PixelPower

Pixel Power Clarity raises the production standards of NASL.TV

The client

As one of the leading names in the growing arena of e-Sports, North American Star League streams live, daily coverage of video game leagues and tournaments featuring some of the world’s most popular titles, including StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty and Tribes: Ascend. Dozens of the world’s top competitors are watched by fans around the world who tune in live and also watch polished VoD replays of the high-calibre productions offered NASL.TV.

Every day NASL.TV delivers a 30-minute pre-show featuring interviews, tournament news, match overviews and more. That is followed by the live competition broadcast. Pre-produced segments and subsequent re-airing of edited versions of previous competitions round out the ambitious program schedule.

The challenge

Successfully covering video game competition presents some interesting production challenges, particularly when it comes to graphics.  The highest priority is to satisfy the league’s youthful, knowledgeable audience that is extremely passionate and sensitive to the fine details of both the competitions and the quality of the broadcasts. NASL.TV, its corporate sponsors, and the audience, all look to the world’s major TV sports networks for comparison.

Some of the hurdles faced by NASL.TV would be familiar to any broadcaster which covers major sports tournaments such as the need to constantly keep track of dozens of players, multiple teams and to deliver continuously updated live statistics. Unlike typical sports, however, there are no stats bureaus to hire, so NASL.TV staff must populate and deliver every graphic. In the past NASL.TV had to update each graphic individually, a time consuming process that limited what could be accomplished during a live broadcast.

Faced with its audience’s unpredictable Internet bandwidth and myriad variety of viewing devices, NASL.TV needs the confidence to know that its program, sponsor and promo graphics can stand up to any resolution, from the free-to-view 360p and 480p streams, through the premium 720p and 1080p tiers offered as pay services.
Video games present an additional and unique challenge not encountered by other sports productions. As the games themselves are composed entirely of vivid graphics, NASL.TV must find creative ways to marry event content with informational, sponsorship and branding elements.

The solution

To meet those challenges and expectations, NASL.TV made a significant upgrade to its graphics infrastructure, which previously relied on off-the-shelf software.  NASL.TV added a complete Pixel Power Clarity package for graphics creation and playout centered on a Pixel Power Clarity 3000 3D system that is now responsible for driving all graphics insertion. Pixel Prep 3D software was added to complement the graphics system with additional support for the offline importing of graphics, layout editing, as well as to provide a deep palette of graphics creation tools.  The Pixel Control Toolbox would enable NASL.TV to create intuitive interfaces for use during live productions.

The impact on workflow was immediate and pronounced. The addition of live transition wipes, logos, and other elements were critical to achieving the proper broadcast look sought by NASL.TV.  Every page delivered to air is now branded with NASL.TV logos and imagery that are inserted at playout. Before Clarity, these standard broadcast tricks-of-the-trade were almost impossible to achieve, simply because even the slightest change would require hours of tweaking and rendering to recreate.  Now operators can make changes to live graphics right up to playout time.

Clarity has also been instrumental to eliminating the barriers between the various desktop creative tools used by the NASL.TV team. Features such as the built in Clips functionality of Clarity 3000 make it easy to import animations and backgrounds from After Effects and other tools.

To handle player, team and league tracking, the NASL.TV team now builds easily managed Excel documents that Clarity automatically taps into for updates. Changes made to the cells in the spreadsheet instantly serve to update the graphics that are playing to air. The content within these spreadsheets is wide ranging and includes:  biographical information, photos of players, team photos, tournament details, scores, and league rankings. Importantly, the sheets also contain updated graphics assets provided by team sponsors. Now when someone wins, NASL.TV can reference those results immediately in its graphics. This enables commentators to deliver a very polished, fluid presentation.

To overcome the visual complexity of the games, NASL.TV uses Clarity to drive overlays that mask non-essential elements of the games’ interfaces. This allows NASL.TV to use the recovered screen real estate for branding and to create compelling new elements for its show. For example, NASL.TV has developed a live ticker where it hosts live, interactive chat or Twitter feeds. This popular feature is a powerful tool for engaging the target audience.

Minimizing complication is essential to the smooth operation of any live production. Pixel Control Toolbox enabled NASL.TV to create its own unique user interface that streamlines graphics operation. The custom interface uses simple drop-down menus with relevant, non-technical labels that allow operators to quickly and accurately populate graphics templates.  As an added bonus, the easy to use interface has enabled NASL.TV to cut training time to a minimum.

The results

The team at NASL.TV is constantly looking to innovate. With Pixel Power Clarity in place, they have a powerful toolkit with which to explore additional methods of automating operations, developing new branding and sponsorship opportunities, expanding their creative palette, and further engaging their audience through social media.

Summary

NASL.TV sought to put its online, streamed programming on par visually with the world’s elite sports networks and further the appeal of e-Sports. Pixel Power Clarity has helped NASL.TV raise the production standards and expectations of what can be achieved by live, online production.