NBA 2K League Returns to In-Person Events for Playoffs With Dual Live Stages, Hybrid Workflow
The NB2KL Playoffs tip off tonight at Mavs Gaming Hub in Dallas
For the first time in more than two years, NBA 2K League returns to live in-person gameplay with today’s start of the 2021 Playoffs at the Mavs Gaming Hub in Dallas. Since its last in-person event — the 2019 NBA 2K League Finals in New York City — the league’s production team has pioneered remote-production workflows that enabled NBA 2K League online play throughout the pandemic. For the playoffs, NBA 2K League is looking to combine the fruits of its remote-production efforts with the excitement of onsite production.
“From a broadcast perspective,” says Matt Arden, head of content and media, NBA 2K League. “We are combining the strengths of the remote-production workflows that we’ve refined over the last two seasons and incorporated the best aspects of a traditional onsite broadcast setup to create this new hybrid REMI model that actually reduces our onsite staff and overhead costs but enhances our capabilities and production quality.”
Seeing Double: Two Stages Mean Twice the Camera Coverage
For the first time in league history, the NBA 2K League will implement a studio design with two stages at Mavs Gaming Hub, allowing simultaneous in-person games. The broadcast will switch between games in real time to capture the most-compelling action.
“During remote play, we began doing overlapping gameplay to create more excitement,” says Arden. “We’re going to bring that same concept live to the stage during playoffs by having games happening concurrently, which is very new for us and means a whole new set of challenges and opportunities.”
To cover 20 players split across two stages at once, NBA 2K League has essentially doubled its on-floor camera complement compared with its previous production studio in New York City. The production team’s arsenal includes seven Sony HDC-2400’s for primary stage coverage, 20 Marshall CV503 mini POV cams (one for each player), and three Panasonic PTZ cameras (operated remotely from master control in Toronto) deployed at various locations throughout the venue. Sony a7 ENG cameras will be roving the facility to capture additional content for the broadcast and social content.
“We are breaking our old model and [deploying more cameras] to create a faster pace with more energy and a more frenetic feel,” says Arden. “There’s going to be a lot of onsite learning, and we’re going to have to figure things out on the fly. Narratively, I think, the biggest change is going to be moving from the story of the hour to the story of the minute. That’s going to be our biggest transition: how quickly we pivot minute to minute, as opposed to, in this remote model, quarter to quarter or hour to hour.”
In addition to the two gameplay stages, play-by-play announcer Scott Cole and color commentator Jamie “DirK” Diaz Ruiz will be calling the action from a desk in Dallas, and the NBA 2K League will deploy Mavs Gaming Hub’s custom streaming booths onsite with host Autumn Johnson and Stats Analyst Harris Rubenstein. In addition, Made In India will be taking on a new role as sideline/roving reporter with a socially distanced interview setup.
Hybrid Model: Bigger Show Onsite Doesn’t Mean a Bigger Crew
Even as players return to the stage, the league and production partners Defacto Entertainment and Dome Productions are limiting the onsite crew with a hybrid production model that builds on the workflows developed during the pandemic. The majority of the live-broadcast crew will be at Dome’s Network Operations Center (NOC) in Toronto and the editing/post team will be at Defacto’s HQ in Vancouver.
In Dallas, NBA 2K League producers will be inside Dome’s Pacific mobile unit working in real time with the director, who will be located at Defacto in Vancouver. Just as he was all season, the director will be plugged into the production chain remotely, and the crew in Dallas, Toronto, and Vancouver will use Unity intercom to communicate.
“In addition to being mindful of safety, this is a really interesting and exciting new model for us,” says Arden. “It allows us to keep the onsite crew pretty small while still providing more operating cameras than we’ve ever had for NBA 2K League broadcasts. We felt that, particularly in the COVID era, it would be a good thing to scale up the production but scale down onsite crew.”
Dome Pacific mobile unit also is onsite at the Mavs Gaming Hub to manage the video-feed contribution between Dallas, Toronto, and Vancouver. In all, the onsite show will be sending 32 outbound video feeds (transmitted via SRT protocol) to a master control, and Dome’s NOC will be sending inbound feeds to Dallas to serve in-venue video walls, on-air talent, production, and monitors. Camera operators for the Panasonic PTZs will be located in Toronto (with one camera actually controlled by a gaming controller).
In addition, video feeds directly from the Sony a7 ENG cameras will be transmitted to Adobe Premiere Pro edit suites at Defacto’s Vancouver facility via Frame.io’s Camera-to-Cloud (C2C) platform. The edit suite’s output feeds directly into the switcher and EVS servers in Toronto, allowing faster integration of content into the live broadcast.
“We are truly experimenting for the future and during our Playoffs and Finals with this [model],” says Arden. “We want to see if we can do this for future [in-person events] with more cameras, fewer operators, better coverage, more satellite locations. So, in addition to this being our big return to in-person, it’s also being used as an incubator as we think about Seasons 5 and 6.”
Looking Ahead: Building a Production Path for the Future
Although returning to live production while still navigating COVID protocols has been a monumental challenge for Arden and his team, he believes the end result is more than worth the grueling effort and sets the table for the NBA 2K League’s broadcast future.
“We believe we have found a way to do this efficiently and safely and increase the quality of the broadcast without that translating to more bodies,” he says. “And, if it weren’t for the people that we have — from our internal team to Defacto and Dome to the league ops staff — it literally wouldn’t be possible. I’m just incredibly lucky to be surrounded by the smartest and most creative folks in the business. Being able to produce with them is what makes it so exciting to be back in-person.”