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Season 2, Episode 12 – SDVoE in Esports

Esports is the new frontier in collegiate athletics and a quickly growing segment of the pro AV industry. SDVoE is a perfect fit for this space, because it is the only networked AV solution that offers the image quality and latency performance that gamers demand. Compression is not an option when virtual lives are on the line! Join guest Eric Farkas from Black Box to talk about the recent installation of an esports arena at UNC Chapel Hill. We will also look at how pro AV can serve this white hot growth market.

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Episode guest

Eric Farkas, Product Manager, Black Box

Episode Transcript

Justin Kennington: 00:06

Hello, everybody. Hello and welcome once again to SDVoE Live. I’m your host, Justin Kennington. And this is TV for pro AV. We are bringing back a topic for the first time, I think that we’ve covered the same topic twice, and that topic is eSports today. We’re going to talk about SDVoE and eSports, and we’re going to talk a little bit about the business opportunity that exists for system integrators, for system designers in the world of eSports. Before we get too far in, I want to make sure and welcome everybody watching us on the SDVoE Academy. Welcome everyone watching us on the lAVnch platform. And don’t forget about those of you watching us on YouTube Live, on LinkedIn live and on Twitter Live. So thanks everyone for tuning in, and don’t forget to check out the archives on YouTube if you’ve missed any episodes.

So today’s guest Eric Farkas. He’s a product manager for AV systems at Black Box, and he was involved in a big installation at the university of North Carolina. It’s a major trend to have universities, colleges, even K-12 institutions, putting in eSports systems to support their students, to support their student athletes. I can only imagine considering how much I played video games when I was a child. If I had also been able to tell my parents, no, no, no, no, no. I’m not just playing video games, I’m practicing for my college scholarships. I would have probably devoted my entire life to that. Meanwhile, I am totally useless in any of the games that they play in these eSports. I’ve only heard of them. I don’t know what an Overwatch is. I’ve never done a Minecraft. I don’t even think that’s an eSports game. What are the others?

I don’t know. We’re going to find out. That’s what we’re here to do, to learn and study. Eric told me when he and I were chatting the other day, I remember when eSports meant hanging around the Pac-Man machine with your friends standing on chairs, as somebody was going for high score. And I was kind of right there with him. So if you have questions for me, for Eric Farkas, for Matt Dodd, send them to us Your emails will reach us right over there on that desk. You can also get us in the chat if you’re in the SDVoE academy or on lAVnch, be sure and say hi to the moderators, say hi to your fellow audience members and get your questions in. We’re going to have a live aftershow where we can handle those questions and tell you what you want to know. So with that, let’s get to the show. First, I’m going to send you all to a quiz. Let’s bring Matt in and see what’s going on. What’s cooking in the hotline central. Matt, are you there?

Matt Dodd: 03:00

Chuckie Egg, Chuckie Egg was my game. Do you remember that?

Justin Kennington: 03:05

Oh yeah. We’ve talked about that before. Well, I don’t know the game at all, but I remember I was going to say you’ve shouted Chuckie Egg at me before.

Matt Dodd: 03:11

It was brilliant.

Justin Kennington: 03:13

This time, I remember.

Matt Dodd: 03:14

I was the king at Chuckie Egg. I wish there was gaming for Chuckie Egg. I’d be going to school. I’ve been teaching Chuckie Egg. Hi everybody. It’s me again, Matt. I’m back here with a team of moderators, as I always am. Grabbing all of your questions. Eric’s here with Justin to chat about the explosion in online gaming and eSports. So get your comments and your questions in, email or for those inside the academy, you lucky things, use the chat just below us. Give us your feedback on the show. We need it. Let us know what you think, who you want to see? What happens next? What sort of eSports and gaming you were good at? I’ve had a question asked per usual here already. Sam Farhut from Weathersby. He asks how can an integrator get involved and make money in eSports? How can he make revenue in eSports? Turn it into a business. That’s a really good question.

Justin Kennington: 04:08

That’s a good question. That’s something I want to focus on in our chat today. So why don’t we get to that, but why don’t you come join us in the studio first and let’s check out the news.

Matt Dodd: 04:17

Love to. It never gets any easier. Never gets any easier, that run down the stairs. Hello, sir.

Justin Kennington: 04:47

Hello. That’s because I have them extended every week. There’s five extra steps weekly.

Matt Dodd: 04:51

Yeah. I thought that was the case. Yeah. With our real studio and our real extending stairs. Yeah. Well, that’s it. With ISE coming up InfoComm, got to make sure that I’m in shape this week, shapes a pair. Anyway, so things good with you this week. All good over there in the house. Everything good?

