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Esports Production Summit: How Observers' and REMI' Define the Breakout Era of Live Esports Production

07/12/2019

Esports Production Summit: How Observers' and REMI' Define the Breakout Era of Live Esports Production Experts from Riot Games, ESL Gaming, Twitch, and more share experiences in high-end esports production By Brandon Costa, Director of Digital

Friday, December 6, 2019 - 2:52 pm

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As esports rises in prominence as a live-sports property, the most common question from broadcasters - especially those accustomed to a traditional sports environment - is what are the differences between broadcasting a virtual sports event and a physical one?

Sure, an esports event feels more like a rock concert than, say, a baseball game, but the differences actually aren't all that many. As was evident at SVG's recent Esports Production Summit in Los Angeles, it all comes down to a common foundation that any broadcaster or content creator can agree on: storytelling.

At SVG's Esports Production Summit, experts in of live esports production shared their opinions on the current state of the industry: (from left) Riot Games' Matt Donovan, ESL Gaming's Simon Eicher, FACEIT's Andrew Lane, Twitch's Mitch Rosenthal, Do Not Peek Entertainment's Scott Smith, Next Generation Esports' Andrew Wagnitz, and SVG's Jason Dachman.

We don't have just a hardcore audience anymore, noted Simon Eicher, executive producer/director of broadcast, esports services, ESL Gaming, which produces major global esports competitions like the ESL One series, which spotlights games like Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. [Esports is] becoming more and more casual entertainment, so replay features and different angles help break up the game and [make it] more explanatory and educational. [That] becomes more and more important.

The Observer Function

Besides some core technological tenants of broadcast -camera angles, replay, graphics - a high-end esports show features a significant position known as observer. The role of the observer is basically to drive the views of the action from inside the game itself, choosing the shots that will ultimately tell the story of the action within the game, a camera operator inside the videogame. In the early days of esports, it was a task reserved for the on-air talent on a show, but, as productions grew larger and more complex, the role carved out its own valued place in the crew list.

Determining the number of observers on a production and what their assignments are is an ever-moving target. Like the number of camera operators on a traditional show, it largely depends on the game itself.

We almost always approach it from the ground up, said Andrew Lane, director, broadcast, FACEIT, an esports-production house whose biggest projects include this year's PUBG Global Summit in April. We take the game and, looking at what are the core philosophies of the game, work it backwards. We need to know what we want to show and what our core aims are to build storylines throughout the game. Then we'll work that back to work out a process that will work, which isn't always having a lot of people but sometimes is.

The role of the observer has further evolved as a newer genre of esports has gained favor with both players and viewers: the battle royale game. Games like the super-popular Fortnite fall into this category, and what makes them challenging to broadcast is that many solo characters are competing across a vast map: ultimately, countless scrums occur in different places simultaneously.

Telling a story [in battle royale] is more like golf, says Andrew Wagnitz, director, broadcast and technology, Next Generation Esports, a Burbank, CA-based white-label production company that helped produce the big Fortnite World Cup held in New York this year. You're covering Hole 17. Then you're covering Hole 14. And you're trying to build a story around the whole day. We're telling a story around specific players or really good kills.'

From a storytelling perspective, he continued, the big hurdle right now is educating people who are watching this story. How can we simplify some of the information that's being passed?

In addition, the battle royale format and its scoring also offer difficult wrinkles to the storytelling process.

There's, oftentimes, no perfect winning moment, said esports-business veteran Scott Smith, co-founder/managing director, Do Not Peek Entertainment, a new esports-focused production company located within the Scottsdale, AZ facilities of video-production service Sneaky Big Studios. They have to go back and add up scores because they played for eight or nine rounds. So part of the challenge in that genre is how you tell an exciting story of the winner. We've had some big battle royale events where the desk has had to say, We'll be right back. We have to go tabulate the scores to tell you who won.' You lose that trophy moment. They're getting better at it. It's such a new genre.

Storytelling in esports has been evolving into new stratospheres, thanks to the growing relationship between game publishers and esports broadcasters.

A game like Counter-Strike actually has really good spectator tools built into it, said Lane. It has fantastic camera planning. You can map a jib movement and bind that to one of the keys on the keyboard. But that's something that has just been released. The developers often don't think about these things until a few years afterwards when they realize [their game is] actually going to be an esport. So we have to adapt and sometimes build a custom solution from scratch.

Added Wagnitz, What we pride ourselves in is partnering with the publishers and asking them for specific tools or adjustments in the UI. That's where a lot of the success is. As the broadcast experts, we can share
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