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Episode 14 – The New AV Frontier: eSports

eSports is a hot topic in the world of pro AV and beyond. In this episode, our guest Mike Morgan of New Era Tech will give us insight into the business side of this burgeoning industry. How are universities using eSports to recruit? What new businesses are being created to support this new trend? And of course what are the AV technologies and products that support this new ecosystem? All these questions will be answered on our show.

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Episode guest

Mike Morgan
CTS,DMC-D,XTP-E- Senior Account Executive, New Era Technology

Mike Morgan is passionate about providing unified technology solutions. He got into the industry nearly 30 years ago, straight out of college and has enjoyed nearly every day since. He has experience with virtually every aspect of AV from system design to commissioning and everything in between. Mike enjoys being involved with cutting-edge technology and providing well-thought-out solutions for clients. His philosophy –that there can never be enough attention paid to detail – serves him (and his clients) well.

Episode transcript

Justin Kennington (00:08):

Hello and welcome to SDVoE LIVE! I’m your host, Justin Kennington and this is TV for pro AV. We have a very interesting show for you today, a hot topic in the world of AV and elsewhere. It’s the world of esports. We’ve got a guest, our friend Mike Morgan, who works for a company called New Era Technology. Mike and New Era have been involved in a major large-scale esports installation at Harrisburg University. We’re going to talk to Mike about that and the bigger world of esports and specifically what it means to pro AV. I hope you’ll all stay tuned and watch for that. I also want to remind you to stick around for the aftershow. That’s exclusive content here in SDVoE Academy where you can ask questions of me or my co-host Matt Dodd and our guest, about esports and that whole world.

Now Matt’s going to show you some of the latest content here in SDVoE Academy about esports.

Matt Dodd (01:29):

Hi everybody. Have a look at this.

Speaker 1 (02:33):

What did your family do on those stay-indoors, rainy afternoons or on those cold blustery winter days? Families who are content to let television do its thing often find themselves at its mercy for their choice of entertainment while people who want television to do their thing; entertain themselves with Odyssey, Odyssey, Odyssey – the electronic game of the future.

Matt Dodd (03:34):

Esports is big, very big, and every gamer needs their audience to feel immersed in the experience. Vast arrays of screens and video walls fill an entire arena while hundreds of professional gamers sit at consoles competing for huge sums of money. The AV distribution system that looks after this lot needs to be up to the job. This course will show you how SDVoE is perfectly matched to this incredible new global phenomenon. Look up the word “esports” and you’ll see just how quickly this industry is growing.

Matt Dodd (04:32):

It was just a snippet there. Head over to the actual course “SDVoE in Esports” in SDVoE Academy and take a look.

Matt Dodd (05:43):

This market is huge. Isn’t it? Absolutely huge.

Justin Kennington (05:59):

It’s huge. I think what’s important right now is the rate of growth. It’s remarkable how fast this is catching on.

Matt Dodd (06:07):

Yeah, absolutely.

Without any further ado, let’s dig into the news. (Visit “Resources” on the episode 14 page in SDVoE Academy for links to the news articles.)

First up in today’s news is “The Esports Opportunity for the Broadcast, Pro AV and IT Industry”. It’s another market, another vertical. We’re bringing all these groups together – one billion dollars in revenue this year alone! With media deals, marketing, publishing, media rights and channels, they think that’s going to triple over the next five years. This is 450 million people watching gaming globally. It’s incredible, the growth is incredible. Justin, what do you think?

Justin Kennington (08:23):

It makes for sort of a problem with the kids, right, because now they’re playing video games and you tell them, put that down, go do your homework and they say, no, no, no, no! I’m studying for my scholarship. (laughter)

Matt Dodd (08:33):

I’m telling them to pick it up, pick it up, pick it up.

Justin Kennington (08:38):

Also mentioned in the piece, which by the way, was from our friends at Futuresource Consulting. (That’s an interesting segue because Adam Cox at Futuresource will be joining us on the next episode.) He mentioned that there actually is a push to try and get esports into the 2024 Olympic Games. That’s how serious this has become. Ten years ago I had heard of e-gaming and esports, but as an industry-level force, I don’t think it was there. In such a short time, to be talking about billions of dollars and Olympic Games at stake, it’s kind of amazing.

Matt Dodd (09:18):

2024 Olympics. Watch this space. My children might be in it. The prize money that these people get!

Let’s take a look at the second news piece you threw at us here, Justin. It’s an interesting one, certainly from my perspective, “There’s An Esports Technology Certification Now, and Integrators Should Capitalize”. What’s that about?

