Studio INVATE is a video company based in Bangkok, with an inventive reputation. Its public persona is everyday commercial work, such as producing highly creative videos, live broadcasts and commercials, for companies ranging from large industrial brands and retail businesses to educational institutions. But in between the studio and on-location work for clients, the company’s crew of 14 employees and a few dozen freelancers enjoy live-streaming video game tournaments.
In Southeast Asia, the growing gaming popularity is fueling Asia’s 44% contribution to the total global population of esports enthusiasts. According to Esports Media Hub, Thailand has over three million active esports participants, representing almost 5% of the country’s population.
Therefore, it’s a perfect market for Studio INVATE, where gaming is a passion for nearly the whole staff. “We play all genres of games and each of us has several years of experience in the game industry in Thailand and Southeast Asia,” notes Pachara Ruangrasameejantorn (Benz), the company’s co-founder.
Esports like any other sport
Studio INVATE’s public mission is to be a force behind transforming the esports industry in Thailand and this involves producing broadcasts so compelling that “audiences will watch game tournaments with the same level of excitement seen in sports tournaments.”
This doesn’t go unnoticed by the tournament producers of big-name gaming events. In recent months INVATE has produced Blizzard’s Hearthstone Major tournament in July at Pattaya Beach; the six-day GPL Summer, a professional League of Legends league tournament; and Garena RoV Major League, a Republic of Varrock tourney with a $150,000 prize pool.
Overall, the studio produces live stream broadcasts for 15 major esports tournaments every year, each with up to 40 gamers competing and up to 50,000 spectators viewing the live stream. The rest of the company’s weekends are filled too, with an additional 30 medium-sized and smaller esports events.
Studio INVATE has grown to become the largest production company specializing in esports in Thailand and they still have big growth plans.
Gaining Size and Power
INVATE have the desire to expand but face the limitations of SDI-only production in a computer-based world. As a result, Benz and his team knew they had to go with IP video production.
The team already use NewTek TriCaster 8000 integrated production system along with the NewTek 3Play 4800 replay solution for their live production services, but the requirements in esports production were changing quickly.
JM Lim, technical training specialist for NewTek Elite reseller-distributor Blonde Robot said “When you talk about esports, and covering these competitions in terms of game play, you could have 10 individual players or even 20.”
In other words, it’s not a field or court group sport where a separate camera isn’t required for each individual player at all times. In esports competitions, since anything can happen at any time, each player has coverage. “You need more camera angles involved in the production” says Lim, who worked with Studio INVATE on installation and training.
Blonde Robot director Eamon Drew adds “Switching live between real-world players and the actual game on a computer screen, without having to use scan converters – and without coming out HDMI, converting into SDI, and then going into the TriCaster” or any other switcher is a challenge. “With esports, the content is on a computer and playing out at 1080p 60f. Using NewTek’s NDI technology, the video coming over the network is already in the right format.”
Looking at the size of the typical tournament events INVATE produces, they calculated that they would need to switch among at least 24 hybrid IP/SDI feeds. For instance, “Twelve come from SDI sources such as the players’ POV cameras, the announcers’ fixed cameras, and the roaming action cameras. The rest are from computer sources, like the gaming screens of the players plus graphics and effects, which we make high-end, similar to live sports,” says Studio INVATE’s Benz.
NewTek Mark II
In order to hit that 20+ input requirement, with most sources coming in over IP, Benz and his team selected a NewTek IP Series including a Video Mix Engine VMC1 (which can switch up to 44 external inputs, from both SDI and IP sources) and a 4-stripe Control Panel.
In the first instance, INVATE expanded the VMC1 unit’s built-in SDI capacity with a NewTek NC1 SDI input units to achieve a total of 12 SDI inputs.
They then added a NewTek TimeWarp replay controller, so they could have an operator performing live replays during the tournaments and in post-game.
And once the complete system was installed, they customized the NewTek IP Series to maximize its advanced, built-in capabilities, and augmented it with the super abilities they needed for maximum creativity.
Developing Strength with SDK
“The people at Studio INVATE are really passionate,” says Blonde Robot’s JM Lim. “As soon as NewTek came out with NDI, they read up on everything the technology could do. Up until now, it has been unusual to see the creatives in a production house become developers, but they’ve become so familiar with NDI that they can develop any integration they need to happen.”
Benz gives two examples – graphics and tally, both over the network using NDI. “We use CasparCG. It’s open source so we’ve been able to make use of the full graphics engine and customize the CG application. NDI allows us to send both Key and Fill into IP Series easily without worrying about connecting more BNC cables, so we pull graphics into our IP workflow during game production.”
In addition, NewTek’s standard Tally over NDI can support up to 44 cameras and with the SDK INVATE can modify specific functionalities for their own use to integrate with the features of their existing Blackmagic cameras.
Building for Speed
The next stage was to upgrade the network. “Studio INVATE invested in a 10Gb network switch and wired everything for 10Gb,” says Lim. “They were obviously prepared to send everything around over IP.”
“We wanted to have a network that was fast enough to always be comfortable, with so many IP sources coming into the IP Series” Benz adds. “Having a lot of bandwidth lowers the possibility of any kinds of error on the LAN, which is important because we want to use IP video. We are sending gaming screens and graphics all around the network, we’re doing lots of fast and big productions, and we want the flexibility to configure anything during the show.”