Esports is a growing opportunity in MENA, writes Chris Merrill of Grass Valley

Chris Merrill, Director of Product Marketing at Grass Valley.

While still a young segment in the Middle East, with revenues of around $3bn in 2017 (Statistica), all indicators point to significant market potential for esports in the region, writes Chris Merrill, Director of Product Marketing at Grass Valley. The year 2018 has set the ball rolling with a partnership agreement between the Arab Esports Federation and Global eSport Resources to develop the first all-inclusive esports portal. Additionally, plans have been announced for the region’s first esports stadium in Dubai.

With 38% annual revenue growth (Newzoo), esports enjoys an exploding global fan base among young, affluent cord-cutters, a market segment very hard to reach with traditional television. As the next generation of major revenue earners, esports consumers are pointing the way to requirements for the media of the future.

While esports continues to attract significant investment from entertainment companies and brands on streaming platforms, revenue from providing content to traditional broadcast channels is invaluable to future growth. Traditional broadcasters benefit from these agreements by capturing some of this growing market.

Meeting the needs of esports audiences

Esports has many similar equipment requirements to any other live sports event: capturing the on-stage playing environment, commentary, close-ups, interviews with players and of course the actual game footage. Esports arenas require separate programming for in-house screens and broadcast. However, there are some fundamental differences between the two genres.

One is the number of sources to be managed. In addition to in-venue cameras and graphics, the game action must be captured. Game action is captured as a sub-mix by ‘observers’ who work within the computer-generated application to provide video sources that show the gameplay. The number of outputs from the game varies. A battle royale-style game potentially has hundreds of in-game ISOs, which must be consolidated into a storyline that is accessible to the audience.

Esports audiences demand localised content. For popular league events, this means producing simulcast streams with dozens of different audio tracks and branding. The playout infrastructure then becomes a major component of the system. Two hundred outputs feeding broadcast and streaming outputs to locations all over the world is not unusual.

Additionally, the production requirements for esports can vary depending on the type of event. Infrastructures and workflows need agility to quickly transition between game formats, with fast set-up and take-down times for rapid changeover between events. Local conditions must also be taken into account.

Transitioning to esports production

Flexibility is key in esports and having a partner that understands this is critical. Content creators must seek production models that adapt to changing conditions yet are sustainable in the long term.

One solution is creating scalable production systems where all feeds route to a central switching and routing system that can flexibly divide into different resource suites to handle an event. This centralised system needs to simultaneously mix and output in multiple video formats.

With decades worth of experience in live production, broadcasters and service providers are able to meet the increasingly complex demands of large projects. Fortunately, making needed adjustments to esports production is a matter of degrees, as opposed to a whole new ball game. Extending their reach to new audiences quite simply involves calculating risk/reward, and it is crucial to work with a company that has been there before.