Esports Production Forum: How the Cloud and Object Storage Are Changing MAM for Esports

Industry execs report on their approaches to dealing with burgeoning content

Esports-content creators face a unique challenge when it comes to postproduction and media-asset-management (MAM). With content pouring into archives at an exponential rate, esports operations are finding unique new workflows to manage this tidal wave of video. In addition, since most game publishers and esports organizations have a true greenfield opportunity in building their production and distribution operations, several are embracing cloud-based workflows, virtualized infrastructure, and object-based storage to allow extensive scalability and flexibility.

Speaking at the inaugural SVG Esports Production Forum last month, top execs from Riot Games, Machinima, Dell EMC, and Western Digital explored the effects of these approaches.

Centralized Storage: Riot Games Serves Global Content
Riot Games has 14 regions and 23 offices across the world, which means that technology decisions can’t be based on the needs of a single region. Rather, the entire organization’s needs must be taken into consideration, which has dramatically impacted the way its production operation functions.

“We have an equation we use: if what we are about to do is going to benefit one region, full stop; if what we are going to do is going to benefit all regions, go as fast as you can. And, in the middle, we will have a discussion,” said Scott Adametz, director, esports production engineering, Riot Games. “So when it comes to asset management, we have to think of all regions’ benefitting from our decisions.”

With that philosophy in mind, Riot instituted centralized storage and moved all the assets typically deployed at the regional studios into a central storage system. Not surprisingly, Riot is also heavily reliant on cloud storage and is one of the largest Amazon Web Services on earth, according to Adametz.

“Going forward,” he said, “that’s our plan: stop deploying to the edges and start deploying to the center. Bring all the content in and then share it globally.”

Thomas Burns, CTO, media and entertainment, Dell EMC, seconded that sentiment, noting that he sees Riot and others moving toward a centralized “data-lake” model for its storage and MAM needs. Rather than storing content at facilities all over the globe, this approach allows growing esports operations to store content centrally and let the asset-management system do the work of finding specific content for different geo-diverse facilities.

Esports Technical Challenges: Asset Management, Post Production, and Storage panel: (from left) Riot Games’ Scott Adametz, Dell EMC’s Thomas Burns, Machinima/Warner Bros. Digital Networks’ Michael Green, Riot Games’ Ray Panahon, Western Digital’s Jordan Woods, and HPA’s Mark Chiolis

“What we are seeing now is that the content is moving to the center and [users like Riot are leveraging] a very large geo-distributed [network],” he said. “Asset management used to be about caring where that asset was. Now you don’t have to care where that asset is [because you’re] … moving the core to this vast geo-distributed cloud. As much as data costs to store, it costs a lot more to move. So, if you put things once into the central storage and then the asset-management [system] finds it from there, you are so much better off.”

In building its technical infrastructure and global workflow, Riot Games Technical Lead, Esports, Ray Panahon and his team also emphasized the need to remain agnostic when it comes to cloud platforms — whether AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Tencent Cloud, Alibaba Cloud, or a hybrid using multiple clouds and on-premises storage.

The Power of Object Storage: Handling the Content Tsunami
This centralized model has also allowed Riot to better manage its rapidly expanding library of content, which increases exponentially with every event (and every new region/language that it must serve), according to Adametz. As this explosion of content continues, object-based storage systems are playing a key role in Riot’s workflows.

The company has an object-storage–based system powered by SwiftStack, internally dubbed SaaSY, which, in true Riot form, stands for “Storage as a Service, Yo.” This company-wide platform stores data and content from millions of League of Legends players globally, but it also has played a significant role in the development of Riot’s esports-production operation specifically.

“It’s something that we’re really excited about because we’re not having to change the storage to work with media,” said Adametz. “We’re using the same system that we already have deployed globally to add media to it. That’s the power of object storage: it isn’t built for a custom service. … That’s why I’m so excited that companies have started recognizing it and started to invest it, because you don’t have to have differentiated storage. It’s one storage platform globally, and you can use it for everything.”

Western Digital Technologist Jordan Woods championed the power of object storage for esports-specific workflows on the session: “Object storage is just a better way to archive … [especially] in the esports world, where you’re going to have so much content — probably even more so than traditional broadcasting before it. How do get access to that, and where does it live? And if it’s geo-dispersed across multiple geographies, how does a user get access to that?”

Distributing Different Flavors to a Growing Roster of Outlets
As esports content becomes more mainstream with each passing day, creators are being tasked with serving more distribution outlets than ever. In the case of esports- and gaming-focused online network Machinima, which was acquired by Warner Bros. in 2016 and is soon to become part of AT&T’s Otter Media, this increased distribution of internal and user-generated content has resulted in revamped workflows.

Riot Games’ Scott Adametz (left) addresses the crowd, as Dell EMC’s Thomas Burns (center) and Machinima/Warner Bros. Digital Networks’ Michael Green look on.

“Coming from the broadcast world, everything has to be 100% right with all the bells and whistles from the word go,” said Michael Green, director of content operations, Machinima/Warner Bros. Digital Networks, who previously worked at NBCUniversal. “Moving into an internet-first company, it was interesting to see the progression into [their] workflow, which was [delivering] the minimum viable product. And then, we add and build up from there.

“That means,” he continued, “we need the basic file we are going to send out to everybody with split audio, and then we can start adding languages, 2K and 4K versions, and then going from there within our system.”

Riot has faced similar challenges as it distributes its content to a growing number of partners worldwide. It must serve dozens of languages and various format requests from these distribution partners and also has begun producing a world feed at major events, such as the League of Legends World Championship.

“The biggest challenges we’ve had [for our live events] has been predicated on last-minute requests from various distribution partners and content creators,” said Panahon. “In [producing a world feed], we’re also providing more sources for our partners to pick from so that they can produce their shows. That’s been the biggest challenge by far. Everything internal in terms of post, we have really refined workflow that works pretty darn well; it’s just the last-minute [requests that are most challenging].”

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