Justin Kennington (09:39):

As we start to focus our discussion on how esports impacts pro AV, you can very quickly imagine what that impact is going to be. We’re talking about stadiums, we’re talking about new facilities designed around moving high, high graphics fidelity, high frame rate content around facilities. This is right at the core of what pro AV does – audio and video distribution. It’s important for anyone who wants to take advantage of this opportunity to learn about what esports is. What does an arena look like from a technology layout perspective? That’s what we want to introduce you to here today, but it’s nice to see that people are going even deeper into it with deep education.

Something I found interesting that was mentioned in this article is the idea that esports can not only impact pro AV on that obvious business opportunity side, but that esports could be a really good area of recruitment for the pro AV industry. Here you have a bunch of mostly young people who have yet to start their careers, with a very tech savvy sort of bent, familiar with computers and monitors, and how they interact with one another. It could be a field ripe for the AV industry to start plucking talent and getting them started on careers in our world. What do you think, Matt? You’re our educator here. Is this something people should be learning about.

Matt Dodd (11:12):

I think it just makes sense, that it’s fantastic, really, that what kids were doing before, which was seen as a detraction from learning is now an opportunity for them to earn a lot of money and to do really well with a career in esports. The fact that the universities are helping to leverage that is a good thing. It gives an opportunity to stay within the academic world and help to support the growth, so brilliant. I’m all for it.

Mike Morgan knows this stuff. Should we bring him in?

Justin Kennington (13:13):

Thanks for joining us.

Mike Morgan (13:15):

Anytime

Justin Kennington (13:17):

Mike, let’s start off with a simple clarification, right? Is this esports or is it e-gaming that we’re talking about here and does that matter?

Mike Morgan (13:25):

This is esports. They are not gamers, they’re athletes and that’s the direction that they want to be taken in. They are athletes in the true sense of the word.

Justin Kennington (13:40):

It’s a growing up process for that industry, even to be thinking of itself in that level of branding, if you will, and of athleticism, right?

Mike Morgan (13:51):

Absolutely.

Justin Kennington (13:51):

That’s a skill I imagine that goes into the hand-eye coordination. We’ve talked a lot in the last few minutes about kind of the big picture of esports and what it means to the industry. Let’s focus in a little bit. You and New Era were involved with this installation at Harrisburg University. Walk us through that, why does a university want to spend so much time, money, and effort building an esports facility?

Mike Morgan (14:20):

Way back in 2018, I was approached by a very good client of ours, Harrisburg University, and they were mentioning an esports suite. Immediately I thought, oh, we’re setting up a room where kids can come in and play X-Box or PlayStation or something like that. Quickly that was no, that is not the case, it’s esports. So I had to do some digging into esports as well, because even though we sit here today and we look at esports and the growth of it to a billion dollar industry, in 2018, it was still emerging on the national scene. We had to wrap our arms around what esports was and once we did that we could start engaging Harrisburg University a little bit further as to what they were looking for as the ultimate outcome here.

What is this esports suite? And what do you guys really want to accomplish with this? Harrisburg University, a small STEM university, and obviously in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, probably has less than a thousand on-premises students and a lot of remote graduate students.  They’re led by a great president, Eric Darr, and he goes all-in on everything. He doesn’t dip his toes in the water, he jumps right in.

He knew exactly what he wanted to do with this program and vested fully into this. He wanted a space that was not only conducive to the esports gaming that they wanted to deploy here, but also as sort of a recruitment tool, much like a large university uses their stadium or their arenas to bring prospective recruits in. It’s impressive from that standpoint, but it also shows how vested that particular university is into that program so it was a twofold thing. It was not only something to be productive, but also something that they can use to recruit potential athletes.

Justin Kennington (16:40):

Sort of a virtuous cycle too, right? The more of those athletes you get in, the more they will improve your programs and that’s how it is.

Mike Morgan (16:51):

That leverages the ability for Harrisburg University and other colleges and universities to bring in top athletes into their programs. When Harrisburg was developing this program, they brought in 300 potential athletes for the program. They were awarding, I believe it was, 20-22 full scholarships to Harrisburg University. They had a pool of about 300 and that was worldwide. We’ll get into some of the logistics on that in a little bit, but that was worldwide. They wanted to get a very good esports program right out of the gate. In hindsight here, looking back, they were, I believe it was Overwatch champions, national champions for the first two years. They jumped into that pool all the way up to their neck, from the facilities all the way into the athletes that they went out and got.

Justin Kennington (17:52):

Okay, I want to get back to the sort of university business side of this, but first, and I’ll remind folks, you can visit  our website for the case study “NETGEAR and SDVoE power Harrisburg University’s esports facility” to get some real details on it. But Mike, in a few words, can you give us a picture of the technology in the system? What does it look like? What does it do?

