The phenomenon of eSports is a transformational concept, a genuine disrupter. While acknowledging the use of the obvious cliché, it is a game changer.
For those of us of a certain age, the idea of watching other people play computer games seems strange. Yet it has proved hugely popular, and hugely successful.
The last “world championship” of eSports, the Intel Extreme Masters, reached a television audience of 46 million viewers.
What makes eSports stand out as a challenge is that it is inherently multi-layered. Fans want to see the gaming action – which may itself be multi-screen for each player – but they also want to see how their favourites are holding up.
Adding to the complication is that some eSports fans may be players themselves while others may not be familiar with the games so need more guidance to keep them engaged.
It is no wonder, then, that producing and posting eSports coverage is a growing challenge. A leading eSports production company announced at NAB this year that it was moving to the Blackbird Forte cloud platform from Forbidden Technologies.
The platform will be used for live and post-event editing, based on the rapid turnaround of cloud production and graphics.
The biggest events are spectacular productions, with large audiences watching the action on multiple screens. The 2017 Intel Extreme Masters final in Katowice was in an 11,500 seat auditorium.
Newtek was an early leader in tournament technology. Its flexible platform proved ideal for this fast-paced world. “During a live eSports game, anything three minutes old is forgotten,” Simon Eicher, executive producer at ESL, is quoted as saying.
Adding to the complex challenges of covering eSports is that the native resolutions and frame rates of the games themselves are not necessarily fixed to broadcast standards. If your production platform then has to output non-broadcast formats for large screen displays as well as multiple on air and online streams, you need a flexible production platform.
EVS had a major focus on eSports at NAB. The booth included a small area for eSports competitions, with some of the local heroes on hand to demonstrate the excitement. The company’s Dyvi live production switcher was the hub.
The company sees a big rise in the demand for eSport and the technology to support it. “The traditional tools of broadcast sport served this new community well in the early days,” James Stellpflug of EVS said. “But now they want to move on.”
Producers want to be able to use all the tricks they see in traditional sports coverage. The slow motion replay is an obvious demand.
One solution, ideal for first-person shooter games, is to add an observer PC into the game, which acts as a camera.
Feeds from the observer PCs, at their native resolution of 120 fps, are captured by EVS servers, giving the director a perfectly smooth 60Hz half speed replay.
Despite the pressures, and the technical challenges of bridging the gaming and broadcast world, the expectation is that quality will be high. ESports now attract high quality advertisers and sponsors – Intel is the lead sponsor for ESL – and their expectations are that their brand values will be maintained.
Indeed, research company Ampere Analysis estimated that somewhere around $2 billion has been invested in the eSports sector over the last six years. It is a business that is surely set to bring new challenges.