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Overwatch League Grand Finals: Project Aloha, Cloud Workflows Are Key to Transcontinental Production

24/09/2021

Overwatch League Grand Finals: Project Aloha, Cloud Workflows Are Key to Transcontinental Production Analysts are onsite in Honolulu while players, casters, and crew are spread across the globe By Jason Dachman, Chief Editor

Friday, September 24, 2021 - 2:59 pm

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It has been wild ride for Activision Blizzard Esports' Broadcast Technology Group during the 2021 Overwatch League Season. After producing OWL regular-season matches online and from Project Aloha in Honolulu using its cloud-based, remote-production model, the Group had been prepping for the OWL Playoffs in Dallas and Los Angeles, its first live, in-person matches in more than two years. However, when the Delta variant of COVID-19 hindered those plans, the Broadcast Technology Group pivoted quickly for a return to Honolulu to broadcast the playoffs, which conclude with tomorrow's OWL Grand Final.

The OWL Playoffs feature analysts on-site in Honolulu manning a set at the Moana Surfrider Resort.

When the [in-person events] were canceled, we had only about two weeks to pivot the entire show, says Corey Smith, director, live operations, Broadcast Technology Group, Activision Blizzard Esports. The fact that the team was able to get it done was nothing short of a miracle. We simply wouldn't have been able to do it without the cloud and all the work we had already put in to develop [remote workflows]. We couldn't have been orchestrating trucks and satellite uplinks and coordinating fiber drops in that small of a window. We just didn't have the time to turn around that traditional type of infrastructure. We had to do it with cloud production.

Project Aloha: A Unified Champion Thanks to Hawaii-Tokyo Connection After being forced to have regional champions in Asia and U.S./Europe last year because of travel restrictions and transcontinental bandwidth challenges, Tomorrow's OWL Grand Finals will crown a unified global champion for the first time since 2019.

To pull this season off, Activision Blizzard Esports (ABE) partnered with the University of Hawaii M noa to launch Project Aloha, a competition model in which teams could compete live between Honolulu and Asia. The university provided access to a high-capacity trans-Pacific subsea fiber cable between Tokyo and Honolulu, allowing players to compete online with near-zero latency.

Project Aloha allowed us to combine the teams from North America and Asia for competitive matchmaking, which was great because we weren't able to do that last season, notes Smith. We obviously didn't want to end this season again by crowning separate champions in Asia and North America, so Hawaii allowed us to conclude the season in a way that made sense.

Onsite in Honolulu: Analyst Desk Heads to Waikiki Beach During this week's OWL Playoffs, for the first time at Project Aloha, analysts are located onsite in Honolulu, delivering live coverage during broadcasts from its set on the balcony of the penthouse suite at the Moana Surfrider Resort.

OWL Playoffs coverage spans the globe with interviews across multiple continents.

The big challenge here for the set was connectivity at the top of the Moana Surfrider, says Senior Technical Manager Ryan Cole, one of the few crew members onsite in Honolulu. [The hotel] cannot support the network at the level and scale we needed at the penthouse, so we ended working with the Marriott folks and some onsite vendors to setup two point-to-point [wireless bridges] from different locations around the island to the suite to get the network connectivity we needed. And it has been going really well.

A small crew is also on hand in Honolulu: the production team manning the Moana Surfrider set and the competition room at the UH M noa, four editors located at the Sheraton Waikiki, an ENG team shooting behind-the-scenes content with the teams, and IT and operations staff. UH M noa students are also playing a role in the productions and getting hands-on experience in a live-esports-broadcast environment.

OWL observers remote into cloud-based VMs in both South Korea and Los Angeles.

At the UH M noa where teams compete, ABE has deployed Always-On Player POV cameras for each player, a wide shot of the competition room, two handheld cameras, and ambient microphones throughout the room. In addition, the broadcast will incorporate Player POV cams and shots from the competition rooms in China and South Korea.

We're focused on making this feel like it's truly a Grand Finals and not just another Overwatch league show, says Smith. We're upping the scale of the show as much as possible. We owe it to the teams, the players, and the community that's watching to polish it up and do whatever we can do to entertain them in a new and different way.

Spanning the Globe: How the Cloud Brings It All Together Nearly the entire production team, meanwhile, remains remote and continues to use ABE's cloud-based production workflow. This production model allows the production crew and casters to continue to work entirely from home, from locations across the mainland U.S., Hawaii, South Korea, and China.

Observers use remote stations like this one to tell the story as in-game camera operators

The cloud production ecosystem is built around vMix live-video-streaming software and uses software-based Unity intercom, Viz Trio graphics in the cloud, and Parsec remote-desktop software. ABE also created its own master-control platform - dubbed Echo - which can distribute multiple regionalized feeds with different graphics and commercial insertion for each region.

Observers - the camera operators who cut the in-game action and are integral to the broadcast - remote into cloud-based VMs in both South Korea and Los Angeles, which provide them with ultra-low-latency connections.

OWL's
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