EA Rolls Out New Broadcast Features for New Competition Format at Madden Bowl 21: Draft Edition
In-game player comms, virtual interview portal are among added elements
EA wrapped up its marquee Madden tournament — Madden Bowl 21: Draft Edition — yesterday with Team Henry taking the crown and EA’s new format for the event proving to be a winner as well. The decathlon-style event, which featured 24 Madden competitors teaming in a variety of game modes, presented new challenges for the EA broadcast team and resulted in several new features in the broadcast.
“The Madden Bowl: Draft Edition puts a brand-new twist on the traditional head-to-head Madden format,” says Royce Dickerson, executive producer, Madden Competitive Gaming Content and Programming, EA. “For the first time in the history of the Madden Bowl, the top Madden pros have teamed up and compete in a variety of Madden game modes and 3-vs.-3 and 1-vs.-1 matchups. Because of this more dynamic gameplay, we had to completely rethink our approach to the broadcast in order to create an engaging, fluid viewer experience.”
Building on learnings from the virtual Pro Bowl and other Madden events, the broadcast team launched “mic’d up” all-access in-game player comms, a virtual interview portal, new data-driven production solutions, and enhanced remote content-capture/transmission kits for players.
Madden Productions Remain 100% Remote, Rely on Ross Production Services
All 43 EA broadcast-crew members (plus on-air talent and competitors) continued to operate remotely from their homes — as they have done since the pandemic began. Ross Production Services has been the primary production partner for the entire Madden NFL 21 Championship Series season, including the Madden Bowl: Draft Edition.
“With Ross,” says Dickerson, “we not only get to use first-class gear but also gain access to years of broadcast-innovation experience and a team of dedicated professionals who are just as passionate about our product as we are. We’re continuously adapting and evolving our workflow to ensure the best possible viewing experience for our Madden community. Over the past year, we’ve collectively developed and tested several new solutions that we believe will become an industry standard for esports.”
Madden Bowl: Draft Edition 101 — Explaining the New Format to Viewers
Since the Madden Bowl: Draft Edition featured a new format, the production team’s primary focus was on educating the viewer and explaining how the format works. EA consistently ran explainer elements, lower-third graphics, and full-screen graphics throughout its broadcasts and ensured that its announcers reminded viewers of rules and stipulations.
This enabled the director, producer, graphics team, and tape room to be on the same page at all times though working from different locations. Since the Madden NFL game modes change from match to match, the broadcast team communicated with the tournament-operations team through Discord to find out what game format would be next in the broadcast.
“Because of this, we can’t just rely on our normal run of show,” Dickerson explains. “Producer Wilfredo Perez and Supervising Producer Chad Bates have done a great job coming up with creative ways to execute this multifaceted broadcast and help our viewers to be more informed.”
Enhanced Custom Player Kits and Partnering With Zixi
EA also continues to enhance the custom player kits deployed to competitors’ homes and has also partnered with Zixi to develop a suite of tools for content acquisition and delivery.
“We delivered a list of requests, and our partners at Zixi sprang into action and rose to the challenge,” says Dickerson. “With a custom-built suite of applications, we have significantly increased our flexibility and quality while simultaneously decreasing transmission time.”
The easy-to-configure kits allowed players to stay focused on the game, while the EA broadcast team configured player audio communications, camera settings, ambient lighting, and signal transmission. The kits included a Sony A7 III camera, which has a 16mm-35mm lens, and an ASUS laptop powered by an Intel i7 2.6-GHz processor and NVIDIA RTX 2070 graphics card. The kits also have full audio (IFB, lavalier microphone, converters, etc.) and lighting kits.
“Ross gives us the tools to monitor all remote resources in real time, access a software-defined video router to remotely switch any feed (including producer returns displayed on any remote contributor’s monitor), control all five of its four-channel graphics machines, and cut a show on the Ross Acuity production switcher — all from the comfort of our own homes,” says Dickerson.
Madden Players Get ‘Mic’d Up’ In-Game
Since the Madden Bowl: Draft Edition was a team-based competition, EA wanted viewers to be able to hear teammates communicate with one another while competing. For the first time in Madden Championship Series history, a new audio system similar to “mic’d-up” features in traditional sports broadcasts allowed viewers to listen in as players strategized with one another and coached their teammates.
With the new format, this meant that as many as 10 mics were hot at any given time, requiring EA’s broadcast team to focus more on ensuring that viewers could hear the competitors collaborating and less on the game casters. Lead Tech Manager Alex Markley came up with a solution that automatically raised the competitor’s audio when game casters stopped talking, and vice versa.
“That way,” notes Dickerson, “you don’t hear competing voices at the same time. It allows our audio team to not be riding the faders and focus on making sure everything is working correctly.”
Madden Virtual Interview Portal Simplifies Workflow
EA’s tech team also came up with a way to more easily capture remote interviews without specialized broadcasting equipment. The Madden Virtual Interview Portal (Madden VIP), a branded virtualized portal for interviewing on-air talent, requires nothing more than a mobile device with a camera and a secure web link.
“Since we are living in this remote world,” says Dickerson, “we needed a solution to conduct interviews with higher production quality than the standard methods currently being used.”
Once connected, the broadcast-operations team could monitor remote devices, make changes to video and audio sources if necessary, and push full-screen interview questions and other supporting material to the subject’s device. Additionally, the Madden VIP can automatically record, log, and submit both an isolated view of the remote subject and a multiview of all interview participants.
Leveraging the Power of AI and ML
In addition to the new innovations, the EA broadcast team is also continuing to leverage machine-learning solutions to apply lessons from past productions and forecast how they can better utilize resources in future endeavors.
“Our production teams at EA dream big,” says Dickerson. “Over the past year, we have been gathering and analyzing every facet of our production environment. We collect and leverage machine-learning solutions to help us better understand past productions and forecast how we can better utilize our resources in future production endeavors. Our analytics-driven process has enabled our production teams to continue to dream big and have confidence that operations and engineering can support even the wildest ideas.”
Continuing To Evolve, Looking to the Future
EA has come a long way since the onset of the pandemic brought Madden esports events to a grinding halt and barred its production team from its own Redwood City, CA, broadcast center more than a year ago. With a stable and fully remote workflow now in place, the broadcast team is continuing to evolve its production ecosystem and is already pondering what’s possible in the months ahead.
“The challenges of the past year have made our entire production team eternally grateful for the opportunities we have in front of us as well as the ones behind us,” says Dickerson. “To be able to continue to do what we all love to do, under these circumstances, is a gift.”