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Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League Efforts Dive Deeper Into the Cloud, Head to Hawaii for Project Aloha'

16/04/2021

Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League Efforts Dive Deeper Into the Cloud, Head to Hawaii for Project Aloha' Hybrid workflows are likely to be important after in-person events resume By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Friday, April 16, 2021 - 3:34 pm

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After an Overwatch League season unlike any before it, Activision Blizzard Esports' Broadcast Technology Group is looking to build on the cloud-based workflows deployed in 2020 to serve online gameplay this year. An early pioneer of cloud workflows, ABE took it to the next level last year when Overwatch League shifted to online tournaments because of the pandemic and will continue to embrace the cloud even after LAN events resume.

The virtual set is running inside OWL's cloud-based vMix workflow

One of the key points that we wanted to emphasize this year for our production crew was to build on what we accomplished last year and maintain the stability that we had at the end of last season, says Corey Smith, director, live operations, Broadcast Technology Group, ABE. At the same time, we're also trying to think differently about how we would return to a home-and-away [in-person] model. What kind of systems do we need to have both on ground and in the cloud in a hybrid mode? We want to set ourselves up for success by experimenting with different things that will allow us to be more creative next year and in the future.

Notable enhancements this year for Overwatch League coverage include a virtual set built in Unreal Engine, 4K-quality live streams on YouTube, always-on player POV cameras, Team Power Rankings with IBM Watson, and the upcoming Project Aloha, in which U.S./Europe teams will travel to Hawaii for selected Tokyo-based tournaments with teams from Asia.

Cloud Enables Fully Remote Workflow An Overwatch League at-home producer workstation

The ABE broadcast team's cloud-based workflow is built around vMix live-video-streaming software. Inside vMix, the production team - still working entirely from home - cuts the show, operates the virtual studio, and handles master control. ABE also continues to experiment with Grass Valley's GV AMPP (Agile Media Processing Platform) cloud-based SaaS production solution after initially using it for Overwatch last season.

We definitely have AMPP on our radar for the future, says senior technical manager Ryan Cole, We think it's a product that's going to be very impactful to the success of broadcast production moving forward. We've been doing a lot of really great stuff on the backend with [Grass Valley] and are trying to understand what the future will look like. You'll see some of those tests come to fruition later on in the year, but, for now, we're still doing the vMix-style workflow in the cloud so we can maintain the stability we developed last year.

An Overwatch League at-home engineering workstation

Despite being spread across the globe - from Korea to Europe to North America - ABE's cloud-based ecosystem allows all on-air talent and crew members to interact in near real time. This year, all casters and analysts have received new remote-production kits consisting of a Sony 7 III mirrorless camera, LED lighting kit, full green-screen setup, and enhanced audio. In addition, observer (in-game camera operators) clients have been shifted to the cloud to enable strong bandwidth and a higher-quality output.

An Overwatch League observer (in-game camera operator) at-home workstation

That allows us to do true 1080p, 20-Mbps contribution for the observer feeds, as opposed to having to deal with home-internet problems, says Smith. We're trying to smooth out a lot of the observer workflows by moving those machines to the cloud. It sets the table for the future when you start thinking about native 4K and HDR, and it gives us the ability to scale up.

It also increases the quality, he continues. It's not just the contribution from the user to the cloud. Now you're getting rid of that and putting it directly into the cloud. We're keeping it in a cloud ecosystem, and it goes outbound from that perspective. So we're not focused on that contribution to the cloud; we're focused on the distribution from the cloud to our viewers.

Virtual Set and Viz Trio in the Cloud OWL is bringing back the virtual set that debuted at Grand Finals, which will be utilized all season long.

OWL is bringing back the virtual set that debuted at Grand Finals and now will be deployed all season long. In this 3D environment, the cloud-based Viz Trio workflow allows the production team to flex their creative muscles in any way they please.

I don't think Viz has ever been better in relation to the cloud environment, says Cole. I've seen actual workflows where we have [graphics systems] on on-prem, and we've seen stuttering because of the power of the PC itself. But now we're running on [Nvidia] Tesla [GPUs] in the cloud. So it has been beneficial overall. It's amazing how much you can push technology once you extract the underlying hardware layers. We're 100% cloud [for graphics].

Always-On Player POVs Add New Perspective Always-on Player POV camera setups will allow fans to see more live shots of all the players competing

Also new this year, always-on player POV-camera setups will allow fans to see more live shots of all the players competing. When matches are observing an individual player in first-person, the broadcast will also show their player-camera feed live as well.

When we do in-person events, we can elevate the player by routing their player-camera feed to the scenic so the audience can see and feel their emotion, says David Light, broadcast engineer, solutions, ABE. But, with the pandemic spreading players all around the world, acquiring 150+ l
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