SVG Sit-Down: OGN’s Gary Kim Talks New Esports Venue, Challenges of Battle Royale Production

Designed for flexibility, OGN Super Arena can host other genres as well

South Korea-based OGN is among the oldest and most established organizations in esports, having produced and distributed live esports events for nearly two decades. In December, the company opened OGN Super Arena – the first battle royale-dedicated arena in North America – in Manhattan Beach, CA. Although the 35,000-sq.-ft. studio (with a 500-audience-seat and 100-player-seat capacity) was built for battle royale titles, the facility is also entirely modular and can be adapted to host MOBA games, mobile esports titles, and other formats.

OGN Super Arena has served as the home to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds’ new National PUBG League since December and recently welcomed the Clash Royale League (CRL) to its studio. The company also plans to host new OGN Super League (OSL) as well as OGN Super Match (OSM) invitational competitions in Manhattan Beach.

OGN’s Gary Kim: “We really care about the onsite-audience experience because that helps the [streaming] audience and [increases] viewership.”

SVG sat down with OGN Executive Producer/Head of Programming and Production Gary Kim at OGN Super Arena to discuss the company’s plans for expansion in North America, how NPL and CRL productions have gone at the new arena, the challenges of producing battle royale-style events compared with other esports formats, and what to expect from OGN in North America moving forward.

How does OGN’s extensive background and experience in live esports production give OGN Super Arena a leg up in the growing North American esports market?
There are so many different genres in esports, and, with our experience that spans nearly two decades, we’ve experienced almost everything. We actually started a lot of these different genres of esports, so we have a level of experience that no one else [has]. The first [format] we showcased with this new arena is what’s most popular these days: the battle royale genre. This facility is the very first battle royale-dedicated arena in North America. And that’s just the beginning. We’re now doing Clash Royale, which is a mobile game. This facility is very modular: we can build and customize it for every genre of esports.

How important was the flexibility aspect in designing this arena, especially considering OGN plans to host a variety of esports formats here?
Flexibility was the most important element when we built this arena, in order to accommodate all the different genres of the esports. Yes, this is the first battle royale-dedicated arena [in North America], but we didn’t want it to be battle royale only. In addition to the full adjustable [LED screens], the stage is fully expandable, and we can move seating around to put fans anywhere in the arena.

You just launched a control room at OGN Arena after using a mobile unit for the first few months. How does the new facility enhance your production operation?
We were able to do almost everything with our setup inside the truck that we are doing now with [the control room], but it certainly is a great benefit for the production teams. They are now working in a much more convenient and improved environment, so they are more motivated to create more, try new things. And it gives them more time to research because they can now pay less attention to setup and more attention to storytelling and trying out new technology.

What are the biggest challenges of producing battle royale competitions, especially considering the number of players competing?
Obviously, with battle royale, more people are involved, which means more logistics, but that’s just the nature of the battle royale genre. The biggest challenge is capturing the stories of the players and from the action scenes because there are 64-80 players playing at the same time and, with some [battle royale esports], there can be up to 100 players. It is challenging, but, at the same time, we have the expertise to capture those moments that can be really exciting and attract viewers

For that reason, we’ve been focusing on four teams at a time per match [for NPL]. We try to tell a great story by highlighting those four teams instead of just showcasing lots of high-action [moments]. It’s not just all about action; it’s more about telling the story of the players and incorporating their personalities into how we show the game. We have amazing observers [essentially in-game camera operators], who are able to capture those key moments, but, at the same time, we communicate with the viewers constantly and are always trying to show them what they tell us they want to see in the stream.

How do you believe esports leagues better serve fans and the industry compared with one-off esports events?
There haven’t been that many esports leagues in North America. One of the main reasons for that is geographical barriers. Korea is much more convenient because it’s a smaller [country], but, [in North America], it’s hard to bring all the teams to one place and run a league. We believe developing leagues is very important because it brings out the personalities of the players more, so fans have better understanding of where their players are coming from. By getting to know the players, fans become more invested in the game. There is a lot more to [gain] through leagues than just one-off events, so we are trying to create more leagues, which will bring out more stories and create more esports stars. That way, more mainstream viewers will tune in to esports.

Aside from the live competitions, how is the OGN production team looking to create those esports stars?
One of our biggest strengths and expertise is in creating [shoulder] content out of our leagues. We’ve been actively shooting a lot of content with the players that showcases their personalities, and we also create a lot of educational pieces for the viewers. That’s why we have so many editing rooms and the chroma green-screen room, as well as green rooms for the players, where we can shoot behind-the scenes content.

For instance, with NPL, one team — Tempo Storm — started at the bottom of the league and ended up winning Phase One. That’s a great story by itself, but we were also [producing] more content to create more drama around that [storyline]. We’re creating a lot more [shoulder] content to boost fans’ interest in esports. Since esports primarily takes place in the digital space, there can be a lot more snackable content. We saw a pickup from Phase One to Phase Two, and we are expecting a lot more content in Phase Three.

From a production perspective, how are you looking to serve both fans inside the arena and those streaming at home during events at OGN Super Arena?
Both onsite fans and online viewers are equally important to us. We really want to make sure that we provide the best esports-viewing experience onsite as well as online. There aren’t many esports arenas in the U.S. that have space for live audience besides Riot [NA LCS Studio] and Blizzard Arena and a few others, so we’re very proud to be one of the first.

Onsite, we’re focused on providing the best experience to the audience. That’s why this facility is equipped with a 3D surround-sound audio system and 270-degree LED screen. When you’re here watching the game, you get a truly immersive experience. If we get the audiences excited here with that fully immersive experience, that excitement [transfers] over to the players and helps players to play harder, which [in turn] gets the online viewers excited and more engaged. We really care about the onsite-audience experience because that helps the [streaming] audience and [increases] viewership.

As for the [streaming] experience, we come from a live-TV-production background, so the online streams that we do are 100% broadcast-quality. Fans have been praising us for the quality of the streams so far. Right now, we are online streaming only, but we’re fully capable of broadcasting esports leagues to TV networks, and that’s where we’re headed in the future.

Now that the arena is launched and you have two leagues operating live shows, what are you most looking forward to at OGN Super Arena in the coming year?
We have many other esports events already scheduled, and we’re actively talking to many of the most popular [publishers], so we’re building a pipeline of events and content to come.

[In addition], we have built global OGN-branded esports events and leagues, like OGN Super Match and OGN Super League, and we plan to showcase those leagues later this year using this arena.

Using all of our experience and technology, we are also capable of producing events outside of our arena as well, by working with partners. There will be events, including the CRL World Championship, which is happening December, produced at another venue in order to accommodate larger onsite audiences. We are very excited about that.

This interview was conducted with the assistance of an interpreter and has been edited for length and clarity.