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Esports Engage at NAB Show

By Steve Harvey. Recognizing the rapidly growing business sector, the NAB Show this year launched its inaugural Esports Experience, showcasing the latest online gaming trends and content delivery technologies.

Las Vegas, NV—If you recognize the names KuroKy, Faker and Xyp9x, then you are likely one of the 400 million-plus esports fans worldwide contributing to an industry that is beginning to rival its traditional counterpart in viewership and revenues. Recognizing the rapidly growing business sector, the NAB Show this year launched its inaugural Esports Experience, showcasing the latest online gaming trends and content delivery technologies. The interactive exhibit area, sponsored by Akamai, Beasley Broadcast Group, eBlue, Grass Valley, IHSE USA and The Switch, offered educational programming and the opportunity for attendees to not only watch professional teams competing, but also to play themselves.

Followers of traditional sports via traditional broadcast outlets may dismiss the idea of watching a bunch of twentysomethings sitting in the dark playing video games, but according to at least one analysis, esports viewership in the U.S. will outpace all traditional sports leagues other than the NFL by 2021. And some of those twentysomethings are as well paid as traditional sports stars: KuroKy, Faker and Xyp9x are the handles of last year’s top-three esports earners, who raked in more than $7 million in prize money between them from championship competitions, according to tracking website Esports Earnings.

Indeed, there is a lot of money flowing into esports. Globally, esports revenues are expected to break the $1 billion barrier this year, with North America contributing over $400 million of that. Gaming industry analytics firm Newzoo projects that, given the present trajectory, esports revenues could total $1.8 billion worldwide by 2022.

Until relatively recently, esports broadcast distribution tended to be via internet platforms such as Twitch (which Amazon acquired for nearly $1 billion in 2014), YouTube, Facebook and others. Lately, conventional networks such as Turner, Disney and NBC have increasingly been moving into esports broadcasting.

Related: Making the Mix of HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas, Jan. 3, 2019

Although audiences are typically watching on smartphones, tablets and computers, esports broadcast production facilities are not dissimilar to traditional studios. The HyperX Esports Arena at Luxor in Las Vegas, for example, is equipped with a pair of Lawo mc²36 consoles. L.A.-based Riot Games, publisher of League of Legends, has installed a Calrec Artemis and a Calrec Brio at its Berlin esports complex in Germany, and Electronic Arts’ EA Broadcast Center in Redwood City, CA, includes a Brio in its audio control room.

Some technology companies are developing products specifically for esports. At this year’s NAB Show, for example, Studio Technologies launched its Model 207 eSports Console, addressing the microphone, audio monitoring and interfacing needs of esports players and personnel. The compact tabletop enclosure offers both analog and Dante AoIP paths and enables direct integration with personal computers and Ethernet-based audio networks.

“As the popularity of esports has continued to grow, so has the expectations for the technology used by the competitors and event personnel,” says Gordon Kapes, president of Studio Technologies. “We designed the Model 207 expressly to support the needs of these emerging applications.”

Kapes adds, “Esports arenas are technically sophisticated, ever-shifting environments that require flexible and high-performance technology. We equipped the Model 207 with unique, configurable audio resources, along with careful circuit design for reliable operation and excellent audio performance.”

This year’s NAB Show offered a program of more than two dozen sessions on esports-related topics, from business issues and technology advice to the potential impact of 5G wireless systems on esports’ evolution. 

Related: Nugen Upmixes Every Snap and Tackle in Madden NFL 2018, July 27, 2018

At the Esports Experience on opening day, Charles Conroy, newly hired as vice president of gaming for The Switch, offered a personal perspective of esports from his 15-year involvement with the business. The international appeal of esports was apparent from the start, said Conroy, as he checked off some of the milestones, such as the establishment of Dallas as the esports hub of the world, the increasing involvement of traditional sports leagues in esports and the influx of money, bringing with it workflows and production values comparable to traditional sports.

At the NAB Show, the company that Conroy recently joined, The Switch, launched The Switch eSports, which integrates production, transmission and distribution from anywhere in the world using the company’s managed, private cloud services for linear and streaming. The company’s booth included an example of its at-home remote broadcast solution: a flypack enabling isolated camera feeds, audio channels and file-based workflows, incorporating a Clear-Com system for those all-important comms.

Some traditional broadcasters entered the esports arena a few years back but wanted everything to operate on a traditional linear model, said Conroy, relating an attempt by DirecTV to launch an eight-city league championship. Esports, for its part, was a little resistant to traditional media, he also noted. “There’s a happy common ground. At The Switch, we’re bringing the same technology we bring to the Super Bowl to an esports event.”

Related: Audeze Partners with Echo Fox Esports, March 11, 2019

Inspired by the demands of esports, Riedel Communications announced at the NAB Show its support of TechSound, a Shanghai-based company that designs and operates advanced systems for China esports clients supporting communications not only between players, but also between the remote production staff and on-site referees. The company’s esports comms solutions are based on Riedel’s Artist digital matrix intercom system, Performer partyline system and MAX headsets.

“TechSound is one of the few companies in China using VoIP systems for remote production of esports competitions,” according to Gao Jian, general manager at Riedel China. “The evolving technical requirements of esports have become a key driver of China’s comms industry, and we’re pleased to be supporting TechSound in addressing these requirements and achieving an agile and efficient production workflow for esports competitions across multiple geographic sites.”

For one recent international esports event in China, TechSound leveraged Riedel technology to integrate intercom, wireless and walkie-talkie systems from different rental vendors and manufacturers into one communications system. TechSound also manages semi-permanently installed season systems, connecting stage referees and players across six Chinese cities back to a centralized production studio.

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Ultimately, much of esports’ appeal has to do with communications. As Conroy noted, fan engagement in esports is unmatched thanks to interaction with the players. “You can watch your favorite players playing, talk to them and they’ll answer you back. That’s unique.” And it’s not just fans chatting with players. Players constantly talk to each other during games—often, because of the international makeup of teams, in multiple languages.

“One of the big things in esports compared to traditional sports is the amount of interaction the fans have. That’s why you’re going to see it exceed all major sports relatively soon,” he said. “The eyeballs are there. Now it’s all about how you capitalize on that.”

Studio Technologies •

The Switch •

Riedel •