How BLAST.tv’s Cutting-Edge Technology is Shaping the Future of Esports

Revolutionizing the game

They arrived not long ago and are already the kings among the new generations: eSports are here to stay and their confluence with traditional broadcast formats is creating new ways to enjoy the possibilities that new telecommunications technologies make available to us. In this scene, BLAST.tv stands out as a beacon of innovation and excellence. The platform has quickly become synonymous with cutting-edge broadcasts and a relentless pursuit of increasing viewer engagement through technological advancement. As e-sports continues to carve out a niche in mainstream entertainment, surpassing traditional sports in some metrics, BLAST.tv is playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of this dynamic industry.

 

At the forefront of this revolution is BLAST’s Director of Technology, Lasse Brogård Kempf, whose insights into the technological orchestration behind these mega-events illuminate the intricate dance between high-tech equipment and high-stakes competition. Under Kempf’s leadership, BLAST has not only met the challenges of broadcasting in the digital age but has set new standards for how e-sports can captivate and engage a global audience.

In an exclusive interview with TM Broadcast International, Kempf discusses BLAST.tv’s unique features and highlights the platform’s commitment to delivering a superior viewing experience. From leveraging the Unreal Engine in partnership with Epic Games to pioneering the use of detailed real-time stats and dynamic timelines, Kempf outlines how BLAST.tv is tailored to provide more than just a window to watch esports, but a portal to experience the thrill and strategy of competitive gaming firsthand.

Kempf also delves into the unique challenges of producing live esports events compared to traditional sports, the innovative strategies used to drive online engagement, and the forward-thinking partnerships that enhance the content and format of their tournaments. This comprehensive interview highlights not only BLAST’s technological prowess, but also Kempf’s vision for integrating new technologies such as SMPTE ST 2110 and remote production capabilities, setting the stage for future advancements that promise to further revolutionize the esports broadcasting landscape.

 

What are the distinctive features of Blast.tv?

As Director of Technology at Blast, my primary commitment is ensuring the highest quality in every aspect of our productions. At Blast.tv, we emphasize delivering a superior viewing experience, whether our audience is live in the arena or watching from home. This commitment to quality extends from selecting the best cameras and equipment to integrating cutting-edge technologies, such as using Unreal Engine in partnership with Epic Games. We aim to push the boundaries of what is possible in broadcasting esports events, which often includes innovating beyond industry norms. Our technical setups, for instance, feature extensive use of automation to manage the complex data flows typical in virtual environments. This allows us to minimize errors and enhance the dynamic elements of our broadcasts. Each event is a testament to our robust technical infrastructure and our team’s ability to leverage technology creatively and effectively to connect with a global audience.

 

And what are the most significant technological advancements sorry that recently implemented on the blast tv platform?

I’m particularly excited about our recent technological strides with the BLAST.tv platform. One key advancement is our approach to owning the end-user platform, which allows us to tailor the viewing experience far beyond what generic streaming services offer. This ownership means we can integrate deeply detailed, real-time statistics and a dynamic timeline feature. Viewers can not only follow live game stats but also navigate through the game’s progress with an interactive timeline, enabling them to jump to key moments instantly without losing context.

Moreover, we’ve developed our own internal storage solutions and content distribution systems. This move away from relying solely on external third-party services for hosting and data storage gives us greater control and enhances our content delivery’s reliability and efficiency. For instance, we’ve implemented an innovative layer atop existing platforms to streamline global distribution. This makes our operations both more cost-effective and scalable.

Crucially, we’re leveraging automation in nearly every facet of our platform. This isn’t just about efficiency; it’s about consistently enhancing the product we offer to our audience, whether they’re in the arena or watching from home. By automating routine tasks, our team can focus more on innovation and creating richer, more engaging viewer experiences. This philosophy underpins our recent growth and supports our mission to continuously evolve and improve BLAST.tv.

 

Can you describe some of the unique challenges of producing live sport e-sports events compared to compared to traditional sports as tennis?

Absolutely, the unique challenges of producing live esports events compared to traditional sports such as tennis became particularly evident during the COVID era. For instance, we utilized one of the largest OB trucks in Europe, the UHD1 from NEP, which is also used for events like the Eurovision. This truck is well-equipped for broadcasting large-scale sports and entertainment events. However, producing an esports event like ours introduces distinct technical and experiential demands.

