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Promod Esports Broadcasts, Powered by Parsec

All over the world, creative organizations are relying on Parsec for Teams to keep media, entertainment, and, of course, games on track during the pandemic.

Promod Esports has been pioneering an approach to remote production to power two weekly live broadcasts, one for DOTA 2 and another for CS:GO. Promod Esports’s Deputy Production Manager George Patchett gave us the lowdown on making it all happen.

Challenges of Remote Broadcasts

Remote broadcasts were on the rise before the pandemic

Remote broadcasting presents a lot of challenges but recently, even under normal circumstances, it hasn’t been uncommon. For instance, a number of high budget productions won’t move the TV production galleries in standard outside broadcast trucks anymore, but only send out cameras and other studio equipment with the intention to stream the feeds back to the gallery via a low latency connection.

This way the high cost of shipping an entire production workflow around the world is removed and the stability of the broadcast can also be guaranteed at a lower cost.

But COVID accelerated the move to fully remote broadcasts

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced both the industry and Promod Esports to take it a step further. It’s no longer safe for a production team to sit as a group due to social distancing. While there are solutions out there that facilitate entirely cloud-based production workflows, that would mean far more expense. We as a company already have all the hardware capable of those same workflows.

This lead us to the idea of using the same hardware and systems we would usually use in the production facility, but operating them remotely. This presented even more challenges on top of those already present in the remote production workflow because now the operators aren’t even next to the systems they’re controlling.

We had to address compatibility and usability as a number of our systems don’t have WAN capable hardware surfaces: they were always intended to be next to the hardware powering them. It also presented the issue that should anything need changing there’s no physical switches or buttons that can be pushed as the workflow is entirely virtual.

Setting Up for Wholly Remote Broadcasting

For the most part our hardware based studios and galleries sit empty apart from one or two technical roles who are there to make physical changes or press switches if they’re needed. That means our shows are all produced by operators remotely controlling their respective hardware using Parsec.

Our technical team differs slightly from broadcast to broadcast, but it consists of a few key roles:

Observer: The observer is in-game spectating on the matches, selecting footage, and zooming in and out on key pieces of the action.

Replay Operator: This one speaks for itself: they select and edit footage for quick replays.

Technical Director: The TD operates the vision mixer, and ultimately selects what footage is making its way to the live broadcast.

Streaming Engineer: This person ensures that the live broadcast holds up flawlessly as it makes its way to viewers.

Project Manager: As you might guess, there are a lot of moving pieces. A good Project Manager keeps everything on track.

Commentators: You all know these ones: they editorialize the matches, and sometimes simultaneously act as match observers.

For the case of positions that usually have bespoke hardware surfaces such as audio and vision, we use Parsec to remotely control those surfaces alongside helpful applications that trigger midi and other data.

Why Parsec?

We went with Parsec due to the latency being minimal between the host computer and the connecting client. Taking a cue from the Esports players we’ve worked with in the past, we agreed that if the latency is low enough for high action FPS gaming then it could definitely support high resolution and fast paced broadcast producing to match.

This is further supported by some of the great features that Parsec offers within Parsec for Teams: a lot of our operators rely on multiple screens in the studio and it’s great to have this feature work so flawlessly with operators wherever they are in the world. Being a part of Teams also allows us to manage our freelancers’ access to the hardware they need which means someone else can’t accidentally join an on-air production.

Putting it all together

To show how integral Parsec is to our productions I’ll walkthrough the set up for two of our weekly shows, one for CS: GO and the other for DOTA 2. The shows utilize two vision engines that reside in one of our studio facilities. One is the main vision mixer. The other is used for clipping and providing highlight reels of the games being played. Since the two engines are still in the same physical space, all of the video feeds are still generated, routed and received over standard copper based SDI cabling. That’s really useful.

For these two engines, Parsec lets the operators control their respective engines live on air and react to the live workflow as they would normally if they were physically sitting in the studio. Highlight clips are no different than usual due to the low latency with which Parsec transports the feeds. Our observer (remember: essentially the in-game camera person) also remotely uses a high powered gaming PC located in the studio via Parsec. This works flawlessly, as it’s exactly how Parsec app was is intended to be used.

The observer watches the game and chooses camera angles at full HD, 60fps, as if they were sitting in front of the computer themselves. Due to all of the hardware being physically in the same location and the workflow remaining the same from this point, the studio transmits it to the distribution systems before being sent to the appropriate destinations such as Twitch TV, YouTube, Facebook, and others.

Whilst the workflow does still present its challenges, most of these have been negated quite easily by the utilization of Parsec and Parsec Teams. This workflow has been and continues to work for us as these shows enter their second season since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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Looking forward

There are still challenges: internet failure is real, transmitting MIDI can be challenging, and more. If and when it’s safe to situate staff in our facilities, there’s no doubt a few roles will return to the studio.

But it’s worth noting that this remote workflow is saving thousands and thousands of dollars per broadcast. We can eliminate travel costs, lower our crew costs, and focus our budgets on hiring staff. Positions that don’t rely on this physical hardware can stay remote, and manage broadcast from anywhere in the world.

Want to get Parsec for Teams setup for your own broadcasts? Get in touch with us.

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