Picture the scene. A kid sits alone in his room. Silent. A computer screen illuminates his face in the darkness. Eyes dart this way and that, transfixed, while his trigger finger taps out a rapid fire beat. Inside headphones, bullets whizz and explosions shake his mind.
I have been that kid.
Growing up, computer games were basically my religion. In many ways, I still am that kid. Except for today, he and I are separated by one rather huge difference. In the scene above, that kid is working. Or rather, competing. Oh, and he earns more in a couple of hours than I do in a month.
Esports is more than just a growth market for competition and entertainment. It is a cultural phenomenon. Kids are turning their backs on more traditional sports and heading to esports in their droves. And it’s easy to see why.
Top gamers are becoming global celebrities, earning millions from endorsements and prize money. Many eSports competitions are open to the public – if you’re good enough, you get a chance to mix it with the pros. And the winners of these events look just like you and me… except probably younger.
So, what inspired these musings on eSports and my misspent youth?
Well, I guess I just love the inventiveness of eSports. How it challenges people’s expectations of what competition can and should be; how it judges people on how good they are instead of how well backed they are; and how, as an industry, it’s constantly trying to innovate and improve.
That’s exactly what we try to do at Flux – innovate, push the envelope and try new things – so when HP’s annual OMEN challenge made its triumphant return to London, we were delighted to be asked to capture every loot grab and headshot.
The OMEN challenge saw eight of the world’s best Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) players battle it out for $50,000. Six were pro gamers but two were quality amateurs who had earned their spot at the top table through a series of qualifying rounds. They were trained by expert coaches in order to compete with their idols in high octane 1v1 bouts and 4 player death matches. All bouts were fought in a custom-built arena, with extra prize money awarded for bounties such as knife kills and first blood.
This year also saw Mixed Reality used for the first time ever in a live broadcast, meaning players could enter the game map in person to interact with in-game characters.
From a broadcast perspective, this was huge. Imagine instant replays of epic kills in real time, in a mixed reality setting. It had never been done before but we knew if we could pull it off, it would take the excitement and tension of the event to a whole new level.
Streaming on Twitch, we combined the action packed in-game footage with live commentary from CSGO experts. Slipping seamlessly between gamers’ feeds meant we could capture every shot in the lightning fast competition. We also combined this with regular studio cutaways so the viewers could see their gaming heroes in the flesh as they celebrated every kill. In fact, seeing the joy the players took in competing in the custom maps and the Mixed Reality format was definitely one of the highlights for us.
To handle this setup and deliver an incredible broadcast we had to create and build a video router of over 100+ inputs and outputs as well as build instant replay machines that can be used to create slick short clips for the broadcast intervals and shout casters.
We know the CSGO community has high standards when it comes to… well, pretty much everything! So, to be part of an event which was so positively received in places like /r/globaloffensive and CS Twitter was unbelievable. And the figures back this up: we had over 100,000 views on Twitch, with highlights from the show gathering tens of thousands of views across multiple platforms including Reddit, Facebook Live and YouTube. The final, in which s1mple defeated NBK, has been streamed over half a million times.
But the figures only tell part of the story.
For us, the best thing about the event was working in an industry with values that so closely mirror our own. Esports and live streaming competition is the future of sports entertainment.
The ever-optimistic kid in me reckons that with enough practise I could be ready for next year’s OMEN challenge. The wiser me knows that nowadays, it’s just as exciting to watch the professionals at work.