Vindex, NGE Spin Up New REMI Workflows To Serve Live Online Esports Productions
Twitch Stream Aid and Rocket League were produced simultaneously March 27-28
Since launching last October with the acquisitions of Next-Generation Esports (NGE) and Esports Engine, Vindex has grown into one of the major providers of esports-production services and infrastructure. Now, with the live sports world at a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic, live online esports events have entered the spotlight, and Vindex finds itself in prime position to serve the only live-competition game in town.
“The thesis behind Vindex investing in the production side of the business was to find the best in class companies and create one big network of global solutions across the full esports ecosystem,” says Vindex CEO Mike Sepso, who previously co-founded esports pioneer Major League Gaming. “We believed that a bigger global solutions provider with institutional backing would have better capacity to take on massive, complex esports events compared to smaller companies that are taking existential risks. And, since we acquired NGE, we have continued investing deeply into their technology infrastructure and have been able to provide capital backing to think ahead of the curve.”
Pioneering REMI Production Proves To Be Prudent
In an effort to get ahead of that technological curve, Vindex and NGE had already begun building up infrastructure for remote/REMI production before take-shelter orders across the country began forcing esports events to transition to online-only.
“The current [coronavirus pandemic] situation has forced us to move from testing new [remote-production] technologies to actually putting it in live-production environments very quickly,” says Andrew Wagnitz, director, broadcast technology, NGE. “And we’re feeling very confident in that technology so far.”
The capabilities of the new produce-from-home model became apparent the weekend of March 27-28, when NGE was enlisted to help produce both Twitch Stream Aid (featuring streams to Twitch, Twitch Rivals, and Twitch Music channels) and the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) regional final simultaneously deploying its Burbank, CA, production facility and cloud-based and remote-production workflows.
“We always intended to use this infrastructure to do more remote-control-room operations for arena events,” says Sepso, “but we obviously weren’t expecting a global health crisis would speed up that timeline. Thankfully, the NGE team has been able to tap into that core infrastructure so that almost everyone can work from home. Participating in these live productions during this unprecedented health crisis created an opportunity to utilize the full breadth of what we’ve been able to create between the Vindex management team, NGE, and Esports Engine.”
Inside the Twitch Stream Aid Production: A Logistical Jungle
Twitch Stream Aid 2020, which raised more than $2.7 million for the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for WHO powered by the United Nations Foundation, featured a cavalcade of gaming, music, and sports stars during a 12-hour marathon live stream.
To pull off the production — along with the RLCS regional finals (March 28-29) — NGE’s crew of 30 used three remote control rooms and five virtual green rooms to manage 172 total feeds and 107 celebrity guests while adhering to local quarantine mandates. The sprawling production came together in just a week with all guests and crew members located at their respective homes.
“The timeline was only about a week,” says Wagnitz. “We worked around the clock across multiple time zones with Twitch, Esports Engine, our service partners, and L.A. County officials to get it done. Twitch Stream Aid really tested both our scalability and our volatility. We had to produce two production lines with full dynamic graphics packages and over 200 media pieces on a very aggressive timeline. Given the timeline, we made educated decisions on production workflows based on our own familiarity and what was available to the remote talent.”
NGE was able to use equipment — from Grass Valley, Evertz, Ross Video, and others — remotely from its production facility in Burbank. The traditional production workflows were blended with NGE’s proprietary cloud distribution hardware and software, as well as video-conferencing tools like Zoom, Skype, and Facetime. In terms of comms, NGE deployed a mix of broadcast-level Riedel virtual intercom systems with more gaming-centric VoIP audio applications Discord and TeamSpeak.
“We’ve come to the realization that, from a comms standpoint, there’s a lot of ways to skin the cat,” says Wagnitz. “So we’re using an array of products from the traditional Riedel comms to Discord and TeamSpeak. We have quite a bit of hybrid partylines and listen-only channels that are extremely crucial to the success of the production. Communication is vital in REMI production, so building out those comms workflows was one of the keys to success.”
The 100-plus talent and guests were woven in and out of the Twitch Stream Aid live streams and were coordinated via Zoom virtual green rooms. A producer and tech-staff member were in the green room when the talent/guest arrived, talked them through the segment, tested any technical equipment (webcams, mics, etc.), and provided feedback on their décor and lighting.
“We ended up doing over a hundred virtual-green-room sessions,” says Wagnitz. “It was a really cool and innovative experience that we got a lot of positive comments on. And one of the more important elements was having an experienced crew. Our ability to communicate and pivot so quickly is more a reflection of the resilience of our team members than anything else. We have a great range of staff with veterans from both traditional broadcast and esports.”
Shifting RLCS From In-Studio to Online on the Fly
While the 12-hour Twitch Stream Aid marathon was a massive undertaking in itself, NGE was also live-streaming the RLCS Regional Championships remotely. After the company spent several weeks prepping for the live, in-studio tournament and developing a production plan, the event was suddenly shifted to a live online event just 48 hours before it was to take place.
“It was a large show, and this was their regional championship,” Wagnitz explains. “So there were more eyeballs, more logistics, and more casters involved. We found out about the shelter-in-place order less than two days before the Rocket League event, so we had to pivot from our in-studio show to an online show extremely quickly.”
Sepso adds that, as other esports tournaments and leagues reevaluate their options in the wake of shelter-in-place orders, they should consider shifting these events to online formats rather than canceling entirely.
“RLCS was planned as a live event,” he notes, “but we were able to move it online in a matter of days – hours really. As people think about canceling an event vs. moving it online, we have shown that we can pivot very quickly and can execute these productions at the highest level because of the technology and in-house talent that we have.”
Looking Ahead for NGE: Plenty More At-Home Production on the Way
NGE has another busy weekend ahead with another edition of the Rocket League Championship Series (April 11-12), the Shadowverse Open (April 12), and Twitch Rivals: Tarkov (April 14) – all broadcast on Twitch.
“I think now we’ve opened the door to the possibility that every position on the production line could be remote – observing, directing, graphics, everything,” says Wagnitz. “That means not having to travel a crew of 20 people and, instead, having 60 people at our studio ready to handle remote shows in those positions. With that technology in place, we are not only going to be able to produce a better and more robust show, but we’ll also keep more of a consistent show from the client’s perspective.”
Sepso adds, “We certainly didn’t expect to be tested so early in the lifecycle of this newly launched business, but we’re happy to be able to respond so effectively in times like these in order to serve our clients and get great content out to fans.”
Note: All photos feature at-home workstations featured during the Twitch Stream Aid production.