Using EVS Technology to Take ESL’s Live Esports Programming to the Next Level
The Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) is the longest running global pro gaming tour in the world. Started in 2006 by the Electronic Sports League (ESL), the competition features the world's best gamers playing in several events.
IEM Season 12 featured events in Australia, China, the US and South Korea and culminated in the IEM World Championship, held in the 11,500-person capacity Spodek arena in Katowice, Poland. In the finals, CS:GO and StarCraft II were played and featured a combined prize pool of over $950,000.
Esports tournaments have huge online audiences of informed, passionate and engaged fans watching live programming and interacting with IEM’s well-subscribed social channels. These followers are technically-aware and expect a certain level of quality. Consequently, they interact with their chosen events in a different way to those of traditional, linear television-centric sports. They’re an audience of digital natives who consume huge amounts of content and communicate through social media interactions of memes and GIFs.
In addition, with the nature of internet-only delivery and the pace of many of the games being played, the speed of program production is very important. “During a live esports game, anything three-minutes old is forgotten,” said Simon Eicher, Executive Producer at ESL. “Our live programming and our social media content is what engages the fan base. Therefore, we need to be reactive, creating and delivering these supplementary assets as quickly as possible.”
While continuing to put out this high-quality programming, esports stakeholders like ESL and Turtle Entertainment (ESL’s owners) are also being challenged to attract new kinds of fans. To broaden its reach, ESL has evolved the live programming of the IEM events to feature similar elements to those in television sports. Pre- and post-game programming, half time shows and expert punditry are now staples of ESL’s events. While appealing to a wider audience, ESL ensures that it’s still putting out content that engages its existing fanbase.
As with any sport or event that’s continuing to grow in popularity, ESL is under constant development of its programming to meet these requirements while making sure that its product appeals to potential advertisers. As a result, ESL decided to put in place a more professional-grade production workflow to enhance the live programming it delivers to fans.
Moving beyond the production technology it was previously using to a more professional live workflow, ESL’s goal was to build a production infrastructure that enabled it to output the highest-quality content it could, as quickly as possible.
To do this, ESL put in place a range of EVS technologies for the live production of the IEM and uses the same workflow for the ESL One tournament productions. These technical facilities include XT4K and XT3 live production servers, MultiReview, IPDirector, XFile3 and the DYVI live production switcher.
- In-game third-person replays
ESL and EVS partnered to develop esports’ first in-game live SuperMotion replays – creating output similar to what would be delivered to fans watching any football or basketball game.
Perfect for ESL’s first-person shooter games, third-person replays are created by placing observer PCs into the game, which view the action as if it were a camera. Feeds from these are recorded in the PCs’ native 120Hz and ingested by the EVS server. Managed by an IPDirector content management system, replays created with LSM remote control panels are slowed down to the broadcast-standard 60Hz – outputting a half-speed replay with completely smooth playout and absolutely no loss of frames.
- Live program switching
ESL uses an EVS DYVI switcher with two panels during its IEM productions. One panel is used for cutting together the live play output from the gamers’ PCs and the other for the live programming, letting them avoid having to deploy two separate switchers.
DYVI is built on a IT/software-defined architecture, so it’s completely customizable. This means ESL can create a program setup within DYVI for each of the games played at any given tournament. Then as live production begins, the TD can instantly recall the games’ configuration with the press of a button and begin cutting together a program without any unnecessary delay between events.
- Fast content publication
To quickly output highlight packages as well as GIFs and memes to its online platforms, ESL utilizes EVS’ MultiReview application. Nicknamed the ‘meme-machine’ by the production team at ESL, MultiReview gives them a synchronous view of all feeds ingested by the servers so that they can easily select relevant content and create clips that are quickly turned into memes and GIFs.
The speed of the MultiReview tool is perhaps one of the most important elements of ESL’s workflow. “The content on our social platforms has to be published as quickly as possible,” said Simon Eicher, Executive Producer at ESL. “With this in place, we’re able to distribute packages of content to ESL’s social channels – from ingest to delivery – in less than a minute.”
With its high-end professional technology workflow in place, ESL can create better live content that’s much more competitive alongside traditional sports. In creating more engaging esports tournaments for the IEM, it’s not only continuing to connect with its existing audience, but also appealing to a new kind of fan.
“Esports’ fan base is growing with programming for tournaments like the IEM now being created to engage audiences using features similar to many other sports,” said Simon Eicher, Executive Producer at ESL. “Our programming now appeals to much more casual viewers, engaging those who now watch games like they do any other live sporting event.”
A better-quality product and economical production processes also makes esports tournaments like IEM much more attractive to sponsors, which is key to ESL’s continued growth. “Deploying professional processes like we have with EVS technology has allowed us to simultaneously improve our live output while seeing a reduction in production costs because we can work much more efficiently,” added Simon Eicher, Executive Producer at ESL. “It’s these kinds of improvements to esports programming that will allow us to continue growing the sport to wider audiences.”