Innovating into the future: How esports is winning the production game
By Michael Armstrong, VP Sales, EMEA, LTN Global.
Professional or amateur gamers coming together from across the world to compete, active fan participation in immersive games, and groundbreaking technologies — esports has always embraced innovation. Esports is one of the few industries that wasn’t negatively affected by the pandemic over the last year. In fact, its popularity is growing exponentially, with a fan base expected to reach 474 million viewers by the end of the year, with a lift from mainstream broadcasters like ESPN and CBS.
Esports producers can now capitalize on innovation in production workflows and fan engagement to drive the industry forward and create new revenue opportunities.
When it comes to delivering rich content formats and high resolution, esports is already a step ahead of traditional sports broadcasting and HD SDI workflows. Platforms like Twitch, Facebook, and YouTube have been broadcasting simple livestreams of multiple competitors across the world for years.
However, COVID-19 accelerated growth across the esports industry and increased the international consumer appetite for live content. The streaming of one-on-one action has evolved into multiplayer global online tournaments with centralized workflows.
Before the pandemic, esports shows brought professional gamers together at one venue. During COVID-19, the industry used centralized workflows to produce broadcast-quality content with feeds from a multitude of remote locations.
EA’s Madden Bowl 2020 showcases how remote production workflows can deliver the high-quality content ESPN and platforms like Twitch expect. Until last year, Madden Bowl was produced with players in the EA studio in San Jose, California, using standard, on-premise esports workflows. With an in-person show off the table, EA had to get multiple 1080p 60fps high-quality, low-latency signals out of 40 individual homes and back to a centralized production facility. In addition, EA needed to manage the signals of up to eight different announcers in different locations conversing with each other about the game in real time.
Connectivity was a key challenge in producing an event of this scale for linear broadcast. Having a fully managed, reliable multicast network backbone is a critical success factor for supporting features like rich video formats, data overlays, 3D graphics, replays, and audio mixing. The production team needed to ensure announcers were seeing the game with minimal latency, which meant they needed to feed the signals to the announcers’ homes at the same time they were fed back to the centralized production facility.
Madden Bowl 2020 demonstrated the potential of remote production workflows for esports. Although physical events with an on-site audience are gradually returning, remote production models will continue to be deployed in esports production. Existing IP-based workflows, lower costs, and higher production efficiencies mean remote production will play a crucial role moving forward.
Raising the bar for esports
Gamers play esports for gaming audiences. As such, esports must deliver the immersive video gaming experience fans expect. In addition, with wagering interest increasing, producers must cater to that audience’s needs. Providing data and insights into specific player performance at scale will feed the wagering and viewing appetite, increasing esports’ presence in the mainstream sports betting landscape.
Personalization can add a further layer, enabling fans to consume esports content the way they prefer. The esports industry can jump on the opportunity to enable multiscreen viewing experiences and customized data and graphics to meet individual consumer interests. Streaming platforms like Twitch provide a good example of how personalization features can be rolled out. These platforms offer features like the ability to choose the announcers viewers want to follow or switch between cameras.
Creative elements like virtual fan engagement and giving fans on-screen time offer audiences new ways to engage. Even after the return of fans to physical venues, virtual engagement will enable global audiences to stay connected with the industry round the clock and outside of major events. This will create more opportunities for esports to monetize content and expand its fan base.
Being game for innovation
The esports industry should be ready to capitalize on the growing interest from consumers and broadcasters. Remote production will bring together geographically dispersed players, announcers, and consumers, enabling the industry to grow its audience, while creative production features like virtual fan engagement will deliver compelling news ways to engage.
Besides the dedicated fan base, esports is increasingly front of mind with wagering audiences. Data analytics, personalization, and immersive viewing experiences will bring more ways to consume esports content and create new revenue streams. Esports producers playing the innovation game are set to win.