Justin Kennington: 05:10

Yeah. Having a great time. You mentioned ISE and InfoComm. There’s certainly lots of effort, work, planning going on. I still haven’t booked a hotel because I struggle when I into a town I don’t know. I want to get the right spot and the right place. And I’m worried it’s going to be awful, but I spend a lot of effort finding something good. So I hope it works out.

Matt Dodd: 05:31

You can come and stay with me, I don’t mind and on that, but on that point, let’s do some news.

So first up, you mentioned earlier on, the UNC esports arena, it’s the story about the Carolina gaming arena at the University of North Carolina. I still remember all that. They’ve got an on-campus gaming community. This is just fantastic. My son’s going to love all this. So that’s where they bring a community together, a gaming community together, as well as it plays home to the Carolina’s eSports teams. And it’s powered by Black Box’s, SDVoE products, MCX, which I’m sure we’re going to hear more about today. For me, Justin, I just, it’s great to see SDVoE technology showcasing so successfully in the eSports market. Because this marketplace is only going to get bigger. And I also like the fact that Lee Hyde the Infotech director there at the campus, he mentioned how simple it is to control his 29 system displays as well. He can go in to switch them all on and off. He loved the way, the simplicity that SDVoE handled all those various different control commands, love this piece. What’s your take? You’ll love it. I you love it as well?

Justin Kennington: 06:47

I’m going to talk more about it with Eric, but thank you for that overview. And I want to encourage everyone to look at the links below and read through it yourselves. And we’ll hear some of the background on it from Eric in a few minutes. Let’s see what we have next.

Matt Dodd: 06:59

What do we have next? Well, this is a unusual one for us, it’s a podcast with these two guys. There they are, these two guys, selling services and expertise and consultation to eSports clients, a podcast from Dan Ferrisi. I think that’s how we spell it. That’s how we say it, Ferrisi. Editor in chief and a way of commercial integrator, hoping to see soon. Talking about amongst other things, the opportunities out there in eSports for you guys, commercial AV integrators. What do you think? What did you take away from this podcast? 25 minute podcast, worth listening.

Justin Kennington: 07:33

Yeah, I thought it was definitely worth listening to. For me, the real thesis of it was, in the broader context of the world, right? As we moved to hybrid working spaces, as we moved to a working remotely environment, an industry that’s really leading the way on that is going to be eSports, right? He said in the podcast, right? The days of the land party are over. Gaming can be all done remotely. Gaming is of course, there will be the big arenas. There will be the big events. The things like are built at UNC, but the vast majority of this market is about streaming content over the internet and letting people tune into your Twitch channel. And so eSports is an industry that’s really embracing this hybrid, this remote model for everything that they do. And so what’s the opportunity then for system integrators? Well, as he put it, first of all, these guys, they know gaming, they don’t necessarily know AV.

They don’t want to know AV. He said, setting up your streaming rig is like changing the oil in your car. You might very well know how to do it. And yet you’d rather just pay someone 50 bucks to take care of it for you. And so the opportunity is to reach out to the folks that you know, that are in this space, or get to know folks in this space and share your expertise, right? Here’s how you choose a camera. Here’s how you choose a microphone that makes you look good. Here’s how you connect and set up your streaming software to make an impact, to make a good quality production. He also mentioned a software I’ll say, product called OBS studio or OBS project at, which is a freeware as I see it. And I interpret, a freeware virtual studio production software. He said it’s very commonly used in the game streaming industry. And so if you want to get into it, learn about how to use that software. And he said, basically, these gamers will pay you to go set up their rig on OBS for them.

Matt Dodd: 09:33

Yeah. I took that away as well, integrators, they need to research their area of expertise. And if you haven’t got a particular area of expertise, well you will have, but if there’s honing on one, become the expert in a very specific part of this whole arena expert, the live production facilities, the broadcasting, the streaming, as we’ve mentioned. And of course the video distribution element of it as well with technology like SDVoE, become the expert in a very specific arena or a very specific part of this. And you’ll be part of that journey. There was an interesting focus as well for me on revenue market, from a gamer perspective. They don’t want to spend lots and lots of money as gamers. They’re already spending the money on the camera and the microphone and the computer and what have you. So there’s certain elements, where is the marketplace? Where is their money to be made? So become the expert in a specific field. It was a good piece. Let’s take a look at our last piece, the third news item.

Justin Kennington: 10:35

Speaking of becoming an expert.

