Unified Venue Control Systems in Esports – How can a unified system of production control change the way venues and productions function?

Traditionally, the production chain was broken up with dedicated pieces of hardware tied together with tons of cables and an operator on each. We’re now seeing a unified approach to controlling all those pieces of hardware and software using custom panels, which is really advantageous, especially in esports. 

Two of the issues that people constantly face in esports are scalability and flexibility. With new games coming out all the time, venues are looking to become more multi-purpose so they can cover more types of games. 

With that, production needs must change as well. You can't expect to cover Fortnite the same way you’d cover League of Legends. Mechanically, they’re completely different games, but the tools used to cover them are also different. They differ in how the virtual camera operators function within the game and how they operate on show day. In terms of the unified venue control, Ross has really homed in on keeping the system flexible and designing custom workflows as needed. 

With the RossTalk protocol, all our products can be controlled with our free DashBoard control software. Similar to a switcher, you build a custom control panel on any computer connected to the same network as the production equipment. For example, DashBoard can send a command to XPression, our graphics engine, to trigger a graphic while also sending a command to the switcher to cut a camera behind that graphic and trigger a lighting cue or confetti cannon on a third-party device. 

This opens up the possibilities of what you can do with one operator. In esports, this is especially helpful because the shows can be very complex and often require utilising crew members with more gaming experience than production experience. For these operators, intuitive custom panels and touchscreens are extremely helpful. 

Can you tell us a bit more about the unique role of in-game production specialists within esports, and the tools they use?

In esports, you're not only watching how the players are performing – you're seeing it through their eyes as well. I liken it to producing football with nothing but drones and helmet cams.

Many games have observers, who can be described as virtual camera operators controlling cameras inside the game. Directing games with observers is so exciting, as the viewer is transported onto the battlefield and can see the game from different vantage points and perspectives. As these cameras are virtual, they can defy the laws of physics. This is a director’s dream, and it allows for a truly immersive viewing experience.

When covering esports, it is essential to understand the game being played because each one is so different. There are many nuances, weapons, and items that are integral to how each game is played. To deliver the story of the tournament, capitalising on the details of the game is crucial. Therefore, it is vital to utilise crew members who know both the production and the games. 

These in-game production specialists balance knowledge of the game and the production workflows needed to capture it. They play the games and analyse the storytelling potential of each one they cover. The fans are incredibly passionate about the games being covered and can tell if the director is missing key moments. Any missed moments can significantly detract from the viewing experience, so game knowledge is paramount to the success of any esports event. The in-game production specialists are amazing to watch behind the scenes, and the way they balance game knowledge and the world of live production is a sight to behold. 

Temporary vs Permanent Production Solution – Are permanent solutions or temporary solutions better to handle the realities of the esports industry?

Personally, I think a permanent solution is best from a reliability standpoint. However, that permanent solution needs to be built with flexibility and scalability in mind. With a permanent solution, less set-up is required for each event. The equipment is in place and usually, the crew knows the workflow well, which removes a lot of the stress and costly prep time required for temporary venues. For permanent solutions, repeatability and scalability are key to keeping the facility profitable. There will typically be a myriad of show sizes and complexities. Larger and more complex shows will require more crew members, whereas smaller shows can be scaled down to just a few operators. 

That being said, there will always be temporary esports events that pop up for large-scale finals and championship events. For these events, bigger venues and facilities are often required to accommodate large audiences, like the League of Legends World Championships or the Fortnite World Cup. Also, the wow factor of being in a huge stadium adds to the overall energy – it makes the event feel like a huge deal. The permanent solutions are better suited for facilities that host esports events consistently.

There will always be a need for both temporary and permanent production solutions. The key will be building more efficient workflows for temporary solutions to make them more affordable and ensuring that permanent solutions are as flexible and scalable as possible to accommodate many different types of events each year. 

The role of the Game in Esports - How do esports productions differ from other forms of broadcast media and what is the importance of the crew and fans understanding the game being played? 

At the core of every esports production is the game. The game is both the sport and the field of play. Unlike physical sports, esports requires a machine to host and bring players together. With physical sports, you only need a ball and a pitch. This accessibility has been key to the popularity of traditional sports for centuries. Because of this, no one can really “own” a sport. 

In esports, that's not the case. Somebody always owns the game, and esports are an enormous marketing opportunity for these games. The developers and distributors care about how their games are portrayed and how the events are structured. The owner of the game always has a stake in each event featuring their game. If I want to host a big Valorant event, for example, I have to go to Riot, the developer, and ask them for permission. The same applies for most other games as well.

Another difference between sports and esports is the degree of passion the fans have. Often in sports, the fans will be interested in many types of sports, not just one. There are only so many popular sports in the world, whereas new video games are being created every day. Therefore, most esports fans are passionate about a select few games. But the games they are passionate about, they are obsessed with. These communities are very particular about how the game should be covered and broadcast.

This passion from the fans feeds the need for the game knowledge to cut the in-game coverage of the event. The fans see the little differences – they catch all the things that you missed, they pick up on the aspects that you're not seeing, they notice how it's being shown, and they compare it to all the previous events. You have to really take each game seriously and remember that there are people out there whose entire lives revolve around these games.