USL, Vista Worldlink Team Up To Keep Fans Engaged With ‘USL eCup: Rocket League Edition’
Month-long tournament is produced from crew members’ respective homes
With the United Soccer League postponing all USL Championship and League One matches at least through May, the league was looking for a way to keep its fans engaged and to deliver content at a time when they sorely need it. With that in mind, the USL has launched the USL eCup: Rocket League Edition, a month-long esports tournament (March 31–April 25) featuring 32 teams from across the USL’s pro ranks and being live-streamed on ESPN3 and the ESPN App.
“During this pandemic, it is vitally important that the USL gives our fans something to cheer for,” says Lizzie Seedhouse, SVP, digital, emerging technology and strategy, USL. “To say the least, these are unprecedented times, and I believe the USL eCup is a platform that enables our clubs to provide their fans something to look forward to while also restoring a bit more normalcy to their lives.”
Bringing in a Familiar Friend
The USL eCup features 32 clubs squaring off in a one-on-one duel format. Each team is represented by a team captain, who serves as the primary player, with two alternates available to each team over the course of the tournament. The tournament’s group stage took place March 31–April 10. The knockout stages began April 13 and conclude this Saturday in the best-of-seven series Final.
To produce the tournament remotely while abiding by social-distancing guidelines, the USL turned to longtime production partner Vista Worldlink. Hundreds of USL matches have been produced remotely out of Vista’s Miami studios over the past five years, in a REMI workflow with announcers calling games off-tube. Although Vista knows the USL well, the USL eCup presented a very different challenge: creating a 100%-remote-production workflow in less than a week.
“We brought the Rocket League tournament to them on a Friday afternoon. By Wednesday lunchtime, we were live on ESPN,” says Seedhouse. “Vista has been a partner of the USL for about five seasons now, and working with them on the USL eCup has been seamless.”
Inside the Production Workflow: Creating a Truly ‘At-Home’ Model
The USL eCup live streams are being produced remotely from people’s homes by a crew consisting of Executive Producer Mike Freedman, overseeing the operation from Ft. Lauderdale; Coordinating Producer Sharni Yerke, producing the matches from Orlando; and one or two editors in South Florida assisting with edits and graphics as needed.
“REMI productions are our bread and butter,” notes Freedman. “Having produced thousands of events a year, we were able to take the model and principal elements of our successful REMI workflow and convert it to this new style of REMI or true at- home workflow to help maximize our productivity.”
To keep the USL brand and production aesthetic at the forefront, the league brought in two of the main USL broadcast voices — Mike Watts and Devon Kerr — to call all 64 games from Del Ray Beach, FL.
“This was the first time the USL introduced esports and the game of Rocket League to our fans,” says Seedhouse. “We wanted familiar voices who knew the USL and interacted with our fans to be a big part of the production.”
First, the USL players will play and record the match, and the files of the output of their gaming system are placed in Dropbox. Vista downloads the files, edits them, and adds full screens and sponsorship graphics. Watts and Kerr log into the Kiswe cloud-based production platform to commentate the matches.
Vista takes the final announced file, adds in commercial spots, and uploads the fully produced match to its FTP. The file is downloaded at Vista’s centralized broadcast facility, QCs it, and transmits it to ESPN for playout on ESPN3.
“This has been an extremely rewarding process for all of us at Vista,” says Freedman. “Three people who deserve an immense amount of credit are Sharni Yerke, Mike Watts, and Devon Kerr. Together they produced and commentated 48 matches in two weeks, and it will end up being 64 in four weeks. In any circumstance, that is something to be proud of, but, in our current state, it is just remarkable.”
The productions have continued to evolve from week to week with new features added each round. For example, last week’s coverage began integrating “Best Wishes” videos created by USL players to serve as messages of hope to USL fans.
“We are presenting a polished product,” says Seedhouse. “The aesthetics are strong. We are integrating sponsors and highlighting our club’s charitable causes in every match and are also providing our audience a lot of context around how the rest of the bracket is shaping up.”
Adds Vista Worldlink President Josh Liemer, “I’m so proud and impressed with what Mike, Sharni, and the team have created with the USL eCup. They dove in headfirst and have delivered something unlike anything we’ve done before. Our customer really needed help here, and we were able to come through without a large budget and on a very short timeline. These matches have turned out fantastic, and they’ve only gotten better and better as [the tournament] has progressed.”
Beyond the USL eCup: Live Watch Parties Keep Fans Engaged
Of course, Vista is staying plenty busy with work beyond the USL eCup, including a truly inimitable piece of content for Bare Knuckles Fighting Championships (BKFC). Last week, Vista coordinated a BKFC Live Watch Party, in which six top fighters provided commentary as they watched archive video of three of the most memorable BKFC fights.
“We had all six fighters involved in the fights on to watch, relive, and talk smack while watching themselves punch each other,” Freedman explains. “It was a pretty interesting experience but definitely great for the viewers at home. We are trying to be a resource to our league partners and allow them to tap into their archives to pump out content to keep their fans engaged.”
Vista also provided the same service for SportsNet’s watch parties for the Toronto Raptors NBA title run last year.