Hang Loose Media Group. In the convergence between sports and esports production
Hang Loose Media Group is a company that carries the essence of Amanda Lawson. She is a professional with many years of experience in the production of top level sports competitions. In addition, and more recently, she has gained knowledge and experience on how to bring that professional production chain, the one that delivers the highest quality content, to esports competitions.
This company was born to be the convergence between sports and e-sports production; two worlds that share many similarities and, also, some fundamental differences. To get to know them, we talked to Amanda Lawson and, in addition to giving us the keys to her company —a group of professionals who enjoy performing every task in the entire production chain—, she also explained what lies ahead for esports in its overwhelming growth.
What is Hang Loose Media Group and what kind of services does it offer?
Hang Loose Media is a sports and esports production company. My whole career has been related with sports production. For the last five years, I’ve worked in esports, so I guess my experience across both sectors is now pretty extensive.
My goal is to bring the same level of quality and production to esports that I have always applied to sports. I decided to launch Hang Loose Media Group to specialize in the sports and esports sector.
Do you offer production services in both worlds?
Yes. We want to be a production partner for sports and e-sports content, whether it’s big live events, promotional content for those events, whether it’s documentaries, digital content series, or even sponsors or brands coming to us to create content. And we offer services that address every stage of the production chain.
Your profile is very interesting because you come from the world of sports production. What differences have you found between that world and esports?
I’ll be honest, when I first got into esports production —five years ago—, it was quite like Wild West.
For example, in America, particularly, there were people doing some really impressive big studio productions and big esports events. In the European market, it was still not so impressive from a quality perspective. The technology we were using was not at the level I thought it should be at that time. The level of quality that was obtained in the different transmissions was the main difference at the beginning and now it is very different, as a high standard has been reached.
Technology has caught up with the level of production of sporting events. The narration, the writing, the in-studio shows, the live shows in the stadium, everything has improved. It’s now comparable to the big sporting events and that’s because when we do a big live e-sports event, we use the same broadcast trucks or the same equipment that we would use to do a big live soccer event or a live motorsport event.
When I first got into e-sports, my way of looking at things was very similar to that of live sports production. Generally, you film a soccer, tennis, rugby or cricket match. Then you tell what that competition entailed: the press around it, the fans, the history, and so on. When I came to e-sports, I tried to do something similar. The match would become just the game and then you’d do the presentation around the game.
Now we have gotten it to the point where the technology that we put around an esports event is even greater than the technology that is deployed to cover a traditional sport. For example, a couple of years ago, we did the Call of Duty World League at the Copper Box Arena in London and we had to do five different broadcasts —for different parts of the world— at that event. We used two OB trucks that were used to doing big live soccer events at full capacity. We used every resource we had available on the trucks. Rarely does that happen when you broadcast a traditional sporting event. The transmissions are always multiple and take place simultaneously in the real and virtual scenario. That is why it becomes more complex than a traditional sporting event.
What technology do you rely on? Do you own or lease these trucks? What capabilities do you have at Hang Loose Media to support this technology infrastructure?
We don’t own any of the equipment, but we work with our trusted partners around the world to be able to host large and impressive live events. I have been using partners to do this since the beginning of my career and they are the same ones I would use for a traditional sport or eSport.
Regarding the technology, when I started doing esports, the technology we were using was not at the same level as the TV technology I was used to using. The tools we used back then were software-based and didn’t have the same functionality as the broadcast hardware. They were quite buggy and unreliable.
Now, obviously, as budgets have gotten bigger and more eyes have looked at esports there has been even more investment. The technology being used now is on the same level as the big live entertainment products. It’s very reliable and you can do amazing things with the technology, like virtual reality and all that kind of stuff.
And this will only grow. Budgets are getting bigger and bigger for the big live shows and you almost have to do something larger and bolder than the year before for the big finals. Using technology to amaze the audience is the way forward for esports.
Can you give us a specific insight into your work and about the technology of one of those esports events you’ve worked on?
For example, I have been overseeing the F1 esports series for the past five years as Global Head of Content at Gfinity. Thanks to that experience, we at Hang Loose Media Group can now offer our services to broadcasters, publishers, brands, sponsors and agencies that want to enter this space and tap into this ever-growing market.
Essentially, we can offer all parts of the process, from ideation to final product. If a company or a federation came to us and said, “We want to get into e-sports and we don’t really know how to do it.”
From the initial ideas, we can work with them and take that idea to the final product. We can provide these services in all the steps of the chain. And we can produce the product all the way to delivery, whatever it is. When it comes to big live events, we can do all the planning, build all the scenery, build all the staging, and then film the whole show and broadcast it, stream it, deliver it around the world.
