Software Infrastructure Global Viewpoint – July 2021
Why Esports Is Interesting
IP is more than just a transport stream; it encapsulates a whole new way of thinking and esports is an exemplar of the IP and agile methodologies that deliver truly innovative workflows and mindsets.
Static SDI and AES networks have served the broadcast industry well and will continue to do so for many years to come. But the lack of flexibility is starting to show its limitations and so we look to IP for system elasticity.
The principal reason that IP is so flexible is because the payload has no knowledge of the data it is transporting and to a considerable extent it does not care. There are fields in the header that describe the data such as UDP and TCP, but this is to help software further up the ISO seven-layer model to reliably decode the application data.
This flexibility provides many different possibilities as the protocol is not locked to any custom hardware. Unlike SDI and AES that require synchronous interface solutions with specific chipsets, broadcast facilities working with IP use ethernet or fiber interface cards that are available from multiple vendors and have applications that extend far beyond broadcasting.
Esports has grown up from the perspective of IT moving to broadcasting. In other words, it has moved from the opposite position of television. This has some incredibly interesting ramifications for broadcasters as we get a hint of how esports people think when we analyze their systems.
Hundreds of video streams are simultaneously multiplexed over IP networks with differing formats, compression types and bitrates. There is no small group of standards that esports stick to such as 4K60P or HD, instead they use the format that is needed to deliver the optimal immersive viewing experience. This may well be 4K60P, but it could be a higher rate frame format when streaming the players game. Or it could be a highly compressed stream with a lower frame rate and reduced resolution when showing the commentator.
Being able to write your own custom software to solve specific challenges is second nature to esports engineers. It might only be a piece of code that exists for a single production, or it could be a more long-term solution. But esports engineers are more than happy to jump onto a server and start hacking code. Whether bash or python scripts for automation, RUST for data gathering and HTML page reporting, or C for low level data manipulation and signal processing, software is the go-to tool.
IT is known for its tight processes as a single seemingly unrelated change can take channels off air. The esports engineers are equally careful, but there simply isn’t time to fill in pieces of paper when designing and building systems. The test is in the delivery.
Esports is interesting due to the fast-paced nature of their development and transmissions. Production requirements change quickly, and engineers must respond. Agile methodologies are more than just software development paradigms, their about change and fast delivery. In this regard, broadcast engineers have much in common with Esports technologists.