Project Aloha, cloud workflows are the key to transcontinental production


Analysts are on-site in Honolulu as players, roulettes and the team are spread around the world

It’s been a wild ride for Activision Blizzard Esports’ broadcast tech group during the 2021 Overwatch League season. After producing OWL regular season games online and from Aloha Project in Honolulu using its cloud-based remote production model, the Group was preparing for the OWL Playoffs in Dallas and Los Angeles, its first live and in-person games in over two years. However, when the Delta variant of COVID-19 hampered those plans, the Broadcast Technology Group quickly pivoted back to Honolulu to broadcast the playoffs, which will end with tomorrow’s OWL Grand Finals.

The OWL Playoffs feature on-site analysts in Honolulu running a set at the Moana Surfrider Resort.

“When the [in-person events] were canceled, we only had about two weeks to rotate the whole show, ”explains Corey Smith, Director, Live Operations, Broadcast Technology Group, Activision Blizzard Esports. “The fact that the team was able to do it was nothing short of a miracle. We just couldn’t have done it without the cloud and all the work we had already done to develop. [remote workflows]. We couldn’t have orchestrated trucks and satellite uplinks and coordinated fiber drops in such a small window. We just didn’t have time to overthrow this traditional type of infrastructure. We had to do this with cloud production.

Project Aloha: a unified champion thanks to the Hawaii-Tokyo connection

After being forced to have regional champions in Asia and US / Europe last year due to travel restrictions and transcontinental bandwidth issues, tomorrow’s OWL Grand Final will crown a unified world champion for the first time since 2019.

To make this season a success, Activision Blizzard Esports (ABE) has partnered with the University of Hawaii Mānoa to launch Project Aloha, a competitive model in which teams could face off live between Honolulu and Asia. The university provided access to a high-capacity trans-Pacific submarine fiber cable between Tokyo and Honolulu, allowing gamers to compete online with near-zero latency.

“Project Aloha allowed us to combine teams from North America and Asia for competitive matchmaking, which was great as we couldn’t do it last season,” notes Smith. “We obviously didn’t want to end this season again crowning separate champions in Asia and North America, so Hawaii allowed us to end the season in a way that made sense.

Onsite in Honolulu: Analysts office heads to Waikiki Beach

During this week’s OWL Playoffs, for the first time at Project Aloha, analysts are located on-site in Honolulu, providing live coverage during broadcasts from its set on the balcony of the Moana Surfrider Resort’s penthouse suite.

Coverage of the OWL Playoffs spans the globe with interviews on multiple continents.

“The big challenge here for thThe whole thing was the connectivity at the top of the Moana Surfrider ”, explains Senior Technical Director Ryan Cole, one of the few crew members on site at Honolulu. “[The hotel] cannot support the network at the level and scale we needed at the penthouse so we ended up working with the folks at Marriott and some vendors on site to set up two point to point [wireless bridges] of at different locations on the island until afterwards to get the network connectivity we needed. And he has I’m very good.

A small team is also present in Honolulu: the production team of the Moana Surfrider set and the UH Mānoa competition hall, four editors located at the Sheraton Waikiki, an ENG team that shoots content behind the scenes with the teams , and IT and operational staff. UH Mānoa students also play a role in productions and gain hands-on experience in a live esports broadcast environment.

Remote OWL observers on cloud-based virtual machines in South Korea and Los Angeles.

At UH Mānoa where the teams compete, ABE deployed Always-On Player POV cameras for each player, a wide shot of the competition hall, two portable cameras and ambient microphones throughout the hall. In addition, the show will feature POV cameras of players and shots from competition halls in China and South Korea.

“We try to make it feel like this is really a grand finale and not just another Overwatch League show,” Smith said. “We are scaling up the show as much as possible. We owe it to the teams, players and the community watching to polish it and do whatever we can to entertain them in a new and different way.

Covering the world: how the cloud brings it all together

Almost the entire production team, meanwhile, remains remote and continues to use ABE’s cloud-based production workflow. This production model allows the production team and casters to continue working entirely from home, from locations in the United States, Hawaii, South Korea and China.

Observers use remote stations like this to tell the story as “in-game camera operators”

The cloud production ecosystem is built around the vMix live video streaming software and uses the software-based Unity intercom, Viz Trio cloud graphics and Parsec remote desktop software. ABE has also created its own main control platform, dubbed Echo, which can distribute multiple regionalised feeds with different graphics and business insert for each region.

The remote observers – the “camera operators” who cut the action in the game and are integral to the broadcast – in cloud-based virtual machines in South Korea and Los Angeles, which provide them with very remote connections. low latency.

OWL’s cloud-based production ecosystem is currently built around vMix software

In a first for OWL in the pandemic era, the casters call the action in the same room during the playoffs – with a pair in Los Angeles and one in Austin. Previously, casters called the action separately from their homes and were integrated into the broadcast via a virtual set.

For the first time in the age of the pandemic, OWL shows feature casters calling for action together from one place.

Additionally, Honolulu analysts conduct interviews with people around the world throughout the live broadcasts.

Team members can remotely access virtual machines around the world through Parsec software

“It was a truly global show,” Cole said. “We bring all these international components together in one release, which we have never done on this scale before. We’re obviously very familiar with the cloud, but when you start adding all these other locations it gets all the more complicated because now you’re coordinating with people in the field halfway around the world. But it’s going pretty well.

According to Smith, the biggest challenge for multisite production was to synchronize the timing of all the different flows – both local and in the cloud – around the world. To account for this, the tech team timed each feed to a uniform time frame and then took care of it on the production side from there.

“All of the different streams that come in have been re-synchronized to some extent because the casters have to be able to get along and get along,” says Smith. “The timing of all of this is just one giant math problem that we had to solve in order to avoid any lip sync or sync issues when cutting the video. It was a huge obstacle that we had to overcome. “

Looking to the future: hope for a return to LAN events, GV AMPP on the horizon

With the 2021 OWL season soon in the rearview mirror, Activision Blizzard Esports is optimistic that in-person events will return to mainstream venues next year – hopefully fan-filled venues. With this in mind, the ABE Technology Broadcast Group seeks to integrate its now ubiquitous cloud-based workflows into on-premises events.

TD muting OWL broadcast works remotely from your home via the cloud

“Right now we’re trying to figure out what we need to do to make this all work when we come back to [in-person] indoor shows in 2022, ”says Smith. “Hawaii gives us a glimpse of what this will all look like when we return to this hybrid production model and [in-person] events.

“When we come back to on-site shows, that doesn’t mean we’re just going to kill all production in the cloud. [workflows] and return to the trucks. For us, trucks are just not profitable anymore because we can do all this production work in the cloud with a small team on site. There isn’t a world in which we’re going to go back to traditional television broadcasting; it’s just not effective for us.

The observers – as well as the majority of the crew – continue to work remotely from their homes.

Smith adds that the team is currently working with Grass Valley to enhance the cloud-based GV AMPP (Agile Media Processing Platform) SaaS production solution and leverage it for OWL and Call of Duty League productions in 2022.

Cole notes that the agility offered by the cloud opens up a whole new range of possibilities: “The nature of the cloud has allowed us to be very agile with our workflows. When you think about it, all we need for a show are a few small-scale switches, cameras, and lots of PCs. Everything else is in the cloud. It gave us a vision for the future where we can certainly make things happen in no time.

“During the pandemic,” he continues, we basically said there was no challenge we couldn’t meet. Whatever the challenge, we’ll find a way to solve it.

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