Home Production studio Inside the Overwatch League Remote Production Studio

Inside the Overwatch League Remote Production Studio

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The third season of Surveillance League was always going to be a production challenge. After spending two years in the comfortable confines of Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles, where the league was able to perfect its broadcasts, OWL then transitioned to a home-and-away format in 2020 with teams based in 19 cities across three continents. . But that structure didn’t last long: just five weeks into the season, the league was forced to switch to an online format due to the pandemic.

That meant finding a way for everyone — from the actual players and coaches to the broadcast team — to work from home. In the case of the production team, the solution was to create a new cloud-based software system that allowed producers, casters and other staff to do their work from virtually any computer. “Our truck is now in the cloud,” says Corey Smith, director of live operations at Blizzard.

According to Pete Emminger, global vice president of broadcast at Blizzard, these tools were actually already in the works, but for a very different reason. OWL’s move to a global structure meant that there would be teams in multiple cities each weekend. On opening day, for example, there were games in New York and Dallas as well as a panel in Los Angeles. The team wanted to create a “master control” solution that staff could use wherever they were. To build it, Blizzard partnered with TV production company Grass Valley to create a cloud-based software platform called AMPP (short for Agile Media Processing Platform). The idea was to take all the tools you would find in a traditional broadcast booth, but reproduce them digitally. Once the league was forced to go online, software production really ramped up. “We had to speed up that timeline,” Smith says.

During last Thursday’s game between the Atlanta Reign and the Washington Justice, I had the chance to see a stream of the tool in action as well as listen to the OWL production team as they worked remotely. . The AMPP tool essentially looks like a virtual version of what you’d see in a broadcast studio: a big black machine with an intimidating array of sliders and knobs. Instead of a bank of television monitors, smaller windows display various elements of the production. You can see live streams for casters and gameplay, as well as queued videos for upcoming interviews, commercials, or anything else. The tool is also customizable, so depending on their purpose, staff can move the panels around to better suit their needs.

Apart from the new cloud software, the broadcast team also uses other more standard tools to keep the show running. Chief among them is the TeamSpeak VoIP application. This allows people to talk to each other individually but also sets up rooms where different departments can talk. During last week’s game, I was able to listen to a room full of “observers”, who are basically the Surveillance The League game cameramen. Five observers watched the match from different angles – some from the perspective of specific players, others from a more aerial perspective – and a single director chose which stream to show viewers at any given time. Their TeamSpeak room was full of people screaming about what they were seeing, while the AMPP view showed me every viewpoint the director had to choose from. In other venues, I heard producers queuing for commercials and graphic overlays or preparing for the halftime show to go live.

Photo: Blizzard Entertainment

There were of course some adjustments to the new systems. The lack of physical production equipment with all its knobs and sliders was a big change for some staff, for example. “They’re used to creature comforts,” Emminger says. “It’s those little tactile things that are a change for them.” Much of the staff also needed to be trained on the new tools, which Blizzard says is one of the reasons there was a gap between stopping in-person games and starting online play. “We had to really train them on the workflows,” says Ryan Cole, senior technical lead at Blizzard.

One thing that wasn’t a big deal was the hardware. According to Emminger, “most people already had pretty good setups at home”, so they were able to use their home computers for the shows. But there were a few exceptions. To give the casting talents a more professional setup, Blizzard shipped a number of streaming kits – which were originally intended for BlizzCon – and included things like light rings, 4K cameras, and backlights. OWL themed plans. This gave all commentators a uniform look during broadcasts. Similarly, some of the observers needed new desktop PCs because their work was very GPU intensive.

For the most part, OWL shows largely look like they always have. Viewers can watch matches live, hear commentary from commentators and watch a panel discuss the latest developments. The one thing missing, however, was the players themselves. Apart from a few post-match interviews, Surveillance the pros have not been seen in actual games. According to Emminger, there’s a very good reason for this: just like all of us, Blizzard has had trouble finding webcams. However, Facecams are expected to roll out soon and it is one of the most requested features by fans. “People really missed the sight of the players,” Emminger said.

Like other esports leagues, OWL has been forced to be nimble during the current crisis, developing new tools and processes just to keep competition going. “It’s definitely different,” Emminger says. With no other live events, competitive play proved to be a compelling option, although the behind-the-scenes action had to change drastically.