Do you rely or plan to rely on remote means of production to produce these contents?
We have done a huge amount of remote broadcasting since the pandemic. We had to adapt quickly when it hit and we started to do things very differently when it comes to production. I think the pandemic has made everyone realize that you can offer the same level of production and broadcasting even if you’re not actually there.
It is true that the pandemic is not over, but its effect is definitely diminishing and it is freeing us up again. From a sustainability point of view, which is in fact one of our main objectives, not having to move large numbers of staff around the world to hold events is a key advantage. Technology now allows teams to have a local production center to bring broadcasts to from anywhere in the world and produce an amazing event without having to be there. It has pushed us, like everyone else, in that direction, but it’s something we want to continue with. While we can now travel freely and go back to doing productions like we used to, we are very focused on greener and more efficient solutions.
In that sense, technology can bring this opportunity to access remote equipment from anywhere in the world. Have you implemented any network-related services or do you rely on a third-party provider?
We do not offer the network as a service. But we do offer the ability to access production centers or software and hardware. We have also offered the ability to access these tools from home. In other words, we don’t set up the network infrastructure to connect all of the production areas. What we do is use the existing networks and make those tools available. Either from home —as we did at the beginning of the pandemic— or relying on production centers where you have a video mixer or a gallery for live production. Of course, the signals can be brought in from anywhere in the world and you build the program from home or from the production center.
The pandemic forced us to do it from home. As we said before, we realized that the technology existed and we also realized that everything became more sustainable and did not compromise on quality. Using IP and virtualized technology in the cloud we could do a job as if we were doing it in a live production gallery, but without the expense and resource deployment that goes with it.
From your point of view, which way will be the most common in the near future?
There are several remote production hubs that are emerging, especially in London. Production companies can walk in, have all the facilities ready to go and, of course, a lot of bandwith to bring in feeds from around the world. I think that’s going to become the norm when it comes to big live productions.
So you think a hybrid world will be the norm, don’t you?
Yes, 100%. I think a lot of people have realized that a hybrid model is actually a better model than what they had before from the perspective of finding greener solutions and, also, for the work-life balance of production crews. That’s hard especially on big sporting events. If you do Olympics, you will be away from home for many weeks, long hours… I think it doesn’t have to be that way anymore.
What challenges have you encountered throughout your years of esports experience?
Obviously, the pandemic was a massive challenge because a lot of our esports events are physical events where we have players from all over the world, turning up to our events and playing against each other. We had to adapt super quickly, otherwise, all of our shows would have just disintegrated.
For example, our Formula 1 Esports Series was all done in situ at an arena, with all the drivers competing in front of an audience and with a production crew around them. We quickly changed all our processes so that all drivers could drive from home while maintaining the same level of integrity and quality.
Another challenge brought about by the pandemic was the enormous interest in esports. As conventional sports could not be held, all TV networks started to look at esports in a very different way. In fact, these competitions increased their activity enormously. It was a challenge for us to assimilate that amount of work, but I guess it had a lot of benefits for everyone.
I have also done some massive events, such as the Call of Duty event I mentioned before, which have been a challenge due to their complexity. There were many simultaneous transmissions and that is always a challenging task. These events work like a puzzle and we are the ones in charge of solving it. I think we’re really good at getting customers out of those headaches.
In which resolution are you delivering your esports production?
It depends on the distribution platform. Everything we do in e-sports we do at 1080p, basically because the platforms we stream on —like Twitch and YouTube— are not ready for 4K. When those platforms evolve and change and expand their capabilities, we will be ready to change with them.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the signal we start from in video games is already high quality. Sometimes the look of the games is so good and so realistic that you have to raise your output as much as possible so that there is not too much contrast. Like I said earlier, there are no boundaries in esports.
I think the benchmarks are getting higher and higher. Augmented reality is already being applied in e-sports, VAR is already being applied. I think that’s only going to get bigger and bolder, more experiential when you go to an esports event. I think people will want the fans inside the stadium and the spectators at home to feel the broadcast a lot more. I think people will experiment more with augmented reality and use technology to create that wow factor, but for now it’s difficult. You have to have big budgets to do it.
What about your company’s future?
I expect Hang Loose to grow more and more as esports does as well. We have just launched. 2022 is the beginning. We are very excited about growing the business and turning it into a global media brand. That’s my ambition. I don’t think there are many companies that offer esports and sports production expertise at the same level.
I think there are a lot of opportunities out there. We don’t just focus on the UK. We have experience in organizing events all over the world and we have a huge network of freelancers and contractors who can deliver amazing things in most markets. There are a lot of opportunities out there. We just have to go out and win them.