Here's how Riot keeps the LCS running with everyone at home
The LCS and LEC were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, but they quickly came back in an online format. It's easy to forget that Riot is now broadcasting some of the biggest esports tournaments in the world from home, now that employees are working remotely.
Not to mention the broadcasters, players, and production crew.
Riot first started planning a remote production workflow around March 12. Riot had changed their Teamfight Tactics: Galaxies Showcase to an online-only format due to sudden travel restrictions implemented in China.
This started out with a "skeleton crew" in the LCS studio in Santa Monica but the campus was soon on full lockdown, forcing Riot to shift to the fully virtualized workflow. Since then, Riot has been working on expanding this remote broadcast plan. This week's OPL Spring Split was the first 100% cloud-based production.
But how do they accomplish doing that? Riot told SVG it was all thanks to a new cloud-based virtualized live-production workflow.
Riot moves to cloud-based broadcast during coronavirus
“We’ve been leveraging cloud-based workflows heavily for several years, but this unfortunate situation certainly accelerated our plans quickly," esports technology group lead Scott Adametz told SVG.
So what is the new production model? It's a pair of central vMix virtual video switchers running in Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud. Here's an overview of Riot Games' OPL remote studio architecture, created by SVG.
“We needed to incorporate a lot of different sources from all around the world in IP that are traditionally all in the same building and connected via SDI...We have now templatized the process of spinning up an environment so that it’s a matter of just a couple of clicks and some configuration variables and it’s ready to go," Adametz said.
According to Adametz, the broadcast team doesn't only have to incorporate the casters' video from their streamer rig and their audio, but provide the casters with all the observer feeds simultaneously. This is would've been problematic without the vMix virtual switcher, making it a godsend for the team.
It also helps that the casters have advanced equipment set up at their home, which Adametz said was provided by Riot. But it doesn't end there.
Once all the video sources have been connected to the vMix virtual switcher, it's then sent to Nimble Streamer media servers running in Amazon EC2. Nimble is what makes it possible to stream to Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook.
The control room is "replicated" by having the communications infrastructure transferred to Discord. All of the personnel, including the production crew, observers, referees, casters, and players, are also connected through Unity cloud comms.
“We are truly replicating the control room, from front bench on, so that crew members at home are participating just as they did before," Adametz explained.
He also noted that they never thought they'd be "producing the LCS from their kitchen or their living room."
On the operations side, Riot implemented AWS Workplace virtual desktop infrastructures "at their respective locations." This extended the workspace that the operator would normally have in a control room to their home instead, setting up zero clients within Amazon Workspaces. This has been especially useful for casters, who are able to operate a familiar interface, view all game feeds almost in real time, and control their view of all the different observer feeds.
Riot's focus on integrity while broadcasting remotely
One fear that often comes from online tournaments is integrity. It's much easier to cheat when everyone's playing online. But Riot made sure to focus on that aspect of the remote broadcast, utilizing a five-minute delay using Nimble.
This ensures that the public video feed are not streamed out live until officials have the opportunity to study the footage, checking for competitive integrity.
But Riot had two more plans in place to ensure the ongoing integrity of the LCS action. This included equipping the now-remote anti-cheat team with live analysis and anomaly logging tools and then establishing a live webcam feed at each player's setup. This makes sure that the referee can watch each monitor, looking for "unacceptable behavior."
“We were able to solve these integrity-related challenges with tech and provided support to our league management, which we were really happy about,” Adametz said. “That way, they can ensure that the style and format of League hasn’t changed; we’ve just physically relocated people.”
Basically, it's been quite the process. And it's still not done evolving. Still, Adametz is proud of what they've accomplished in such a short time.
“All the credit goes to the technology teams around the world in Riot Esports that have come up with ways to break the mold and come up with new ways to produce content. I’ve never seen so many passionate people willing to take leaps of faith and try things that had never been tried before. It’s awe-inspiring what we’ve been able to come up with as a group," Adametz said.
While the coronavirus pandemic is definitely a "horrible situation," esports continues to evolve and adapt to the never-before-seen obstacles coming its way. In fact, it might even become stronger than ever. Either way, Adametz is just happy that they are able to keep "producing the best possible content for our fans and players."
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