Production is a daunting task and one of the more complicated, least discussed elements of esports. Everyone loves good quality streams, but people rarely think or talk about what goes into making everything look shiny and run smoothly.
CSL has grappled with live production for years, and as we’ve grown we have continually evolved our production setup. For reference, here’s what our production setup looked like in 2012:
That’s right - we took a lamp from our hotel room and used it as a source of lighting, with two webcams haphazardly placed.
Obviously, we’ve had to step up our game.
The second evolution of CSL’s production came from an old computer that we bought from NASL in their closing auction, which we used to run our broadcast last year at Dreamhack. That went alright, but the computer was old, and we pushed it to its limits trying to incorporate studio cameras to our setup rather than simple webcams.
We needed another evolution to our production capabilities.
This year, we decided to build a new production rig to get exactly what we wanted. The goal was to create a setup that will work today and tomorrow, that can handle an entire production by itself, or be part of an even bigger setup. We spoke to ASUS about our idea and they wanted to help.
ROG X99 Strix Gaming - This is one of the few motherboards that supports M2 solid state drives, which is the fastest storage available. This allows our setup to run quickly and efficiently
ROG GTX 1080 Strix - One of the better graphics cards on the market, one of the important features that make this great for our production setup is that it can support up to 5 monitors, which again allows us to run an entire production off of one machine if needed
ASUS Essence STX II - The soundcard allows us to monitor audio directly through the computer, so it can act as a de facto sound board
Intel i7 6850k - With six cores and hyperthreading, this processor allows us to run production, games, and a stream all at the same time. This makes it valuable as a standalone machine for smaller streams, and as part of a bigger ensemble of gear
Blackmagic Decklink Quad II - This allows us to take SDI inputs (such as cameras) directly into our computer. It's the piece of equipment that allows our computer to act as a video switcher
At the Midwest Campus Clash, we were able to break out the new machine for the first time to test it out. However, productions require more than just a computer capable of handling a live stream. Here’s some insight into what else goes into producing a gaming event:
Observer computer: We used a ASUS ROG G11CD PC for all of our observing. The observer computer is one of the most important pieces of production. First - the computer needs to be powerful enough to run every game smoothly at the highest graphics settings. This is important because our observer computer acts as a video input to our production machine, meaning that the stream sees what the observer computer is doing, so it’s critical for it to be able to run all the games at the highest graphics settings without getting FPS or frame drops! Second - having a dedicated observer computer is important because it allows the casters to focus on casting and not have to worry about handling multiple duties at once
Graphics/Videos: For all of our video editing, animation, and graphics, we use two ROG G752 laptops. Capability-wise, the laptops are better (and significantly cheaper) than an Apple equivalent, while still being portable enough that our video editors can use them anywhere. All of CSL’s motion graphis and videos are produced on these laptops. Secondly, we’re able to use one of these laptops are a direct video input into our streaming machine, which allows us to smoothly switch and display different graphics and video files without interrupting the stream
For the Midwest Campus Clash, we ran a relatively simple production centered around our new production rig (see above). We had two cameras, our ROG observer computer, and our ROG graphics laptop feeding directly into our production machine. In addition, we connected our sound board to the machine as well, running all of the microphones and the observer computer into it as well so we could manage sound.
Essentially, this setup obviates having a video switcher, which can get incredibly expensive. So, if you’re producing on a non-studio budget, this type of setup is one of the best options. With xsplit and a second monitor, we were able to mimic almost all of what having a studio level kit provides.
With this setup, we were able to stream at 1080p at a 3,500 bitrate, for 15 hours straight, with zero dropped frames.
All in all, CSL finally has a solid production rig that will take us through many more live events for years to come. With ROG gear, the quality of our production has improved dramatically, and we’re going to continue iterating and getting better with each event. For all of those who are looking to run live productions, hopefully this brief guide provides some insight into how things work!
With that, we’ll close with this video, produced by Columbia College: