The crowds at EVO roared and cheered with fervor as players battled it out on stage. To the attendees, this competition wasn’t just about watching favorite their celebrity-players on screen and the intensity of high-level gaming. For most, EVO is the culmination of childhoods raised on video games and 90s arcades when fighting games like Street Fighter and Super Smash Bros were pivotal to their adolescent years. And when they cheered, you could feel the energy and passion in their hearts for the games they love. As any avid gamer will tell you, Esports is more than just a game - it’s a lifestyle.
The EVO Championship Series is the largest and longest-running fighting game tournament in the world, where all of the top fighters meet in the halls of the Mandalay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to compete not just for the coveted EVO trophy, but also the prestige of the international Esports community. Since 1996, the event has really grown out of its small, grassroots feel and turned into the major gaming spectacle it is today. The 3-day event covers several games from Super Smash Bros. to Tekken and Street Fighter.
The Streaming Mission
As a huge Esports event with almost a million total online viewers and major sponsors involved, EVO wanted a way to reliably broadcast to their official streaming platform, Twitch.tv. Specifically, Twitch needed to a separate production to handle broadcasting to Japan, the 2nd biggest audience of EVO outside of the U.S. For this project, they turned to production company Bento to handle the streaming.
“Twitch runs the entire broadcasting operation of the event, and they wanted to stream a Japanese-specific feed complete with Japanese commentators, ads and everything,” said Tomber Su, head of production for Bento. “Our goal was to generate an enterprise-level broadcast while having as small a footprint as possible.”
But the task introduced some challenges. With only the convention-provided Internet to rely on and thousands of viewers tuning in, Tomber needed a way to broadcast a feed with pristine quality while using as little bandwidth as possible. Also, with so many viewers tuning in from Japan and major sponsors invested in the broadcast, it was critical to not only keep the stream stable, but to produce a high-quality video that Twitch viewers expect.
To accomplish this, Bento decided to employ an array of Teradek solutions at EVO, most notably an H.265/HEVC workflow. Here’s how it worked.
Multiple competitions are held across the 3-day event, with preliminaries held in the Mandalay convention center and finals in the Mandalay arena. As a result, Tomber and his crew needed equipment that would provide a high-quality broadcast while being flexible enough to easily pack up and relocate.
For the prelims, Tomber set up in the back of the convention hall with 4 Sony FS5s pointed at each stage. These feeds were SDI wired to a Blackmagic ATEM production switcher at the broadcast station, where the feeds were mixed and live graphics added. To send the finished video to Twitch, Tomber employed Teradek’s newest device: the Cube 755 streaming encoder. The latest installment of the Cube series features H.265 video compression, which achieves the same quality video of H.264 at half the bitrate. Using a hardwired Ethernet connection to the venue-provided Internet, Cube sent the H.265 feed to their Core account.
Core is Teradek’s cloud-based stream management platform that enables simulcasting, monitoring, remote configuring, and most recently transcoding (H.265 to H.264) in the cloud. Because most streaming platforms (including Twitch) have yet to support H.265 playback, Tomber utilized Core’s transcoding feature to convert the H.265 codec to H.264 and push the feed directly to Twitch’s Japanese stream. A pristine 1080p60 stream was achieved with just 3 Mbps.
Setup at the finals event was very similar, but instead of the convention hall, Twitch secured upper-level box booths in the Mandalay arena to broadcast from. The FS5s were mounted to railings along the edges of the booths, which captured the arena from various high angles. But Tomber and his crew wanted a camera near the bottom to capture close-up shots of the stage and bring viewers closer into the action.
To achieve this shot, one FS5 camera was mounted to a tripod further down in the stadium. To get the feed from this camera to the broadcast station above, they connected a Bolt 1000 wireless transmitter via SDI to the camera. The Bolt took a live feed from the camera and sent a zero-delay RF feed to a receiver at the box booth, which then pushed the feed directly to the ATEM switcher for editing.
After graphics, effects and audio were mixed in, the ATEM sent the feed to the Cube 755. Because the box seats had no access to an Ethernet source, Tomber switched the Cube to its built-in client mode, allowing it to use the venue’s WiFi for streaming. This sent the H.265 stream to Core, where it was transcoded to H.264 and sent to Twitch.tv.
A Successful EVO Stream
As Twitch viewers and gamers, video quality is everything, and we often expect our favorite gaming events to deliver the highest-quality stream possible. But not much thought is given towards how these streams are produced. For the Japanese Twitch stream, Tomber and his production crew had to overcome a number of obstacles to get the results they needed.
Since venue-provided Internet was their only option, the bandwidth limits could constrain the quality of the stream. To avoid this, Tomber employed the Cube 755 for its H.265 function, allowing him to provide the same high-quality stream as any other professional broadcast but only needing half the bitrate to do it. Also, using a dedicated hardware encoder meant having a more reliable broadcasting device compared to computer streaming softwares.
“Cube is much smaller than a computer with a capture card, and it can also ingest both HDMI and SDI feeds along with analog audio,” said Tomber. “To not have to worry about settings being tampered or a computer crashing during a 12-hour stream is invaluable on a production of this level.”
But Core really ties it all together. Since H.265 video can’t be streamed to Twitch yet, transcoding through Core allowed Tomber to send up a 1080p 60fps feed at just 3 Mbps, saving from having to sacrifice quality for the live stream. The 2nd day broadcast was also recorded in the Core, helping to save disk space on their SD cards.
At the same time, the Bolt 1000 brought in a wireless feed from further down in the bleachers, saving the crew from having to run 200 ft. of SDI cables to the broadcast room and allowed them to easily adhere to stadium safety codes.
Simplifying the production ultimately enabled Tomber and his team to provide a broadcast-level stream without costly equipment of traditional live productions. This made setup easier and allowed them to focus on the most important part of the project: providing an excellent viewing experience for EVO fans on Twitch.
“A lot of our clients come to us with crazy, last-minute requests, and often the solutions can be complicated and costly to produce. After using the Cube and Bolt, it not only raised the quality of broadcast but also simplified the setup process and lessened the pre-production time of the event. With Teradek, I know I can confidently exceed my client's’ expectations and give their viewers the quality they deserve.”