist at Live Legends, explains what is driving the growth of esports. 

TK: The term “esports” seems to span a lot of different types of events, depending on whom you’re talking to. How do you define it?

DvR: Within the gaming community, there is indeed a large scope of events, ranging from product presentations and gatherings to competitions.

Esports events usually refer to the latter, which in fact doesn't differ that much from regular sport events.

A football match for instance, has a playing ground and a set of rules in which a group of people compete. The audience in the arena is their witness, but people at home can follow the match as well on their television set or an internet stream. This is not that different from PGI, the PUBG competition in Berlin for which we did the set design.

The gamers had a stage for their competition and the audience in the Mercedes Benz Arena were joined by up to 60 million people from all over the world watching the stream. 

TK: What’s driving the growth of the esports market? 

DvR: There are three main driving forces behind the growth of the esports market: the ease of content creation, the ease of empathy and the endlessness of human imagination. 

First the ease of content creation, which is reflected on the Youtube streaming community as well.

In this day and age being a Youtube streamer can be a full-time job which earns a living. The audience is unforgiving though.

They have the ability to comment on your videos and let you know what they think about it for instance. And they become demanding, expecting a new video every day. If you fail to deliver, maybe take a week off, you instantly lose interest and followers. So there is an immense demand for content.

Now, if your content consists of sketches, this would take a lot of time. You need to write a script, plan your shoots, find actors, wait for the rain to stop, record a lot of takes and do a lot of post production.

If you are a gamer, you start the game, maybe while live streaming, play a couple of games, select the best one, cut out the boring parts and you're done. Invest in a small green screen, a proper mic and a fancy lower third generator and you're out there with the best.

Same goes for live events: if you want to make a longer music concert, you need more songs. If you want to make a longer esports event, you just play the game more times.

For ease of empathy let's go back to the football match. Those matches are interesting to the audience, because they can relate to it. They know the rules, have played it on the streets, they might even be good at it.

They may know some players or they can compare the performance of the players to their own. This is where, for instance, curling is lacking. In order to become good at curling, or to even play it for that matter, you need equipment and training facilities that are hard to come by. Therefore a smaller number of people play the game, know the rules and can relate to it.

Gaming used to be in the range of curling, where only a select group of people owned computers capable of playing 3D games.

Nowadays everybody has a computer, gaming has gone mainstream and even a lot of games function on smartphones.

Everybody has access. Everybody can play the game. A lot of people know the rules, know streaming gamers, play the game themselves, are good at the game and can relate to it. 

The endlessness of human imagination is what keeps it interesting. A football match can be really exiting, but content wise it is very much confined by the rules of the game. Stay within the white lines. There is a ball, put it in the opposite goal, repeat.

Within games, especially with the growing market domination of battle royale style games, there is a lack of rules.

The goal is to stay alive, a narrowing force is deadly, use whatever you find, killing others helps you staying alive. That's all.

You can do whatever you want. Push or rotate? Screen of smoke or wall of grenades? Let that guy go or reveal your position? Take a boat to go the distance or drive a car in circles.

As the game is a blank canvas, everybody can develop their own tactics and approaches, making it so interesting to see what others do. 

And, it goes without saying, when more people are interested, more money is involved. It becomes easier to attract sponsors, making the shows bigger and more attractive, driving the vicious circle upwards. 
 
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TK: What types of facilities are used for esports? From what I’ve seen so far, it appears to be a combination of permanent/purpose-built venues and venues that are designed to handle a variety of live/travelling events, such as arenas, theatres and even cinemas.

DvR: We've seen a wide variety of facilities for game related events. For Sony we did the introduction of Playstation 4 in a Church (Koepelkerk) in Amsterdam, in Paris and Sydney we did the semi finals for FIFA in a television studio, and for PGI they choose a stadium to host the tournament.

Product releases of gaming consoles or games require a show and a stage. Gatherings like Gamescom need an exhibition hall. But esports requires a lot of power and a stable internet connection, you can host an event wherever you want.

TK: What are some trends in how fans participate in these events? For example, besides getting a ticket to view esports in a venue, do many fans watch streams at home?

DvR: Audience participation actually has a lot of unused potential. As with many sport events people can watch live streams at home. Esport events can supply more streams, as next to a main stream and spectator streams in different languages, every player has a POV camera that could be streamed as well.