In traditional sports, the production focuses on capturing the physical world—the actual sport and performance occurring in real time and space. In esports, while we still capture the spectacle of the event—the stage, the crowd, the intensity of the competitors—the main action is virtual. For example, during a Fortnite event, we might run up to 25 computers to display the in-game action, each with its own embedded audio and multiple graphic outputs to enrich the viewer’s experience. This setup highlights the challenge of latency, as the transition from action happening in-game to its display on screens in the arena must be nearly instantaneous to keep the audience engaged.

I would say that the virtual nature of esports means that our production needs to handle and present a massive amount of data live. This involves a complex setup not typically required in traditional sports broadcasts. The virtual game world we create and broadcast is densely data-driven, and leveraging this data effectively is crucial to enhancing the audience’s experience.

Another major aspect of our productions is maintaining a connection between the virtual and the physical. It’s not just about watching a game; it’s about experiencing the emotions and reactions of the players. This requires a delicate balance between in-game action and player-focused cameras, ensuring viewers feel a deep connection with the players and the overall event. We also integrate specialized screens and audio solutions to maintain competitive integrity and prevent any tactical information from being inadvertently conveyed to the competitors, such as the position of players behind in-game walls.

At the end of the day, producing esports events is a complex integration of virtual and real-world elements, where both need to function in harmony to deliver a compelling, engaging, and fair viewing experience.

 

With esports viewership predominantly online, what innovative strategies has BLAST.tv employed to enhance viewer engagement during live broadcasts?

Enhancing viewer engagement for online audiences is paramount, especially given the predominantly digital consumption of esports. At BLAST.tv, we’ve employed several innovative strategies to captivate our audience during live broadcasts. From a technical standpoint, our focus on high-quality graphics and immersive elements is crucial. For example, our “listening segment” allows viewers to hear real-time communications from the teams. This access transforms viewers from passive observers into engaged participants, giving them a behind-the-scenes experience that’s rare in traditional sports.

We also host what we call “community streams,” which cater to specific audience segments by providing tailored content that resonates with their interests. Our approach combines top-tier talent from traditional entertainment—people who’ve worked on grand-scale productions like Eurovision—with experts who deeply understand the intricacies of the games we showcase. This blend ensures that our broadcasts have both the spectacle of major television events and the authenticity that hardcore gamers expect.

For the BLAST TV Major in 2023, for instance, we placed cameras both in front of and behind every player. This setup captures all the raw emotions and reactions, providing a comprehensive view that makes viewers feel as though they are physically present at the event. The static nature of players during esports events allows us to place cameras in unique positions, offering angles that are not feasible in traditional sports. This attention to detail in how we film our shows is greatly appreciated by our audience, enhancing their connection to the players and the game, thereby bringing the entire experience closer to home.

 

How do partnerships with major game publishers like Epic Games and Ubisoft influence the content and format of your tournaments?

My perspective on our partnerships with major game publishers like Epic Games and Ubisoft is heavily influenced by the technical innovations these collaborations bring to our tournaments. Epic Games, for instance, is renowned for the Unreal Engine—a cornerstone in the evolution of game graphics and real-time rendering. Our partnership allows us to leverage technologies like the newly developed Motion Designer tool (formerly known as Avalanche) to push the boundaries of broadcast graphics in esports. This technology enables us to create visually stunning and dynamic graphics that are seamlessly integrated into our live broadcasts.

Working closely with a publisher who is as tech-savvy as Epic Games is not only exciting but also immensely beneficial. It ensures that we are at the forefront of technological advancements, allowing us to constantly innovate and improve the viewer experience during our tournaments.

Turning to Ubisoft, our collaboration goes beyond technology to deeply understanding and engaging with the gaming community. For instance, our work with Ubisoft Brazil on the SI tournament was instrumental in tailoring the event to resonate with local audiences. Ubisoft’s insights into their community’s preferences and behaviors helped us craft a tournament that not only met but exceeded fan expectations. The reaction from fans and the overall community engagement were testaments to the success of this approach.

In summary, partnerships with game publishers like Epic Games and Ubisoft profoundly influence both the content and the format of our tournaments. They allow us to harness cutting-edge technology and gain invaluable insights into the gaming community, ensuring that our events are both technologically advanced and deeply connected with our audience.

