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Ross Video Team Jan 25, 2021 11:55:41 AM

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Living Live Podcast: Lifting Off at the Drone Champions League Drone Grand Prix Series


The pandemic has touched every corner of society, including live sporting events – but that hasn’t stopped the Drone Champions League from engaging in exciting eSports action.

The league opted to move its Drone Grand Prix Series to a completely virtual format, meaning competitors, officials, talent and fans all needed avenues to interact with and get the most out of the event, regardless of where they were in the world.

To make that happen, Ross Video’s virtual production division, Rocket Surgery, teamed up with ESL Gaming to convert the formerly physical, in-venue environment into a spectacular virtual event.
On this episode of Ross Living Live, Rocket Surgery Senior Designers and Virtual Production Specialists Terry Daily and Bo Cordle, as well as ESL Senior Global Manager, Procurement and Executive Producer, Special Events Simon Eicher, joined host Tyler Kern to outline how it all came together.

“Usually, they fly real drones, right?,” Eicher said. “They have a circuit of two years ongoing across the world already. But, luckily, they had expanded their strategy already in late 2019 and released a game, which pretty much simulates the real drone racing.”

This foresight proved invaluable in transitioning to a virtual format, a decision that was truly brought to life by Rocket Surgery and ESL. ESL helped craft the best possible format and strategy for recreating the physical event in a virtual setting, and Rocket Surgery built a bridge between the game the DCL had created and the technology solutions that would bring it to life virtually.

AUTHOR: Tyler Kern
CONTRIBUTORS:Terry Daily, Bo Cordle and Simon Eicher

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Podcast Transcript


tyler Kern:

The ongoing pandemic has affected sports and live events everywhere and Esports has had to adapt as well. A recent example of this is the Drone Champions League, which was converted from a series of in- person league events to an entirely virtual format with both competitors and talent located remotely. The international Esports company ESL partnered with Rocket Surgery Virtual Productions, Ross Video's dedicated virtual production division, to convert the physical in-venue world into an entirely virtual experience. Joining me to talk about this process are three subject matter experts today. First we have Terry Daily, he's a Senior Designer and Rocket Surgery Virtual Production specialist. Terry, thanks so much for joining us.

Terry Daily:
Yeah, thanks for having us.

tyler Kern:

Absolutely, I'm excited to talk a little bit more about this topic today with you. We also have Bo Cordle. He is a Senior Design and Rocket Surgery Virtual Production specialist as well. Bo, thanks for joining us.

Bo Cordle:
Yeah, thanks Tyler. I appreciate you having us.

tyler Kern:

Absolutely. And then finally we have Simon Eicher he is the Senior Global Manager of Procurement and Executive Producer of special events for ESL Gaming. Simon, thank you for being here as well.

Simon Eicher:
Yeah. Thanks for giving this topic a great platform.

tyler Kern:

Absolutely. Simon is joining us all the way from Cologne, Germany, and so happy to have Simon on with us today. Simon let's start off here, when the decision was made to move DCL to a virtual experience, when was that decision made? And what were your initial thoughts about how this would work?

Simon Eicher:

Yeah, I think first of all, it's important to mention, right? Drone Champions League, usually they fly real drones, right? They have had circuits for a few years ongoing across the world already, but luckily they expanded their strategy already late 2019, and released a game which pretty much simulates the real drone racing. So for them, obviously as everyone, 2020 turned out at the beginning to be super painful, but they had this exit solution on just crapping all real drones and, "Hey, let's just use the game."

Simon Eicher:

So they reached out to us and basically asked, "Guys, you are the sports experts, right? We need to reinvent now how we actually produce this kind of show. Cause we work together with three classic, big sports entertainment, production companies, but digital storytelling. And the way on how you do that is very different." We had a lot of brainstorming sessions and basically came to the conclusion, which then turned out to be the final product, let's simulate everything, right? Let's not try to create something with multiple pips or other stuff that's fully transition the venue, which is the game, the commentators, which then also are in the game, to become one and really melted and merged together into what we feel are really good replica in that sense of a real event.

tyler Kern:

So Terry, how did you tackle that challenge of moving everything that was previously in-person right, or a physical world? How did you make all of that digital? Tell me how that process went.

Terry Daily:

Well, sure. One of the things that really worked in our advantage is that DCL- The Game has built in Unreal engine. So we have a product in Voyager, which is our Unreal for broadcast product basically. So it really helps that the game was already developed in that environment. The challenge is we had to take that custom, compiled version of Unreal that is DCL- The Game and make that work in our custom version of Unreal. There was some versioning things, some technical things that had to happen under the hood. We had to work directly with DCL to make sure we were truly representing their product in an accurate way.

