Live From CES: Turner Sports Begins eSports Revolution
FACEIT helps lay the groundwork for bringing eGaming to broadcast
The next step in the eSports revolution took place on Thursday afternoon at CES. Turner Sports, together with FACEIT and WME/IMG, produced a $35,000 final of “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” for an audience of about 400 people at the show and upwards of 60,000 concurrent viewers via Twitch.tv.
“It’s simply taking what we take for granted in traditional stick-and-ball sports and applying it to eSports,” says Lenny Daniels, president of Turner Sports. “And it’s going to explode, it really is.”
Turner Sports’ eSports debut was the opening salvo in an effort that will include two 10-week tournaments, which will be produced out of Turner Studios in Atlanta later this year.
“On Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, it will be digital, and then, on Friday, it will be on Turner,” says Daniels. “We will be blowing out a whole wing of Turner Studios.”
From the outside looking in, the production seemed fairly straightforward. There were two five-player teams fighting against each other in the videogame “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.” A total of 22 cameras were used: a mix of 12 POV cameras (six capturing reactions of each team), hard cameras, jib units, and handhelds tied into NEP’s Atlantic production unit captured the on-screen action and player reactions.
But there were some major differences from a typical sports production, beginning with the lingo. For example, broadcasters are called shoutcasters in the eSports world, and pregame hosts are called analysts; on one of the early conference calls between Turner Sports and FACEIT, it took a good three or four minutes to make sure that everyone was referring to the same thing when mentioning different elements.
“At the end of the day, the productions are roughly the same, but the difference is the lingo,” says Chris Brown, director of technical operations, Turner Sports. “We had to make sure we were talking the same language.”
And then there is the term observer. For anyone in traditional broadcast-sports production (or, for that matter, any traditional TV-production environment), the word will mean nothing. But, in eSports production, each match has two observers, who basically follow the action and submix the action so that the director needs to choose between only two feeds instead of attempting to follow 10 separate computer-screen feeds as well as POV cameras and more.
“The core of the production is the POV cameras of the players and then the screen captures,” says Brown. “There are two gaming servers, a primary and a backup, that are then attached to each of the gaming computers [used by the players] and then to the two PCs in the truck for the observers.”
FACEIT provides experience in producing the actual game action while Turner Sports is able to give the production the look, polish, and feel that only a major national broadcaster can provide.
“From the beginning, we are treating this industry with the same level of importance as every other sport, and that is where we are going to make the biggest dent,” says Daniels. “[The FACEIT] production team knows how to do it, and they have a lot of experience. So we’ll give them resources they have never had before and then loosen the reins and restraints to make it great. When you let people do that, there is a kind of freedom. That’s what’s great about being here at Turner: you hire the right people and let them go and do their jobs. We will do the same thing with these guys.”
Daniels is the first to admit that Turner Sports is learning as much about the eGaming world as the folks at FACEIT are learning about broadcast.
“Six months ago, I thought it was an immature industry, but it is really not that far behind us,” he says. “They get it, they’re young, and they know what they’re doing.”
More important, although those who have little exposure to eGaming may find the pace of the action a bit overwhelming, at the CES event, those in the know were able to follow the action, and the shoutcasters were able to tell a compelling story despite amazingly fast-paced play.
“It’s about the characters, and I am amped because they are incredibly cool, intelligent, and fun young people to talk to,” says Daniels. “We are going to change the entire feeling about eGaming, and others are going to have to step up to what we’re going to do.”
The big question will be just how Turner Sports will get eGaming fans who get their fix at Twitch.tv to tune in.
“It’s a challenge,” says Daniels,“but we don’t see the problem the same way others do. If [fans] want to watch TV, great. But, if they are still watching Twitch, we are going to give them an experience so they can follow along.”
That means, potentially, multiple camera angles and even the ability to let viewers follow each team or even have the perspective of a gun barrel. After all, the only limits to a completely computer-generated environment are the limitations of the imagination.
“We can do anything here,” says Daniels. “It’s just a matter of doing the right thing.”