How are esports organisers leveraging the latest tech to create high-value broadcasts? Ivan Simic reports on the inner workings of a Blast Premier production.

Danish esports organiser Blast produces a series of Counter-Strike tournaments called Blast Premier. These events are a combination of online, virtual productions, and offline tournaments (sometimes called LANs) that take place in large stadiums and other venues. In addition to Premier, Blast also works with rights holders and game developers to produce events around other games. For example, the company worked with EA Sports on its FIFA esports circuit (ePremier League) in the UK and is currently working with Epic Games to produce all esports events for both battle royale game Fortnite, and Rocket League - a game best described as football with cars.

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Blast Premier: a production team for a typical event can conssit of 150 to 250 staff

During an average Blast Premier event, the production team consists of more people than one might immediately realise. According to Lasse Brogård Kempf, Director of Technology for Blast, a typical event includes between 150 to 250 staff, out of which between 30 and 50 are handling the production. This includes the cameras, the in-game solution team, the network and support staff, the backroom broadcast staff, and everyone else needed to create a large-scale esports event. Kempf, who is responsible for ensuring productions run as smoothly as possible, was visiting a site for an esports event that Blast will produce later this year in London.

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The planning process starts around a year in advance for Premier events. The technical planning of an event can start around six months before the first site visit is done. The Blast Premier Spring Final, which will take place in the OVO Arena in Wembley Park in London this June, had its first site visit in January. Of course, the process is different for events that are not under the Premier umbrella.

Six months is the ideal scenario for preparations given that Blast has some unusual requirements that venue owners are not always prepared for. As Kempf explains: “We like to run data and video everywhere in our building. Most entertainment shows won’t need that. Since it all happens here in the arena we need to have a couple of holes drilled so we can run the setup the way we want, and the more time we have for that, the better. We also have quite specific requirements for internet connectivity and that might have lead times depending on where you are in the world. In some places, you just call and someone shows up and it’s fantastic. In other places, it’s 6-12 months in advance because you need permits and other processes. After all, you need to run fibre into the building.”

Fit for purpose

The challenge Blast and other esports tournament organisers face is that a very large part of the audience is outside the stadium, and is watching through various streaming services. Compared to traditional sports, there are no other TV crews from sports channels present, and this means that the organisers need to do it all themselves.


The planning process starts around a year in advance for Premier events

Kempf added that Blast always has multiple fibre connections coming into the building from diverse paths so that there’s a redundancy if one of the cables breaks due to construction, a bad module, or any other situation. This is a “must-have for Blast”, he stresses.

“A notion a lot of people have is that, if it’s esports, it’s probably run on Blackmagic”, jokes Kempf. The Australian company has proved to be a very popular partner for esports production and has recently worked with esports event series DreamHack for DreamHack Winter. While there are use cases for Blackmagic equipment for Blast, the company has created its production kits to specifically cater to their needs. Kempf added that the reasoning behind this simply lies in the nature of esports”

“We have our own systems integration team,” he says. “We have an engineering team because it’s tricky for us to find OB trucks capable of doing the larger shows that we do. Traditional trucks are focused on cameras and replay, that’s how you do traditional sports because everyone is focused on the field, that is where the magic happens.”

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Esports is, for better or for worse, very different. Esports events still need to have the entertainment part similar to traditional sports, and to have viewers feel connected to the arena, which is the baseline, but due to its nature, esports production also needs to present what is happening in the game. In esports, this is typically through what the production team shows through the broadcast.

Blast usually has around 100 cameras available at an event, around 20 observers (people that change camera angles in-game), and uses different equipment depending on whether the production is 1080p or 4K. For 1080p, Blast uses a Sony XVS-8000 Switcher with a MediorNet UHD video router. If the production is 4K, they use a Ross Video Ultrix routing system and a K-Frame XP switcher from Grass Valley. According to Kempf, this might be one of the largest mobile 4K installations in Europe. When the mixer got to Blast, it was the biggest of its kind delivered in Europe.

But why is this level of technological sophistication necessary? As Kempf enthuses: “When it comes to the technology we use, it has to deliver all the traditional things we love, like reliability and efficiency. It also needs to be super easy to work with and create magic. But then, the other side is automation. We need to use a bunch of events, and a bunch of triggers, and a bunch of automation to run the huge amount of data we have because we’re in a virtual environment.”

Rig rundown

Blast uses EVS’ Cerebrum as its main broadcast control system, which is integrated as part of an in-house setup that allows for much more automation than other offerings. The rig itself is a combination of the standard broadcast equipment mentioned above, together with Solid State Logic’s (SSL) audio console and some other bits and pieces. But what sets it apart is the automation, software, and different additions that Blast has used to create a sort of Frankenstein-esque piece of kit. Blast also has its wireless link kit and uses Sony cameras across the board, but that might also change in the future.


BLAST World Finals

Source: Stephanie Lindgren, Vexanie

The added benefit of the rig is that Blast can train people on it and work together on “pushing the limits of the equipment further.” At the moment, Blast operates around 180 automations just for audio alone. The automation works like this:

“Typically [the automation] is a combination of signals, depending on the stream. It will be in-game data that triggers queues and automatic feeds. For example, when we have a time-out in the game, the playing of the music and other things is completely automated. Through automation, we can make very few mistakes and limit the amount of human error.”

For the screens on stage, Blast uses Disguise Media products, notably the VX 4+ media servers. The company also uses Unreal Engine for some parts of its production, especially on events for Epic Games. As for the rest of the stage, Blast uses a wide range of camera stands and cranes, and has even used a spider camera. Blast is also possibly the only company in esports production to operate two large flypacks of equipment for production.

“We have steady cameras, handheld cameras and crane cameras. We also have, depending on the show, Super 35 cameras and FX cameras.”

Innovating at every event

One of the most recent developments at Blast is the “Mic’d up” segment, which showcases bits of team communication in replays, and provides an idea of how the actions played out. Although Kempf could not disclose the details, the main idea is to have someone listen to the team communication and add the communication into a video mixer together with the player’s camera. Kempf adds: “We add the player cameras into the mixer solution where we embed the player cameras. Then we have the game feed, so it’s real-time. Now, whenever a player talks, you have the box light up. It took a lot of trickery, but we got it working.”


BLAST Pro Series

It must be stressed that there are several layers of authorisation before the communication goes live, and the communication is kept under high layers of security so it does not go public under any circumstance.

Wrapping up, Kempf stresses that the production value is not about buying a huge amount of equipment, but having the right architecture and the right solution that uses it well. He compares it to having a “fast car and a bad driver”, which will not win any races.

“My biggest fear is becoming too accustomed to the technology stack that I use,” he says. “This year it’s about cameras first, and it’s also about 2110 (SMPTE). I’ve been waiting for a few years for the industry to be ready.

“I hope and pray that 2024 will be an exciting year for 2110. We’re getting ready, and I’m most excited about it because boy do we run a lot of SDI cables at this point.”

Blast’s next Premier event is the Spring Final at the OVO Arena in London, UK, which is set to start on June 12.

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