Universal Open Rocket League Brings NBC Sports Mothership, RSNs Together for Esports Extravaganza

For the Grand Finals, Studio 4 in Stamford is converted to an esports arena

NBC Sports Group continued its push into the esports realm this month with the second season of Universal Open Rocket League, its joint-venture tournament with FACEIT. Last weekend’s Grand Finals at NBC Sports Group’s International Broadcast Center in Stamford, CT, was the culmination of a month-long, company-wide effort that utilized resources from both the NBC Sports mothership and NBC Sports Regional Networks across the country for regional productions leading up to the Grand Finals.

“The Universal Open Rocket League is a terrific example of the power of the NBC Sports Group working as one team,” says Jon Slobotkin, SVP, content and live programming, NBC Sports Regional Networks. “NBC Sports regional networks, long a model of executing successful productions in a sufficient manner, bring the same level of effort and dedication to the UORL as they do MLB, NBA, and NHL productions during the year. The NBC regional group is a tightly knit team that constantly communicates on many company initiatives. They fit seamlessly within the NBC Sports Group as there are regular production synergies throughout the year between the [RSNs] and the national group.”

Twitch live-streamed nearly 100 hours of the Universal Open Rocket League tournament, and the new Universal Open YouTube Channel on YouTube Gaming served as home to VOD content. In addition, NBCSN and the regional networks aired several “Road to the Universal Open” highlight shows throughout the Regional Finals, the 60-minute Grand Finals preview, and post-event highlights programs.

The Road to the Grand Finals: RSNs Take the Lead
After open qualifying rounds across North America and Europe throughout the summer, Regional Finals took place onsite at four RSN studios around the U.S.: NBC Sports Washington (East Regional, July 28), SNY (Northeast Regional, July 29), NBC Sports Chicago (Central Regional, Aug. 5), and NBC Sports Bay Area (West Regional, Aug. 11).

These productions were produced locally but managed centrally to achieve consistency of look and format. Coordinating Producers Kevin Anderson, Mark Jordan, J.R. Aguila, and Rich Wolff oversaw the process for each show in conjunction with dedicated teams at each RSN.

“For the regional productions, the headquarters in Stamford provides guidance with show format, creative elements, editorial direction, research, and a coordinated sales effort,” says Slobotkin. “The regionals take these directives and bring the shows to life. This is a massive production lift in the middle of summer, where many of our RSNs are concentrating on MLB coverage and NFL–training-camp coverage. The RSNs dedicate full personnel and resources to transform their studios and facilities into a space that can host the event and provide hospitality to the players and their families.”

After launching an in-house–designed graphics package for last year’s tournament, NBC continued to build out the look in Season 2 with animations and transitional elements inspired by different art pieces from Rocket League and the overall gaming space.

The production for all of the highlights shows on NBC’s linear networks was overseen by NBC Sports Chicago producer Paul Aspan. He selected game segments in real time, wrote talent wraparounds during the live event, and recorded them shortly after the event concluded — primarily featuring the event’s host, Rachel “Seltzer” Quirico. Once the wraps were recorded, Aspan and an editor retreated to an edit suite to complete the A roll of the show. The complete edit was usually finished in a day or two. The shows airing on RSNs were edited at the participating RSN; the Grand Finals preview and review shows were edited in Stamford.

The Peacock Transforms Stamford for Grand Finals
Prior to last weekend’s Grand Finals, the NBC Sports team transformed Studio 4 at the Stamford IBC (the same studio that housed broadcast booths during the past two Olympics) into a full-fledged esports arena. The studio was outfitted with 14 cameras, six robos provided and staffed by Inertia Unlimited (four of which were used for individual player iso’s), a Steadicam, and a jib. NBC Sports Group’s Tom Popple, VP, studio and facilities operations, and Matt Celli, director, production technology, innovation and data, led the design of this transformation.

NBC Sports Group leveraged both its International Broadcast Center in Stamford and facilities at four RSNs for the Universal Open Rocket League productions.

“Production-wise, the greatest challenge was converting the blank canvas that is Studio 4 into an environment that reflects the game,” says Slobotkin. “Tom and Matt had a creative vision and executed the plan brilliantly through original set design and lighting. The game’s primary colors of blue and orange creatively accented the setting. Editorially, the challenge was to tell the stories that bring the game, players, and the strategy to life without interrupting the display and flow of the game itself. Producer David Gibson and Coordinating Producer Kevin Anderson lead the team, deploying all of our resources and personnel to accomplish this.”

NBC also brought in a 1080p mobile unit, NEP Atlas, to provide the highest video quality possible (1080p is a must for most esports competitions).

In addition, the largest conference room in Stamford was transformed into the players’ practice area and family lounge, an area that was integrated into the live coverage. NBC also used Studio 7 for a player interview and promotional shoot on the day prior to the event (Thursday, Aug. 23).

After hosting the inaugural Grand Finals at Esports Arena in Santa Ana, CA, last year, NBC shifted to Stamford to allow the production and operations teams access to the whole arsenal of Peacock resources.

“The biggest change was the relocation of the event to Stamford,” says Slobotkin. “It enabled us to use the full resources of the NBC Sports Group headquarters to make this a success. In addition to the studio and practice facility, we used several areas around the building to serve as meeting and hospitality space. We used internal workflow to shoot and edit preproduced player and team features. We did the same for the postproduced highlights recap show.”

More Esports on the Horizon for NBC
NBC will continue to explore the esports space, according to Slobotkin. In addition to a second year of Universal Open Rocket League, NBC Sports also played a role in the inaugural NHL Gaming World Championship Final in June with coverage on NBCSN.

“We’re excited to grow in the esports ecosystem,” says Slobotkin, “and are interested in adding at least one additional event under the Universal Open umbrella in 2019.”

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