Matt Dodd: 10:36

News. Oh, we haven’t got a third. I thought we had a third. Oh, my apologies. I thought we had a third talking about a high school, an eSports high school opening in Japan, which I loved that. Cheerleaders saying, go, go, eSports, go eSports. I’m not going to do the cheerleader thing. I know a load of you want me to do it, but I’m not going to do it. But obviously the industry’s huge JK. If we’ve got an eSports high, hey, where do you go? I got to an eSports high.

Justin Kennington: 11:06

And it is down in the resources, link below, click the link and check it out because you’ve got to see the pictures of this. I don’t know many technically minded, nerdy sort of high school that wouldn’t give a left leg to go to high school that looks like this. And where they learn video gaming as curriculum.

Matt Dodd: 11:24

Did you not think though, it looked very similar to our old studio?

Justin Kennington: 11:29

I noticed that and I wondered who picked up the lease on that place after we were out.

Matt Dodd: 11:33

They’ve done a great job. And I want to leave you with Eric, so have a great interview and I’ll catch you a bit later.

Justin Kennington: 11:38

Thanks, Matt. Well, as I mentioned, Eric is a product manager for AV solutions at Black Box. He oversees their MCX product line, which is based on SDVoE. And which was the heart of this UNC install. Why don’t we bring on in Eric and let’s have a chat. Eric, good afternoon. Thank you for joining us.

Eric Farkas: 11:58

Hey Justin, how you doing?

Justin Kennington: 12:01

I’m doing well. So tell us a little bit about what happened. How did it start when the University of North Carolina calls up and says, we want to do an eSports facility, what were they looking to accomplish?

Eric Farkas: 12:16

Well, it was quite a laundry list of what they were looking to accomplish. There was sort of an academic aspect, a competitive aspect, a research aspect, a social aspect. So really what it boiled down to is, they wanted to renovate an old dormitory space to make a arena, basically for their eSports team, for the actual competitors. But they also wanted to include teaching so that competitors and professors could work with other students to learn about eSports. They wanted to create a healthy eSports environment, right? That’s where the research comes in and they trying to sort of reduce the stigma around gaming, right? That it’s bad for you, that it’s unhealthy for you and come up with new and creative ways. And the biggest part of it, or where we came in or the MCX and the SDVoE technology comes in is the spectator areas, right?

They wanted to create a lounge. This brings students in, maybe students that have never done any kind of gaming or anything. They come in, they sit down, they watch, they learn, they interact with each other very social aspect. And then also for small competition, they wanted to have a spectator area where they could have many screens, audio streams, bleacher style seating, basically get people in there. Cheer on the team, cheer on their favorite players and be able to see right, most eSports, the players sitting in front of a PC rig or some kind of a console system. They’re very close to the screen, they’re blocking the screen from competition.

So we need a way to get that video and audio out of that PC or out of that gaming console to be in front of the spectators. And we need a way to mix. Also, you mentioned in your introduction systems like OBS, maybe vMix, to put together the camera view, right? When you got competitors with their backs to you, you can’t see the expressions on their face, their reactions to the game. So all of this leads up to what the desired effect is. There’s just a lot, a lot of factors going on.

Justin Kennington: 14:21

That makes a lot of sense. Now, there are a lot of ways, there are a lot of different technologies that could move signals from a video game to some spectator monitors. Why is MCX and SDVoE a better choice than a different AV-over-IP or a matrix solution?

Eric Farkas: 14:37

So there’s a lot of different reasons. I think one of the first and primary in these applications is compatibility with the existing network. A lot of the folks that run these arenas are professors, sometimes they’re teacher assistants. They’re not IT people, they’re not networking people, they’re not AV people. So they want something that can be supported by their organization, whether it’s a K-12, or whether it’s a college or university, they want something that the IT administrator can control, can form, can meet policy and stuff like that. I think the second biggest thing, and it might be equally important, but limited latency or no latency, right? We have to treat this like any other sporting event. We can’t have the crowd reacting to something that happened as, that a competitor does seconds later, right?

We need this to happen simultaneously. I think flexibility and expandability are huge. Most of these arenas are startups at this point. So, they may be deploying 20, 30 screens, but they have hopes to grow and they have hopes to move to larger venues. So they want to be able to leverage this technology and add endpoints to sources and displays basically in a very quick turn fashion, multi view is somewhat important when you’re doing head-to-head competitions, trying to reach the finish line. So being able to create a multi view, or even be able to cast that multi view up onto a video wall, very, very important things. And audio comes a lot into play, right? Games are not games without audio, try playing your favorite game on mute sometime. And you’re like, wow, I miss the sounds. I miss the music. I miss the, so how do you get that?

