Esports and Beyond: Behind the Scenes at Dignitas’ New Media-Production Facility
Plans call for creation of original pop-culture, entertainment, and other content
Few esports organizations have made as sizable a commitment to the content-creation game as Dignitas, which launched a 3,000-sq.-ft. media-production facility in Newark, NJ, over the summer. Although Dignitas has made its name in esports, the original content churned out of this facility runs the gamut from esports and gaming to pop culture and entertainment to music and lifestyle — and beyond.
“The way I see it, we’re not in the esports business; we’re actually in the digital-sports and -entertainment business,” says Dignitas CEO Michael Prindiville. “Clearly, esports is extremely important to us with our competitive teams, but the entertainment side is just as important. We are trying to figure out the best, most authentic way to reach this young demographic, where these eyeballs are focused on not just esports and gaming but also pop culture, music, and traditional sports.”
Dignitas: An Organization on the Rise
Since launching in 2003, Dignitas has gradually worked its way into the upper echelon of esports organizations, now fielding seven esports teams, including squads for League of Legends, World Champion Rocket League, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO).
In 2016, Dignitas was purchased by the Philadelphia 76ers and is now under the ownership of Sixers parent Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment (HBSE), the New Jersey Devils, and Prudential Center. In June, Dignitas made an industry-shaking deal when it merged with the Houston Rockets’-owned Clutch Gaming, absorbing Clutch’s League of Legends team and creating what it calls a “gaming-centric media and entertainment company.”
Although the Clutch Gaming deal drew plenty of headlines in the esports community, Dignitas made plenty of other news over the summer as well. In addition to launching the media-production center in Newark, the company signed an exclusive multiyear deal with social-broadcasting platform Caffeine, which now serves as the home for all official Dignitas team-focused live-streaming content.
“With our ownership group having Prudential Center right here, it made a lot of sense to locate [the media center] here in Newark,” says Prindiville. “Once we decided on the location, we started looking at what we would need from a capability and technology standpoint to build our teams’ brands and create compelling content. With our [facility] here and the Caffeine partnership, we feel like we’re on the right path now.”
Inside the Studio: Content Creation All About Authenticity
Located in a Dignitas-branded storefront next to the Prudential Center, the Newark facility features a 500-sq.-ft. 4K-capable content studio (presented by Caffeine TV), as well as two soundproof live-streaming and recording pods. The facility also houses a professional gaming space outfitted with six high-end gaming PCs, various consoles, and other equipment, as well as a players lounge.
“We want to do as many live shows and as much live programming as possible out of this studio,” says Prindiville. “At this point, the studio is fired up four to five hours a day, and that is only going to grow. We’re also constantly trying to figure out new ways to integrate with HBSE and leverage [events at] the Prudential Center to increase the megaphone around esports and gaming.”
The content studio is equipped with a 2M/E Blackmagic Design ATEM 4K switcher and two Blackmagic Design Micro Studio 4K cameras (along with several GoPros). All live 1080p60 broadcasts are streamed to Caffeine and encoded via OBS (open broadcaster software) and also recorded onto SD cards. The facility also has plenty of connectivity, thanks to a high-speed fiber mesh network provided by the city of Newark.
“We’re still improving the studio, and I would say it’s about 70% complete,” says Dignitas Director of Media Matt Kline. “Building around the Blackmagic workflow has been pretty fantastic and also very cost-effective.”
All About Authenticity: Content That Resonates With Fans
Prindiville recruited Kline — a veteran of MLG, ESL, and Mashable — to build out the production operation from scratch. The production team now counts five full-time camera-operator/producer/editors on its staff and is streaming six original shows (on average) per week on Caffeine featuring Dignitas teams and influencers.
“We knew it was important to create a team who really understood this space,” says Kline. “One of the keys for esports is to have that authentic feeling in order to give fans a place to explore their passion. That’s definitely what we’ve done here. We have several people, including myself, who have a very long history in esports and understand what this community is all about. We understand what these fans really enjoy, and, if you’re going to bring value to your sponsors and fans, you need to create that authentic experience.”
Dignitas is focused on creating three pillars of content: live-streamed content on Caffeine, VOD content on YouTube and other short-form–video platforms, and cutdown content that can be posted on various social channels. Kline says the three categories feed each another, creating a “flywheel” of content.
“In the time that we’ve had this facility open, we’ve tripled the content that we’ve been putting out there,” says Kline, “and we’re always experimenting with new things. In addition to our live shows and influencers personal streams, we’re creating a lot of shoulder content for social that follows the journeys of our players. For example, we were at the LCS semifinals [in September], and we had a very dramatic match that we were able to follow and put out content right away after. And that has really resonated with our fans in the community.”
A Helping Hand to Influencers: Content-Creation Goes Beyond Esports
In an effort to create content beyond just its esports teams, Dignitas has recruited several influencers and given them access to the production center and the Prudential Center.
“We rented a big house in Jersey City and filled it with key micro-influencers who are in the 50k-600k range of followers. The idea is to help them become macro-influencers by plugging them into this [facility] and giving them behind-the-scenes access to the arena so they can create premium in-arena [content]. That way we can grow their brands and bring them sponsorship deals individually in addition to the deals that we’re trying to generate from our own content.”
Influencers have access to five streaming/creator stations at the media-production center, as well as dedicated spaces outside of the studio where they can produce a live stream, make music, and cut video in private. Dignitas also offers its influencers access to a bonded-cellular backpack so that they can live-stream from anywhere.
“Our goal is to go out beyond just gaming and esports,” Kline explains. “I’m a gamer, and I love gaming. But I’m also interested in plenty of other things, and I think a lot of people in the gaming community feel that way. So we want to be an incubator for these content creators to really explore the new and interesting mediums out there.”
Supporting Dignitas Teams: Behind the Scenes With the Players
In addition to serving as a content-creation hub, the facility serves as an East Coast training home for Dignitas’s seven teams. The content studio offers full access to the six gaming PCs located in the training area so that players’ game feeds can be captured live and integrated into Dignitas live streams and other original content.
“Our first priority is to build a robust, future-proof studio dedicated to content creation,” says Kline, “but, obviously, we also wanted to create a gaming facility where our pro players can come in and have best access to the best equipment and be able to create content with us here.”
Kline’s team also assists team in recording and reviewing game film and works closely with Dignitas players to shoot behind-the-scenes content in Newark.
“I think we’ve been really innovative with behind-the-scenes video,” says Prindiville. “Once you start getting to know these players, you realize they have amazing personalities. So Matt and his team has been great about interacting with them and encouraging them to show their personalities because they’re really funny and interesting people. A lot of the content in esports is so canned and repetitive, but Matt is always rolling the camera in the moment and willing to try new things, which I think is going help us in the end.
The Dignitas production team also has access to the LoL team’s comms from matches and will integrate this audio into postproduced pieces after the match.
“A lot of fans haven’t ever heard that before,” says Kline. “And so you’ve got this high-speed communication amongst these five guys, who are like brothers who all have unique personalities. And so sometimes the comms are really funny; sometimes they get after each other. But, no matter what, it’s really interesting. And integrating that into our video content has been a really smart move.”
Although Dignitas has held several fan engagements surrounding events at the nearby Prudential Center, it has yet to host a formal esports tournament at the facility. Kline hopes to change that in the near future.
“If we want to do a tournament,” he says, “we are able to take the individual feeds from each PC in our bootcamp area and [produce] a tournament with the caster sitting here in the studio. That’s something we haven’t done yet, but we hope to soon.”