As eSports Hit Mainstream, Jupiter Returns Streams Brasil Game Cup With Elemental Live

The arrival of e-sports on the mainstream scene is nigh, and it presents an interesting new opportunity for live-sports-content producers and technology vendors.

Some would even argue e-sports has already hit the main stage. After all, last year’s League of Legends (LOL) World Championship sold out the Staples Center in Los Angeles and was streamed to more than 32 million viewers (peaking at 8.5 million concurrent users) on Twitch.tv. This year’s edition of the tournament drew 40,000 fans at Seoul World Cup Stadium in e-sports–hungry South Korea (Twitch streaming numbers were not available at press time).

As the demand for live e-sports escalates, so does the quality, providing live-streaming-video producers with unique opportunities to produce a new kind of content.

“I’ve always found [producing e-sports] very similar to doing a live poker event or something along those lines,” says Victor Borachuk, whose production company Jupiter Returns live-streamed South America’s most-viewed gaming event ever, the Brasil Game Cup (BGC) in São Paulo, last month on Twitch.tv. “It’s not like you have two guys beating each other up in a ring or shooting baskets. There is no physical action going on, but you still have to create that same type of emotion.”

Mainstream Audience Targeted
The mainstream crowd looks to be finally catching up as well. In August, Amazon paid nearly $1 billion to acquire Twitch (its largest acquisition ever). In February, a DeepField study revealed that Twitch accounted for the fourth-highest peak Internet traffic of any site, trailing only Netflix, Google, and Apple and surpassing streaming heavyweights Hulu, Pandora, and, coincidentally, Amazon.

Even ESPN has jumped aboard, streaming this year’s LOL and fellow Dota 2 competition The International on ESPN3 and even going so far as to televise a preshow on ESPN2 for the latter tournament in July. The network reportedly was encouraged by the viewership for the ESPN2 show (although ESPN President John Skipper maintains that e-sports “is not a sport” and some would question whether the streaming-friendly event needs the support of linear television).

Live From Brazil
All this presents some big questions for the live-sports-production community and the manufacturers that cater to them: most notably, how can these live e-sports streams be produced cost-effectively while still delivering a high-quality show? At the BGC (held Oct. 9-12 at as part of the Big Game Show at São Paulo’s Expo Center Norte), Jupiter Productions’ production of both the in-venue videoboard show and the live stream for Twitch.com served as a prime example of how to accomplish just that.

Borachuk and company’s production of the Dota 2 competition relied on Elemental Live software-based encoding and a NewTek TriCaster 8000 to produce and deliver the show to Twitch.tv. As for staffing, Borachuk cut the show and was joined by a producer, wireless-handheld-camera and jib operators, and a handful of production assistants.

The coverage also featured PlayTV host Luciano Amaral as primary talent and relied on a two-camera pre/postgame-show set, plus a jib for scenic shots. Jupiter also deployed several Zoom Q4 mini camcorders for cutaway shots and head-to-head shots of the gamers.

“It was a very small crew, and we were able to pull off a pretty huge show that I was very happy with,” says Borachuk. “In e-sports, something crazy might be happening in the game, but there’s no human emotion there. It’s just pixels on a screen. You hear a guy’s voice, but you don’t actually see the guy frantically clicking away at a keyboard while somebody’s blowing up his base or somebody throwing up their arms in defeat after they lost a character. That’s important stuff that you have to bring into the game.”

Jupiter used a scan converter to deliver the actual Dota 2 videogame feed to its makeshift control room inside Expo Center Norte, where an SDI-to-HDMI box was used to extract the audio from the embedded game audio and feed it into the TriCaster.

“The TriCaster 8000 is great for situations like this, where we have two different switches going on, “says Borachuk. “Instead of just hard-cutting that center screen. we can do nice dissolves in between. You can apply the overlays smoothly, so you can do a nice switch on two completely discrete sources. And having the four overlays helped as well because [having] all the graphics elements … gives you a lot more flexibility to add to the production value for the audience.”

Delivery to Twitch via Elemental Live
To  deliver the Twitch.tv stream out of Brazil, Jupiter secured a 30-MBps path as its primary pipe and a 1-MBps backup.

“We had two connections, so we had to create two simultaneous profiles and have the encoder on both of these connections,” says Borachuk. “That way, if the connection went down, we could instantly flip over to the other connection, and, at the same time, the quality would have to change, which would change the transcoding.”

On the closing day of the event, that disaster scenario occurred when a nearby fire caused Jupiter to lose its primary fiber path and switch over to the backup for the BGC Finals.

“It was pretty seamless,” says Borachuk. “You would have never known anything happened; the whole stream worked perfectly. The Twitch audience can be incredibly harsh about that stuff. If your stream is 4.5 vs. 5, they will complain in the chat room. They have no mercy for that type of thing. But it flipped over, and we still managed to pull it off. And the Elemental Live encoder was able to kind of negotiate that stuff, which was nice.”

Borachuk, who has been producing e-sports events since 2009, has long been a proponent and user of the Elemental Live encoding platform for events like the BGC.

“Being able to seamlessly go from input to input and the customization and the ability to go from connection to connection with multiple Ethernet ports is all great,” he says. “But the most important thing to me and the reason I use Elemental Live on all of our shows — especially on a show like this, where we have a lot of unknown factors — is, I know I can set up the encoder and know that it’s not going to fail.

“In the early days of streaming,” he continues, “it was a lot of starting and stopping and rebooting. But that seems like a million years ago. This is a product where you can set it up, get it going, and know it’s going to be rock solid — even in tough situations like this. You don’t have to micromanage it.”

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