Terry Daily:

We looked at it and Simon really taking the lead on telling us what would really work well. We wanted to make this, we didn't really want to trick anybody, but we wanted to create that sort of environment as if the talent were there in this world. And create something a little more interesting, Simon said, than just putting people in boxes. So after all those technical challenges, we found a pretty efficient pipeline and it was great. It was something that worked really well, I think.

tyler Kern:

Bo, from your perspective, what are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to virtual productions and pulling something like this off? What are the challenges in your mind?

Bo Cordle:

Yeah, in this world normally when we travel for events, we're sitting next to a rack of gear and, something goes wrong, you just go over and reboot the machine. Luckily we had spent a lot of time back in the spring, developing workflows for remote operations, so that situations like this when Simon calls we're ready. So when he called with DCL, we had solutions in place and we knew we could pull it off. For this show in particular, the physical Voyager engines were located in a control room in Poland. Terry, working in Texas, I was in South Carolina, we're back here controlling these machines, installing the new builds, making sure everything works. We're able to monitor the outputs of the machines with sub- second latencies.

Bo Cordle:

So we're seeing the output as it's happening half a world away. For the actual operation during the production, we're able to build dashboard buttons with Ralph's dashboard software and configure GPIs so that the technical director in Poland can hit a button on a stream deck or on his switcher and he's changing the cameras within the Voyager world, or he's cutting to and starting the camera flies and all the moves that Terry had built in. So it really ended up being a seamless process as though we were there in the Poland control room.

tyler Kern:

That's really incredible and amazing that you're able to do that. So Simon, from your perspective, what was it like working with the guys from Rocket Surgery and how did that partnership work? Tell me a little bit about the coordination that had to occur between multiple different teams to make sure everybody was on the same page.

Simon Eicher:

Yeah, sure. First of all, to mention, it's not the first gig we did together. We did several, I would say probably even from a technical and creative perspective, way more complex shows in the past already. This was a natural reach out to friends in the industry about Voyage being released and having a few new gadgets associated with that we had talked about for a while. So searching for the right application in that sense, when we had the brainstorming with the DCL team together, the rest was the natural by default solution that came up pretty much instantaneously. In Terms of how we wanted to structure everything and how we bring it alive, obviously you always have a very close collaboration and that's mandatory to be successful in the media industry overall. And again, we were already used to that, I think the chemistry works out very well in terms of contribution overall. Everyone really added to it to make it a success, and that's then what it turned out to be.

tyler Kern:

So Terry, how do virtual productions compare to more traditional broadcast, like a Sunday night football or something along those lines? Right. Kind of give me some of the similarities, but also some of the primary differences.

Terry Daily:

Well, sure. In the end production is production, and I think we were kind of shocked to see that it felt very similar in reality, aside from being remote and being at home and supporting the show from far away, really the pacing kind of had a similar feel. It is a live sport still, we're still cutting between cameras. I think there was a little more pressure on our end that all those cameras happen to be within our system. The TDs cutting between sources virtually and in our environment.

Terry Daily:

I think just the added pressure of all that funneling through us and making sure we're representing everything correctly, maybe that was the biggest difference. I think aside from that, obviously we can control the environment, the imagery can look the way we want it to look. We don't have to worry about rain and snow and weather. or the most part, we can control that in the game so we can dictate when it's day or night. I had a lot of fun. I don't want to say, I don't have fun doing football, but something like this was really cool and out the ordinary for us. And it was just a cool thing to be a part of it.

Bo Cordle:

If I can just add to that, we are often on a lot of productions where we use Voyager for augmented reality. We have real cameras and real environments, like Sunday night football that you mentioned, which we do, but this was an opportunity to use Voyager to build a talent desk within a game world. There is no real physical camera anywhere they're all virtual Unreal cameras or Voyager cameras that we can control in UX, which is now Lucid. If Terry wants to put a camera in the sky, he just put a blimp camera up and there it was. Now that TD has access to a blimp camera, we were able to build some shots. For instance, we had one shot that began at the finish gate of the drone race, and then it flies up into the sky to a virtual scoreboard powered by Expression, actually.

Bo Cordle:

And then, after you read the score from that race, then it flies right back down to the talent desk without feeling like you've ever left the game world. You get to do some things that you couldn't do in real life, because if you want a camera you just make one and just throw it in there and control it with UX and Lucid and it just works. You have a lot more flexibility than you do in real life. It was a lot of fun to work on.

tyler Kern:

That's really incredible. So Simon, do you foresee more events being done this way because of the success of how things went with Drones Champions League and some of the other successful partnerships that you've had with the Rocket Surgery guys in the past? Do you think that more and more events could be done this way? And do you think that that could be a trend that we'll see in the future?