How do you bring that experience into the audience and the spectators, right? So all of these things are very, very important, last but not least, this might be the somewhat specific to UNC, but I think we’ve had this conversation with many, many customers is, how do we control this? And not just, how do we control it, like push buttons or send commands or whatever, but how do we make it controllable by the student population, by the competitors, by the coaches, we need something really, really simple. An SDVoE or the MCX technology leverages an API that can be easily controlled by any external control system. And it’s pretty easy to make those overlays, send those commands, you can create drag and drop or pull down list, or whatever you really want. And that resonates with the folks that are going to actually use this system. It’s basically no learning curve.

Justin Kennington: 17:15

So you just, you made a beautiful segue to what I wanted to ask about next, which is control. Like, as you say, SDVoE gives a common API for all the devices, but then something has to live on top of that to be the user experience, to be the software that’s providing the day-to-day control. So at UNC, what is that software or hardware combination? What is the control system?

Eric Farkas: 17:37

They’re using the Black Box control bridge? It’s a 12 inch touch panel, basically that has a custom overlay, has the UNC logo, the UNC colors, all that. And it basically has a list of sources. It has a list of multi views, and those can be dragged and dropped onto basically any of their 29 displays, whether they’re column displays or whether they’re in front of the spectator area.

Justin Kennington: 18:01

Okay. All right. Cool. Let’s take a little more broad general look than just UNC. These days we know that colleges and even high schools and other K-12 organizations are moving towards eSports. So what does it look like when they put out a request for a proposal, what do they think they’re trying to accomplish and what are they asking for?

Eric Farkas: 18:28

The interesting thing about that is there’s very little technology in these proposals, right? These requests are all around creating an environment, creating an atmosphere. So it leads a lot. You asked the question earlier, or maybe Matt did about integrators, and this is a great opportunity for systems integrators to go through and sort of read this environment that they want to create and start to spec in, the products and technologies and softwares control systems, displays, and network, ultimately that will make this happen. These are not traditional, what I would consider IT or AV specs. These are more about, this is what we want to create. This is what we want to do with it. It’s more of a purpose, for the room or the facility of the arena, less about technology.

Justin Kennington: 19:21

That probably contrasts with, what am I trying to say, with a more, let’s say normal RFP, meaning, somebody who’s saying we want some technology in a conference room. I feel like, and I’ve heard it on this show before from other guests, that the end customer might come in and say, I want this, this, and this, this technology. It sounds like what you’re saying is, when it’s eSports, maybe there’s a new world aspect to it. They don’t know the technology as well. And so they’re asking for an environment, is that what you think is going on there or am I maybe misunderstanding a little?

Eric Farkas: 19:58

No, that’s exactly what’s going on. You’re right. When we get requests for proposal or quote for conference rooms, a lot of times they have already picked out what their camera system’s going to be, what their speaker is going to be, microphones, all this kind of stuff, because they have some kind of experience with it. And their IT staff is used to supporting certain types of devices, things they like, things they can remote control, things they can remote administrate, eSports seems to be a bit different in the fact that the folks that are setting this up don’t know what technology’s out there to support it. So they’re not specking in, they might pick out some displays or something that fit their room or fit their design. But beyond that, what happens behind the scenes? What makes it all, what makes the magic happen. So to speak is generally not on the RFP.

Justin Kennington: 20:48

So it sounds like then, there must be a big opportunity for someone in AV, for the integrators, for the designers who do understand this stuff. What should they be doing to take advantage of the growth here?

Eric Farkas: 21:04

Well, certainly learning about the technologies out there, visiting eSports venues is key to understanding. This is a very different venue than a typical or traditional sports, I guess I should call it. So really understanding how people consume and connect with these competitors of these games is one of the big keys. Learning how they want to manipulate video. Every eSports venue has something slightly different. You might see, we want to distribute video to a bunch of screens. That’s sort of a common characteristic or a common application, right? But then you have other venues that say, we want to do side by side or head to head. You have venues that say, we want to bring in video from every competitor. We want to mix it into what’s distributed out. So everybody can see a face, audio. Dante is a buzzword in eSports right now because it gives the ability to get that audio coming out of those gaming rigs or consoles onto the network.

And it allows the spectators or the consumers of this to tune into individualized channels, right? Because if they would put all of the audio up there, just in some cacphoniness mess, nobody would be able to understand it, or it wouldn’t be intelligible not to mention that it makes it hard to make announcements throughout, as you’re commentating the eSports event. So you’ll see a lot of people sitting in the stands with cell phones in their hand and buds in their ears so that they can listen to their favorite competitor, or they can listen to the head to head or whatever it is that they want to tune into. And if they want to change, they can easily do that, they just tune into another string, right?