Mike Morgan (18:10):

We were brought in at the design level. We also deployed the build side of it, which is key in a lot of these facilities, because you have to work with the architect, you have to work with the general contractor. There’s a lot of infrastructure that you need to get in place to make sure you have an effective deployment. What they really wanted was an impressive video wall that they can partition up. There was a lot of back and forth with technologies involved from LED walls to LCD displays. We landed on Barco UniSee displays because the proximity from the viewer to the wall was going to be around ten feet. It could even be a little bit closer.

Even though we could have done that with LED walls, pixel pitch is going to get really tight and obviously the cost associated with that is going to get pretty expensive. We landed on that and then deployment, as far as moving that signal around, obviously SDVoE was the distribution that we decided upon. Some of the manufacturers we used for that were Aurora Multimedia for transceivers to push that signal around and NETGEAR SDVoE switches. To control all this, we used a Crestron control system that is a standard at the university. Not to be forgotten, in esports audio is a big thing. We had some nice JBL line arrays that were deployed, not only for program audio, but then we distributed some of the microphone reinforcement throughout the facility with some of their pendants speakers that we were able to hang throughout the facility as well. That’s a little bit of the manufacturers and the backbone on what we deployed in there. Anything specific you want to know, Justin? You just go right ahead.

Justin Kennington (20:10):

Well, you mentioned sound reinforcement. I’m just curious, I know that in many of these games, the players have their headset on so they can talk to their teammates inside the game. Are you accessing that audio feed at all and piping that out to the arena? Is that a thing that happens or does that stay private for the players? How does that work?

Mike Morgan (20:28):

We can do that, the facility does have that ability to do that. They typically don’t because this is their practice suite. It’s not really a suite where we would deploy gaming competitions. The way we have the video wall laid out is a 3×3 wall in the center and then flanking either side are 2×2 walls. We gave them the ability to partition this up. Most esports gaming competitions are six on six, so they can partition that wall into a 6×6 area where they can have six on six competitions and see all six gamers at the same time.

That’s good for the coaches and the directors so that they can put them in certain scenarios and evaluate them and give them pointers without hanging over them one by one, trying to run around the room and see everybody individually. That really worked out well for them. The audio is not really in a competition-type mode, but they can play back things. Twitch obviously is the streaming for esports. If they’re watching Twitch competitions where they’re sitting around as a team and they want to pump audio in there, that’s big. They wanted to make sure they had full, robust audio throughout the facility as well.

Justin Kennington (22:04):

Makes sense. Harrisburg is a smaller university. I’m wondering where the trends are. Is this about smaller universities seeing this opportunity to step into a new arena as a big player? Are the big universities getting into this space as well? Who’s in, who’s out and who’s moving in these days.

Mike Morgan (22:26):

All the universities are getting into this esports arena for competition levels. To answer your question, yes, the smaller university saw an opportunity that they can deploy a varsity-level athletic program without having to invest the tens and sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars in stadiums and facilities and everything to be competitive with large universities all over the world. Someone like Harrisburg, this is their only varsity athletic sport program so there’s no way that they’re going to be able to get into basketball or football or something without major investments

Being a STEM university, they’re really focused on the sciences and the technology side, so this made perfect sense for them. When you look at the top programs in esports right now, you’re going to see a lot of universities in there where you scratch your head and go, what, Harrisburg, Maryville, Georgia Southern?  These universities have top esports programs because they got into the game early, they build out these facilities, they’re becoming known as the premier higher education esports programs. The larger universities will get into this, but to be quite honest with you, the larger universities, they’re fighting for budget dollars from their basketball, their football, their volleyball, or hockey, whatever program they have in there. They are being competitive, but the smaller colleges have more resources available to pump into this and really rise to the top level of this competition.

Justin Kennington (24:10):

That makes sense and that’s a good stopping point for us now. I’m going to go chat with Matt for a minute, and I hope we’ll see you back at the aftershow, Mike. We’ll see what the audience wants to ask about.

Matt Dodd (26:11):

The next episode is in two week’s time, episode 15, “The Evolution of Office Space”. Tell us more.

Justin Kennington (26:59):

We’re going to bring on our friend, Adam Cox, a senior analyst at Futuresource and he’s going to talk about the big trends that have been going on in commercial real estate, in the office. We’ve been on open floor plans for a while and huddle spaces and a move from a technology perspective towards the bring your own meeting approach to technology spaces. Now that we’ve had a pandemic overlay itself on, well, everything in our lives, we’re going to look at what trends have been accelerated, what trends have been cut off and where are we headed in the future of the workplace, of course, with a special eye on the technology for AV and IT that exists in that workplace. Should be a very interesting episode so I hope you join us for that.

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