 

What specific technologies are you currently using to handle the complexities of esports productions, especially regarding live streaming?

Handling the technical complexities of our esports productions, especially in live streaming, is a task we approach with rigorous planning and state-of-the-art technology. Our productions are inherently tech-heavy, and to manage this, we employ a range of sophisticated equipment and systems.

Our core setup includes the Sony XVS 8000 switcher, which supports a 5 M/E workflow with 40 kiosk and 10 ADP, coupled with a MediorNet UHD routing system for impeccable signal management. This setup is crucial for handling the vast amounts of audio and visual data our events generate.

Additionally, for more extensive broadcasts like the Fortnite events or major tournaments in Paris, we use what we internally call Flight Pack 2. This system is built around the Grass Valley K-Frame XP, which comes with nine M/Es and is capable of handling 54 kiosk outputs. The K-Frame XP is fully equipped for 4K production, supporting all associated DBS and keyers. It integrates seamlessly with our 270 squared Ultrix routing system, which is crucial for 12G-SDI workflows.

Regarding network infrastructure, our approach is equally robust. For instance, at the SI event held in an older arena, we installed 50 to 60 access points and established a comprehensive network setup to ensure connectivity and bandwidth management across the venue. Redundancy is key in our operations; thus, we always have dual ISP connections to maintain internet reliability.

We also handle encoding through a partnership with InSync, a critical component in our distribution chain. Once we receive the feeds, they are processed through our platform, which we’ve developed in-house to manage distribution effectively.

The scale and sophistication of our technological deployment often surprise those who might still perceive esports as a small-scale or amateur endeavor. Indeed, while tools like OBS and Companion are part of our toolkit, especially for smaller-scale productions, our flagship events deploy complex, integrated systems that reflect the high stakes and professional standards of major broadcast events.

 

 

How has BLAST.tv optimized its media workflow to manage the high volume of content produced during tournaments?

At BLAST.tv, optimizing our media workflow to handle the extensive volume of content we produce during tournaments is critical. We’ve implemented several strategies to manage this efficiently.

Firstly, we believe in creating our own tailored solutions. We have developed our own storage systems to ensure that our content is securely stored and readily accessible. Currently, we operate five NAS (Network Attached Storage) systems spread across our various offices and production facilities. These NAS systems are equipped with NVMe drives for high-speed data access and are a mix of models from QNAP and Supermicro, which are based on TrueNAS software.

To handle the global distribution of our content, we utilize Media Shuttle by Signiant. This tool allows us to move large data sets quickly and securely around the world, which is crucial for our international operations. Whether it’s transferring raw footage, finished broadcasts, or any other large files, Media Shuttle supports our need for speed and reliability.

Additionally, for on-site production work, especially when we are dealing with large volumes of data, we use Parsec. This software not only aids in the real-time transfer of video feeds but also supports our remote production capabilities. It allows our production team to collaborate effectively, regardless of their physical location, ensuring that our broadcasts are seamless and professional.

Through these technologies and custom solutions, we’ve optimized our workflow to manage the high volume of content efficiently, ensuring that we can continue to deliver top-quality broadcasts to our audience worldwide.

 

What new technologies are you most excited about integrating into BLAST.tv’s production in the near future?

I am particularly excited about the integration of SMPTE ST 2110 into our production workflows. At BLAST, we are always looking to be at the forefront of broadcasting technology, especially technologies that enhance our network capabilities. The adoption of SMPTE ST 2110 is compelling because it represents a significant shift towards a more unified and flexible production environment. This standard allows for the separation of video, audio, and metadata streams over IP networks, which is a game changer. It essentially means that we can move away from traditional hardware dependencies and towards a more agile, vendor-neutral setup.

The key advantage here is flexibility. With 2110, we can utilize a single backplane across various hardware from different vendors. This breaks down the vendor lock-in that has traditionally limited broadcast architectures, allowing for more innovative and cost-effective solutions. For instance, we can implement high-end multi-viewers for critical broadcasts and opt for simpler or even software-based solutions for less critical needs, all within the same infrastructure.

Looking forward, I see the industry continuing to move towards FPGA-based systems for critical infrastructure, while also embracing software-based environments for additional flexibility. This dual approach ensures that we can always meet our commercial obligations with high reliability while also experimenting with more creative, cost-effective solutions in other areas.

