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Overwatch League Launches Home-and-Away Era With Opening Homestands in NYC, Arlington

13/02/2020

Overwatch League Launches Home-and-Away Era With Opening Homestands in NYC, Arlington Activision Blizzard Esports built an entire broadcast ecosystem for the new model By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Thursday, February 13, 2020 - 3:49 pm

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Last weekend, more than three years of development by Blizzard Entertainment culminated in the Overwatch League's (OWL's) first pair of homestands, in New York City and Arlington, TX. Now in its third season, the esports league had planned from the beginning to transition from a central venue (previously, Blizzard Arena in Burbank, CA) to a home-and-away model that would allow its teams to host a series of homestands. Dubbed Project 2020, that vision has become reality.

Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC was one of two venues (along with Arlington) for Overwatch League Opening Weekend.

It's really an amazing feeling because we've had the name - Project 2020 - for this [home-and-away effort] for more than three years, and now it's actually the year 2020, says Pete Emminger, VP, global broadcast, Activision Blizzard Esports. Our entire broadcast team didn't even exist when I came on board as a full-time employee three years ago. So I'm really proud of the team and happy to be here at this point when we can see all this hard work pay off. And we're excited to see how it grows from here.

To make the home/away model a reality, Blizzard built an entire broadcast ecosystem that has a heavily cloud-based infrastructure and features scalable solutions onsite. Among the key ingredients are cloud-based master-control and transmission systems, custom-built field kits for IT and production needs, a new TeamSpeak comms system, and a virtual studio at its Los Angeles production facility.

All About the Cloud: Master Control, Transmission, and MAM Head to the Sky

Opening Weekend kicked off with four matches each (two on Saturday and two on Sunday) from Hammerstein Ballroom in Manhattan and Esports Arena Arlington. The Activision Blizzard Esports broadcast team was also in London producing Week 2 of Call of Duty League, which launched last month with a similar homestand format. In addition, Overwatch League's studio analysis show, Watchpoint, was produced out of Activision Blizzard Esports' new facility at LA Center Studios (LACS) in Downtown Los Angeles.

Activision Blizzard Esports' Ryan Cole on hand at Overwatch League Opening Weekend in NYC

Since this will be just one of many multi-site weekends this year, the Blizzard broadcast team has transitioned to a fully cloud-based master-control system. The transmission signals are sent from all onsite locations to Blizzard's transmission-operations center (TOC) in Irvine, CA, for QC and delivery as well as to its broadcast-operations center (BOC) for master-control routing in the cloud. All signal routing is handled via AWS and distributed to YouTube (which signed an exclusive OWL-rights deal prior to the season) and regional partners producing additional content in different languages.

It's very different from the traditional-style master-control workflow, but it works out really well, says Ryan Cole, senior tech manager, Activision Blizzard Esports. We've been doing [cloud-based transmission] for a while, but we're taking it to the next level this year because we think it's the right fit to do the job. Our Technology Group has done a phenomenal job from the transmission perspective, and then our job is to put production technology together and interface to make sure it all works correctly.

In terms of transmission, Blizzard sent out eight feeds from onsite: clean and dirty program feeds, an overhead maps view with team comms layered in (for coaching-tape needs), the observer replay feed (for postproduction), robotic cameras inside the venue, and another EVS replay feed to provide the Watchpoint studio production in L.A. with highlights content.

The OWL observer team inside NEP's Supershooter 23 B unit during Opening Weekend

We have our transmission team here [in New York], but they're only going to be here for the first few events, says Cole. Since our entire transmission workflow is in the cloud, they're going to be managing all our routing and master-control functions from our BOC and TOC.

Using its AWS transmission backbone, Blizzard is also sending all its content directly from the venue to its media-asset management (MAM). The assets are sent to an Amazon S3 bucket in the cloud, are imported into its Reach Engine by Levels Beyond MAM platform, and then can be sent to its local Avid Isilon storage at LACS if necessary.

Blizzard has also created a customized cloud-based system (called Split-Fork) to insert graphics via master-control workflows for sponsorship assets and branding in different regions.

We're looking at a lot of unique, interesting cloud-[based workflows] that not many people have done before, says Cole. We're trying to think more about scale and how we can leverage the cloud to be more effective. But we're doing it with the right mentality in mind where you start small and scale it up as you go.

Live From New York, It's Overwatch League Opening Weekend

In New York last weekend, NEP's Magnus served the main production, and Supershooter 23 B unit housed Blizzard's team of observers (essentially, in-game camera operators for esports productions). The main production features standard positions (director, producer, TD, etc.), with the B unit housing a six-person observer crew: an in-game director, two Freecam observers, two first-person observers, and one replay observer.

NEP's Magnus mobile unit houses the OWL production team.

NEP Magnus and Supershooter 23B will serve as the OWL production and observer teams' primary units throughout the
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2020/02/13/overwatch-league-launches-new-h...
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