But those are just different methods to watch the game, you're not really participating. It would get interesting if we could give the audience an active role, use the comments to alter the course of the tournament or let people vote which map to play next for instance.

And as mentioned before, everybody can play a game, what would happen if the audience could join the game, using their phones to roam the map as zombies, haunting the players. If you start thinking in that direction you realise the possibilities are endless.

TK: How does esports differ from other types of live events in terms of AV technologies and set design? For example, how is it different from boxing or concerts?

DvR: The biggest difference between esports and other types of events is the duality between physical space and game space.

With the football match, there are white lines as boundaries for the physical game space. It is easy to get an overview of all the players positions and you can zoom into the action.

With a game, the physical space and the game space are not the same. The players need a computer or a mobile device, a desk and a chair.

If you put some space between them you could fill a stage with it, but that's it. The game space, the virtual world in which the players compete, could span an island measuring several kilometres across.

It is as if you are sitting in a football stadium looking at the Tour de France where a demarrage is happening five kilometres from a massive accident in the rear of the platoon.

With the esports events so far it has been a challenge to connect the two worlds.

Usually the virtual world is leading, as the event is organised by the developers of the game and the virtual space is where the action happens. 

For PGI, we used big LED screens above the players, just like a boxing match, so the local audience could see the game spectator feed.

During the matches, the stream only showed the game feeds, nothing from the players or the venue. Surely a person staring at a screen is not that interesting, try making a six-hour documentary about a rock.

But if someone dies in game, it would be cool to see the real-life reaction.  

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Chase Neukam, facility director at Paradigm, explores how esports differ to other events with regards to AV. 

TK: The term “esports” seems to span a lot of different types of events, depending on whom you’re talking to. How do you define it?

CN: Esports, at its base level, is any video game where two teams compete under certain rules and regulations to determine who is better.

However, as the industry is evolving, the definition of esports too evolves; not EVERY game can be an esport. Companies now are designing their games around the competitive aspect and releasing them as esports, such as Overwatch.

The easiest way to grasp understanding is by comparing esports to the traditional sports industry. You probably played wuffleball in grade-school, but that doesn't make it a very competitive sport. The same can be said about Mario Kart for Nintendo 64: it was played a lot at once but there is no following, industry, or company constantly updating/reviewing the game.

TK: What’s driving the growth of the esports market?

CN: The driving force of the esports market is easily viewership. Nobody would get paid if there wasn't a ridiculous amount of public interest.

In South Korea and China, esports is considered a full-fledged sport. Even recently, China announced they are planning infrastructure for six esports cities in their nation.

What we are currently witnessing is the second golden age of sports.

Think of the early 1900s, when football, basketball, and baseball were developing their own industries for sports and the impact it had on global culture; we are seeing the same thing with esports.
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This article goes in depth for esports numbers in 2018. The viewership numbers will blow you away.  

TK: What types of facilities are used for esports? From what I’ve seen so far, it appears to be a combination of permanent/purpose-built venues and venues that are designed to handle a variety of live/traveling events, such as arenas, theaters and even cinemas 

CN: There are varying facilities used for esports; some teams even having their own training facilities. As for live competitions, infrastructure like theaters and sports arenas have been primarily used until the past couple years. Now, esports arenas are spreading across the United States, Paradigm fitting well into this model.

TK: What are some trends in how fans participate in these events? For example, besides getting a ticket to view esports in a venue, do many fans watch streams at home?

CN: In the US, viewers at home watch on twitch.tv, but in China there are 4 or 5 primary esports streaming platforms used to watch esports competitions.

Viewing at home is usually free, unless it is a premium event, and tickets for esports competitions have a range of cost. If it is specifically for the competition, costs can range from $20-$40; but if it is an Expo or finals, tickets can go for as much as $150.

TK: How does esports differ from other types of live events in terms of AV technologies and set design? For example, how is it different from boxing or concerts?  

CN: This is a very tricky question because no two esports venues are the same: same with concert venues. In terms of professional design, the usual standard is a broadcaster table, an analyst desk, a stage equipped with computers and webcams for the competitors, seating for the viewers, and screens for the viewers to watch on. Every computer must be wired by ethernet to ensure the fastest speeds possible.

Read the full report here.