The integration of SMPTE ST 2110 is just the beginning of how we plan to leverage cutting-edge technologies to continue delivering top-tier productions at BLAST.tv, enhancing both our operational efficiency and our audience’s viewing experience.

 

With the rise of remote production capabilities, how has BLAST.tv adapted its production strategy to accommodate remote workflows?

At BLAST, the adoption of remote production capabilities has been a crucial evolution in how we manage our workflows and broadcasts. Our approach to remote production is centered around flexibility and efficiency, ensuring that we leverage the best of technology while maintaining the high-quality standards our audiences expect.

We utilize remote workflows extensively. For instance, our processing hardware is located on-site at events, but many of our team members, including producers and editors, access these systems remotely via platforms like Parsec. This setup allows for real-time interaction with the production environment from virtually anywhere, which has been instrumental in maintaining continuity of operations, especially during situations where travel or physical presence is restricted.

For game observation, which is a critical aspect of our broadcasts, we’ve implemented remote observing tools. This means our observers, who control what the audience sees during a live game, can operate from remote locations. This flexibility has allowed us to tap into a global talent pool and reduce the need for large on-site teams.

Moreover, while the core production team often remains centralized to ensure cohesive broadcast management, we have transitioned much of our on-air talent to remote work. This shift is not just a response to logistical challenges; it reflects a broader trend in media production where the physical presence of talent in a studio is becoming less critical. What matters more is their ability to engage the audience and deliver compelling content, which can effectively be done remotely.

In terms of infrastructure, handling international remote productions requires a robust base of operations. This base ensures that we can manage latency and maintain reliable connectivity, critical factors in delivering a seamless viewing experience. Our international perspective means that we must optimize our workflows to handle various challenges associated with global broadcasts, including time zone coordination and international communication.

Overall, our strategy for remote production is about harnessing technology to make our operations as agile and scalable as possible, ensuring that we continue to deliver thrilling esports content to our global audience, no matter where our production staff or on-air talent are located.

 

As esports continues to grow, what new monetization models are you exploring to leverage BLAST.tv’s content and viewership?

At BLAST, as we see continued growth in esports, our approach to monetization evolves to leverage our content and expanding viewership innovatively. We consistently explore new models that not only enhance viewer engagement but also create valuable opportunities for sponsors and partners.

One key area we focus on is integrating commercial partnerships directly into our gaming content. For instance, during our broadcasts, such as the BLAST.tv Major, we have multiple sponsorships with a range of partners. These partnerships are not just limited to traditional ad placements; we integrate them into various aspects of the game environment itself, providing a seamless experience that resonates more effectively with our audience.

A prime example of this was our partnership with KitKat during a Dota tournament in 2020, where we integrated the brand directly into the game environment. This wasn’t just placing a logo on the screen; it was about making KitKat a part of the game experience, enhancing the immersion without disrupting gameplay. Such integrations require close collaboration with game publishers and a deep understanding of what our audience values, ensuring that any commercial content adds to the viewer experience rather than detracting from it.

Furthermore, we’re looking into digital branding opportunities, such as dynamic in-game advertising that adapts to the game context or specific viewer interests. This could be through co-branded content, special in-game events, or unique viewer interactions that are only possible with a robust technological infrastructure.

We believe that our strength in technology not only supports our broadcast capabilities but also enhances our commercial partnerships. Our tech team’s expertise allows us to experiment with and implement advanced advertising models that go beyond conventional methods, providing our partners with unique ways to engage with esports audiences.

Going forward, we aim to push the boundaries of how commercial content is integrated into esports, ensuring that these initiatives are both authentic to the game environment and add value to our viewers’ experiences. This approach not only diversifies our revenue streams but also reinforces BLAST.tv as a pioneer in the esports industry.

 

How do you see the evolution of esports affecting traditional media consumption over the next decade?

I’ve observed significant trends in media consumption that are being influenced by the evolution of esports, and I expect these trends to shape the future of traditional media over the next decade.

One key aspect we’ve noticed is the move towards personalization and a closer connection with personalities within the media, a trend that’s evident not only in esports but across various platforms. On platforms like YouTube, individual creators achieve follower counts that rival traditional TV audiences. This shows a shift towards content that feels more personal and directly engages with viewers.