Simon Eicher:

I think it makes sense to a certain degree probably by nature, yeah. You can see obviously currently everyone, due to the pandemic, everyone is seeking virtual solutions to compensate the real world. I think here you really have the advantage that you can use the game, which is somewhat a little bit an isolated element as its own environment in a broadcast to really extend this beyond just being the field of play. Which we actually did here with DCL. Also, I think in terms of other marketing opportunities, there's a lot to do.

Simon Eicher:

For example, DCL is based in Liechtenstein, were also one of the host cities, basically Liechtenstein was present. Just by nature, the DCL team could give them the visibility that was intended. So there's a lot of cool new ways in storytelling and it's both sad, there is no limitation. You can put an unlimited amount of cameras basically anywhere. And also sometimes if you need to turn over maybe amount of talents to envision a higher flexibility, different storytelling, you can do that because basically with a green screen at my back, I can be beamed into any show, any time. So I can have a huge lineup also of content variety in my pipeline that I can ingest into that show, which usually in the past would be very pricey.

tyler Kern:

Simon, given the success of Drone Champions League and how well you guys have done on this project and also your ongoing partnership with the Rocket Surgery guys, do you feel like this could be an ongoing trend? Will you see more events going to a virtual production type style, the way that you did with this event?

Simon Eicher:

I think currently with the pandemic, it's very natural to have that need of a virtual solutions, virtual environments, but I think especially DCL has the application of expanding the field of play that you have with Esports in general, overall, the whole show, new opportunities. For example, the first event took place in a sponsorship, in a whole city of Liechtenstein where we could, not only during in game as the track was built in the game in Liechtenstein, represent the city but also out of the game in a very natural way. I think there is a lot of great opportunities for advanced storytelling and also then not having physically talent onsite, but putting them into the environment with the green screen which is overall easy to set up basically anywhere. You can also have, maybe, a new amount of variety of talent that is being present. The overall storytelling can be very different compared to maybe a traditional broadcast formats that are currently existing. I think there's a lot of potential and moving forward. Absolutely.

tyler Kern:

Yeah, Terry I want to bounce off of what Simon just said and direct the question your way, because we've talked about all of the different cameras. If you want a camera, you can add a camera, and you can control it in different ways and you can have different types of storytelling with different talent and things like that. Doesn't that add in just a whole new level of engagement for fans, and provide for a level of engagement you maybe don't get with traditional broadcasts or with other mediums?

Bo Cordle:

Totally, I think doing these that the demand... We saw the demand increase because of COVID out of necessity, people were having to rethink how they do production. I think now seeing more of these people are maybe going to rethink how they approach these in general, moving forward, maybe not out of necessity anymore because of COVID we might see more of this style of approach moving forward because it presents so many different creative things, like you just mentioned. Where us as a team, I don't know that we were out seeking this style of production or this product, but now we're totally rethinking what we do. COVID aside and all of that aside, I think this is something that's going to be a mainstay and something that people try to do with. With Esports, it just makes sense. Adding that environment, being able to put talent and players, competitors in that world just make sense. Where they can interact with components of the game, that just makes sense. That connection with the audience, it's just something different that you don't get with a typical sports production.

tyler Kern:

Yeah, and Bo one of the things I wanted to ask you about was just the explosion we've seen really in terms of remote production, across a number of verticals. Speak to just maybe the increased demand for remote production these days mainly brought on by COVID, but you could see how that could be an ongoing trend even in a post COVID world.

Bo Cordle:

Absolutely, and it brings on a lot more... We have a lot more flexibility now with our team, because where before we would have two guys traveling to a game, so they would travel Thursday, be gone until Monday. Well now with the way that we're able to do remote operations, that we weren't in the past that same person on our crew is able to do three different events in those three days. We're logging in to one computer in Connecticut on Saturday morning to do a mainstream show, and then logging into a different computer on Sunday to do a different show. We're able to have a lot more flexibility and to pull off a lot more events than we ever would have before with the same amount of crew.

tyler Kern:

Yeah, it's absolutely incredible enough and I've loved getting a chance to talk to you guys a little bit more today, about what you did for Drone Champions League, and all the different capabilities that you have utilizing Voyager and the tools that it can provide. Terry, Bo, and Simon, thank you guys so much for joining me here on the video today and chatting about this.

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