So those are all really key things for integrators to learn. There’s also a lot of aesthetics going into eSports, not necessarily as a technology guide, not necessarily me, but there’s, the technology gets built into these aesthetics, right? They’re making logos with displays in an architectural type arrangement, neon lighting, things that move, retract into the ceiling, even lighting control, stuff like that to becoming very, very important. So a lot of the traditional skillset of the system integrator applies and they can leverage all of that with eSports design.

Justin Kennington: 23:28

Yeah. I’m reminded of seriously, go click on that link to the Japanese eSports high school. And you’ll see this where aesthetics and technology meet, because it’s an amazing looking facility because that’s important, right? What do they say? You eat with your eyes first, right? I think that’s true with anything. If it looks cool, then people are going to be attracted to it and want to learn more about it. I wanted to hear a little bit more about audio, because when we were chatting the other day, you inspired me to realize, oh yeah, every player in a game has a different audio perspective on the game. So what do you feed to the audience? Tell us a little bit more about, we’ve got one minute left here. Tell us a little bit more about this approach, where the audience has their own channels, their own headsets. Is there silence in the room or are they just blocking out the PA, how does that work?

Eric Farkas: 24:18

Every arena has their own approach. Most arenas will take the lead competitor and they will put their audio over the channel and then they’ll do a push to talk interrupt with the commentary. However, that’s only one viewpoint, right? You’re watching one competitor, or maybe if it’s a head to head competition, two competitors. So it’s becoming very commonplace to use mixing tools like the vMix and the OBS that you mentioned earlier to pull those streams out, or maybe it’s done on a digital board, like a roller board or something like that, where it’s sent out to the internet so that people can basically tap into that audio stream. Very much like traditional sports, your baseball, you have your local, for your home team and you’ve got a visiting team stream so that you can listen to your local commentators.

It’s the same way with eSports competitors, you can listen to your favorite competitors’ audio. You can even, in some cases, if the game is interactive or team based, you can get their reactions from their microphone. So it’s real simple. It’s just like any other streaming service. You basically go into a website, clicking on a link and listening. And if you want change, just go back to another link.

Justin Kennington: 25:25

Press the SAP button for Espanol. Eric stay right there.

Eric Farkas: 25:28

You got it.

Justin Kennington: 25:28

We’re going to have you back on for questions from the audience and the aftershow. And I’m going to send all of you to a fact check.

Matt Dodd: 25:34

Oh, great interview. Love the interview. And thank you for your questions so far, please don’t forget to check out the related courseware in a resource panel below me. There’s actually a link to the season one episode, which Justin offered, talked about earlier on, and which offer a lot of insight as to why colleges are doing eSports, as well as a great case study on there. Great case study on there for Harrisburg University. You should check that out as well. So really good stuff down there. Please keep them coming in. And let’s head over, back over to Justin now to find out what’s happening next week. And I’ll see you in the after show.

Justin Kennington: 26:32

Guys, eSports is a huge topic. There is so much to learn and so much opportunity for those who learn it first. I know I’ve still got a lot to catch up on. It’s great to have a show like this, where I can bring on guests and ask the questions that I want to know about. So speaking of questions, what are the questions on your mind? What have you not quite figured out about eSports? Remember to send us emails to You can reach us on social media at #SDVoELive, on Twitter, on LinkedIn. You’ll find us there. I want to offer a special thanks this week to our sponsor for the show Black Box. So big thanks to black box for helping us out in that way. Our next episode is coming up in two weeks from today, we’re going to be talking about large format LEDs.

You may have heard me spout off some of my crazy theories about these before, but I really think that the large format direct view LED is the future of displays. I think we’re going to move to a world where all of our displays are LEDs and the flexibility that gives us, allows us to really move away from 16 by nine rectangles as just what TVs look like. Imagine displays in any shape, displays on every wall, real Blade Runner kind of stuff. So we’re going to be talking about that with our guests from SNA displays in a couple of weeks on April 19th. So look for that and make sure to tune in. We do this every two weeks in fact. So if you miss an episode, don’t forget to catch us on YouTube.

We’ve got to channel up there that has all of the archive of SDVoE Live not only the full live shows, but also the interview sections, the news segments, everything you want to see. So make sure that you catch us there. Don’t forget to like, and subscribe. Another big thanks to Rave and hello to everyone watching us on their lAVnch platform. And with that, I’m going to sign off and head to the after show, stay right where you are and we will see you there for your live questions for me, for Eric and for Matt. See you soon.


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