In esports, this trend manifests in our efforts to make our broadcasts accessible and appealing to diverse audiences. For example, by partnering with personalities like Gaules, we can extend our reach and engage with communities that might not be reached through traditional broadcasting methods. This inclusivity is crucial as it allows us to tap into the dedicated followings of these influencers, adding a new layer of engagement to our shows.

The competition between traditional broadcasts and individual streamers has highlighted the undeniable truth that content is king. This is why we prioritize offering a high-quality world feed that other producers can use to enhance their own broadcasts. My background at Denmark’s Radio, where I worked on the receiving side of esports feeds, has informed our strategy to ensure that our feeds are adaptable and valuable to other content creators. This involves providing clean feeds without extraneous commentary that may not be relevant to all audiences.

Looking forward, I believe these trends will continue to drive the evolution of traditional media. The focus will increasingly be on delivering content that is not only high quality but also customizable and closely aligned with viewer preferences. This shift will likely prompt traditional media outlets to innovate further and adopt more flexible and viewer-centric approaches, much like those we are pioneering in the esports industry.

 

Which possibilities do you think 6G is going to bring to the eSports and tournaments’ broadcasting world?

As the Director of Technology for BLAST, the advent of 6G is something I am particularly excited about, especially considering its potential impact on esports and broadcast technology. From what I understand, 6G will not just be a step up from 5G in terms of bandwidth; it’s expected to revolutionize how we connect and interact wirelessly on a much larger scale.

6G is anticipated to offer significantly more bandwidth, which can transform how we handle wireless communications and data transmission. This increase in capacity will be crucial as we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible in esports broadcasting.

From a production standpoint, 6G could enable us to achieve much more dynamic live coverage. We’re looking at the potential for deploying more cameras in strategic locations without the constraints of current wireless technologies. This means we can get closer to the action, capture more angles, and provide a richer viewing experience for fans. Whether it’s placing cameras closer to players, around the arena, or even outside where fans gather, the goal is to bring our audience into the heart of the action as seamlessly as possible.

I’d say 6G could greatly simplify the deployment of networks necessary for large-scale live events, reducing the need for extensive physical infrastructure. This would not only reduce setup times and costs but also allow us to be more agile and responsive to the dynamics of live esports events. For instance, if there’s a watch party happening, we could quickly integrate a local camera into our live feed, enhancing our coverage and engaging more directly with our community.

The prospect of 6G means that we can look forward to hosting broadcasts that are more inclusive and expansive, reaching audiences in ways that were previously unfeasible due to technological limitations. This will inevitably bring our audience closer to the esports they love, fostering a more immersive and interactive experience.

 

Are there any initiatives or technologies that BLAST.tv is exploring to make esports events more sustainable or environmentally friendly?

Sustainability in our operations, especially in the context of esports events, has become an increasingly significant focus in recent years. Our efforts to minimize our environmental footprint begin with our technological infrastructure and extend to the broader operational aspects of our events.

One primary area where we’ve made substantial improvements is in our power consumption choices. Whether it’s our office networks or our broadcast studios, we’ve been deliberate in selecting equipment that is energy efficient. We understand that making the right choices in technology that runs continuously, 24/7, has a far-reaching impact. For instance, choosing power supplies for our computers is not just about meeting performance needs but optimizing energy efficiency. We opt for platinum or titanium-certified power supplies and design our systems to operate at peak efficiency around the 50% load mark. This approach not only maximizes efficiency but also extends the longevity of the equipment.

Furthermore, in the broader scheme of our event productions, we are mindful of our resource utilization. For example, the PCs we acquired for gaming in 2019 are still in use today, repurposed for less resource-intensive tasks such as video editing or used by coaches. This strategy ensures that we extend the lifecycle of our technology and avoid unnecessary waste and replacement costs.

We also explore more innovative, hyper-converged solutions that allow us to reduce our physical hardware footprint and thus our power usage. By integrating more functions into fewer pieces of hardware, we not only save on energy but also reduce the overall resource demands of our production setup.

While we may not have launched a large-scale public initiative specifically targeted at sustainability, it is embedded in our operational philosophy. We continuously seek smarter paths to efficiency, integrating sustainability into our decision-making processes. This approach isn’t just about being better corporate citizens—it’s about setting a standard in the industry for how technology can be leveraged responsibly while still delivering top-tier entertainment.

 

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