Observations from a year of home broadcasts

It’s been almost a year since the world as we knew it changed and yet esports tournaments have adapted through the challenges and continued to entertain a global audience. Despite the disappointment from everyone concerned – tournament organisers, players, broadcast teams and the fans – we’ve managed to compromise and keep going. It’s something to be celebrated.

However, as someone lucky enough to be able to take part from my home office, I wanted to share some thoughts on what I’ve experienced as a host on these productions so far – both good and bad – in the hope that they might be useful for future broadcasts. Some of these thoughts apply to offline broadcasts too.

Before I get started, let me say that I know it’s tough and full-on for the team working behind-the-scenes too. I’m so grateful to each and every one of you who keeps things moving and puts up with the likes of me!

  1. Broadcast talent have now become technicians. While we’re from a technical background in the sense that many of us build a PC or could at least tell you the difference between an SSD and a HDD, different productions require different broadcast setups (VMix! Parasec! Google Hangouts! Discord! Unity (no, not the game engine), Zoom!) so it would be really useful for the plan around how talent will be sending feeds to be communicated as soon as possible. Casters may have questions about feed delay and desk hosts will want to know if they’ll have in-ear comms (a producer voice) or will have to have a chat window open within view for messages about matches or breaks being ready to throw to.
  2. We’re all working within different spaces. Some of us are in bedrooms, some have offices. Sizes of rooms and backgrounds will vary. I, for example, am fortunate enough to have a small office to broadcast from. The downside is the distance of one metre between the edge of my desk and the wall. As soon as you book talent, have a video call and find out what space you have to play with; do you need a banner or is the background useable with perhaps a bit of set dressing?
  3. The same video call will help you the assess caster lighting, audio and camera. Most productions will take specs in advance, which is great, but just because someone has an Elgato key light, doesn’t mean it’s currently enough to light a wide green screen. Maybe forgo the banner budget and send your host a second light instead if their background works.
  4. I’m going to be straight-up honest before my words begin to look like thinly veiled anti-banner propaganda; I am not a banner fan. After having the sharp edges of a deconstructive massive frame that was too big to be built outside of my little office fester in my house as the agency I worked for wiped their hands of it, backdrops are on my list of enemies. (I eventually went to a contact I had from their client, who went above and beyond to remove the thing for me – to add insult to injury, they had sent TWO printed banners with it that gathered dust for months in the spare room.)
  5. To balance out the bad banner business; pull-up banners are ace. They don’t require the user to have a second person to help them get built, they’re not too heavy to lift and they’re easy to put away between broadcasts. However they are also less likely to fall on the talent during a broadcast, therefore depriving Reddit of a clip to remember.
  6. Our circumstances are not normal. Some of us (ok, me) are experiencing the dreaded “brain fog“. This doesn’t mean we can do the job you require, but it does mean we really appreciate help in getting our act together, especially when the event is last minute and we need to focus on prepping for your broadcast. Send us calendar invites for meetings and rehearsals. Manage expectations via an email that lists the requirements from your talent (this goes for offline events too). Include sponsors, formats, teams, broadcast and rehearsal start times. The run of show, if available, too. I adore producers who put everything you need to know in an email. If they put it in an email, I know I can trust them because we’re instantly on the same page, albeit virtually in Gmail.
  7. Remember that on offline productions, a talent manager would keep us organised and communicate any issues and needs. Now we’re making sure our camera works (see point one), trying to work out if and when we can grab something to eat (and what we actually have time to make), and watching matches to prep desk segments or casting them. We may leave our broadcast space a handful of times in a 12 hour period. A 12 hour broadcast from home, trying to maintain focus and energy, is far more of a challenge than being offline.
  8. This links to the above, but share wardrobe guidance in advance. We may be working from home rather than living out of a suitcase, but ironing still takes time. No one wants to have to change 30 minutes before a show. I’ve realised recently that I’m flexible when I need to be, but my frustrations on production usually stem from things that could have been communicated earlier often leaving me on my own to deal with either trying to write a script and flawlessly execute it off the top of my head live on camera 30 minutes later, understand a complicated rule change and immediately communicate it to the audience, or simply find something creaseless to throw on that fits the sudden requirements with five minutes to air. Broadcast talent are capable of all of these things, but it’s better for everyone if they don’t have to.
  9. If you work regularly with talent but online changes have altered your plans for a broadcast, communicate what you can. Will they be included or not? How has their role changed if it still exists? Dates? While we’re used to freelance life, we build up regular clients and if we don’t know we won’t be working an event, we have to hustle elsewhere or perhaps throw ourselves into a different scene and set a new course of action so we can keep doing the job we love. When you’re waiting for different tournament organisers to respond, not knowing if you’ll even work at all, it can keep you awake at night. We understand plans are changing by the minute, but keep us in the loop where you can – it grounds us in reality, but also gives us hope.

To everyone who gave me work last year and made me part of their broadcast teams. I really appreciate being included by you and hope we can work together before and after the weirdness of the pandemic subsides. There are a lot of audience members out there who benefit hugely from the efforts you make to keep esports scenes alive. Thank you.

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