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Coming of Age: How NBA 2K League Became a Hotbed of Production Experimentation in Just Its Second Season

12/06/2019

Coming of Age: How NBA 2K League Became a Hotbed of Production Experimentation in Just Its Second Season League prepares for THE TICKET, a three-day tourney to be held at Full Sail University By Brandon Costa, Director of Digital

Tuesday, June 11, 2019 - 3:28 pm

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Esports is many things: lucrative, polarizing, intriguing, and even (at times) surprising. From a broadcast standpoint, esports represents a whole new world of production experimentation. What makes for a good viewing product? How can this be different and (in some ways) better than watching traditional sports?

It's that exciting prospect that enticed Matt Arden, executive producer/head of content and media, NBA 2K League, to embrace a property that, in just its second year, is already finding its legs as a top-flight live esports production.

In its second season, the NBA 2K League has made a wealth of changes to both the in-venue and live-stream viewing experience of its competitions. Regular-season matches are held at the NBA 2K League Studio Powered by Intel in Long Island City, NY.

In season one, it was amazing that such a small team got a broadcast off the ground. Everything was focused on Can we get this up on the bird and get it out for people to see?, says Arden, who joined the NBA 2K League in December after a career during which he spent more than a decade at Turner Sports in Atlanta and, most recently, worked on the agency side in New York City. Now we have had a little bit of time to look at the whole thing contextually and look at technology changes that we can bring to the studio itself or storytelling changes that we can add.

Currently in week eight of its second regular season, NBA 2K League productions look largely different from those of its inaugural year, with many of the changes related to creating a more engaging product with a greater focus on storytelling.

Most notably, the number of cameras inside the NBA 2K League Studio Powered by Intel has been expanded to 21, and the hard cameras have been taken off tripods and placed on the shoulders of the operators, who are directed to move around and go in more tightly on the action.

I want them in. Get in that moment, says Arden. We play in the round. Players get hyped. It's exciting. There's a lot of good-natured trash talk in our league, and it's been great, but that energy can be difficult to translate in a broadcast [when you have static cameras]. Get those cameras in there when [the players are interacting].

Matt Arden became the NBA 2K League's new executive producer and head of content and media this past winter.

The in-arena experience is vastly improved. The studio, located in Long Island City (a short subway ride across the East River from Manhattan), now features two large video screens: one is an arena-like center-hung videoboard above the players; the other is off to the side of the playing stage, and players are introduced in front of it prior to the start of a game. Behind each player's chair is a smaller, vertical screen displaying a live shot of the player, their name, and other important data to make it easier for a fan sitting in the stands to identify the players on the stage and in game action.

In the studio, the league has also altered the positioning of its game announcers and show hosts. Play-by-play man Scott Cole and color commentator Jamie Dirk Diaz Ruiz (both in their second season) have a higher perch position than last year. Meanwhile, studio host and moderator Phil The Phenomenal EE Visu is now working solo (he had a co-host last year) and has been directed to spend much more time interacting with fan comments on each of the league's live streams to Twitch and YouTube.

We realized we were sitting on two broadcasts, Arden explains. One was the broadcast we were sending out, and the other was the broadcast that was organically happening within the Twitch streams. We weren't reciprocating that as actively as I thought we could be. So Phil is active in both the Twitch and YouTube streams and is communicating with fans.

The NBA 2K League's control room features a Ross Video Carbonite production switcher at the front bench. Producer Chad Perry and director Rick Phillips (far left) are back for their second season with the league.

This season, under Arden, the production team has been aggressive in trying new things within the game production itself, from segments in the show to playing with camera angles within the game engine. Experimentation has been met with both praise and derision by the league's many viewers on both Twitch and YouTube, which should be of little surprise to anyone who has spent time in a Twitch chat.

We've been cognizant of not taking the first few comments on the stream as gospel, says Arden. We've learned to develop a thick skin, but we also have tried things that haven't lasted longer than a week or two of trial.

One area where Arden and his team have been trying to push the envelope, despite varying levels of resistance, has been with in-game camera angles. Typically this year, a 2K League broadcast will stay on the classic camera angles within the game engine that players have come to expect.

To go beyond the 13 camera angles that the game itself offers, a position in the control room has been dedicated to taking control of those in-game cameras and offering unique views of the action. The initial effort was met with much resistance from viewers, but, after receiving encouragement from players, coaches, and others within the league, Arden's team kept plugging away. They decided to offer fans the opportunity to select new camera options, making them more a part of the creative process. They even made the person operating the position in the control room, Mathew Glitch Testini, a
LINK: https://www.sportsvideo.org/2019/06/11/coming-of-age-how-nba-2k-league...
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