Electronic Arts chooses Grass Valley for futureproofed distributed remote production of FIFA 21 and Apex Legends
EA Sports’ FIFA 21 and Apex Legends will now be delivered using a cloud-based, distributed remote production workflow from Grass Valley.
Electronic Arts Competitive Gaming Entertainment (CGE), EA’s esports division, selected the GV Agile Media Processing Platform (AMPP) to enable fully distributed, remote productions for its two major competitive gaming events.
Previously, EA Sports had experimented with cloud-based systems from a number of providers, but had not found a cohesive way of making its broadcasts work smoothly. Mike Cronk, VP of advanced technology at Grass Valley, told SVG Europe: “While most of its events were produced with conventional broadcast technology, EA had been experimenting with cloud-based remote production processes before the COVID-19 outbreak, but it was struggling to deliver its content in a manner that would be sustainable long term. It had been using a collection of off-the-shelf products and experimented with homegrown solutions.”
Joe Lynch, EA CGE’s head of broadcast, commented: “We learned a live production in the cloud brings together several unrelated systems, creating a lot of complexity; if one part of the workflow fails, the entire system falls down. These were unique, unprecedented circumstances to solve for during COVID-19 in order to continue esports competition.”
Cronk added that cloud technologies can be risky: “Utilising the cloud in the broadcast sector is challenging. Just a two second delay or out-of-sync audio can destroy the viewing experience, both for the producer and particularly the watching audience. EA previously faced the complexity of managing multiple, unrelated systems. It meant that if just one part of the workflow failed, it could cause the entire system to fall down.
“Through GV AMPP, EA now has all the tools it needs to move its entire remote production processes to one platform; it’s homogenous and is part of the same media ecosystem,” he noted.
The end-to-end cloud workflow allows EA to deliver broadcast quality storytelling to its global fanbase with a production team working from their respective homes, regardless of where the live tournament is taking place.
Cronk said: “EA will continue to use both traditional fixed facilities and cloud production. Cloud-based production allows EA to augment fixed facility capacity and/or address situations where distributed remote production is necessary, either due to the pandemic or where travel costs dictate.
“What’s notable about EA’s approach was that AMPP was not the first thing they tried when it came to cloud production; EA FIFA and APEX chose AMPP for their cloud production needs after a thorough evaluation of other cloud production technologies. Key factors in EA’s decision for AMPP were its high production values and storytelling capabilities, its ability to enable true ‘work from home’ remote productions, its extensive probing and monitoring capabilities and its ability to easily scale and pivot to any geography. Through its efforts, its thorough investigations, and now its experience, it’s safe to say that EA is in the vanguard of cloud-based live production.”
The workflow utilises Grass Valley’s GV Korona switcher control panel connected over the public internet to a K-Frame production centre engine running on GV AMPP. This deployment is the first use case of Grass Valley’s K-Frame on AMPP. The solution allows technical directors to use a range of familiar Grass Valley switcher panels such as the Kayenne, Karrera, Korona, and KSP control surfaces that are connected over the public internet to a cloud-based production centre engine running on the GV AMPP platform.
K-Frame on AMPP enables a smooth transition to cloud-based production, Cronk explained. “Show files transfer easily between a hardware and software environment. Any control surface operates in the same way, ensuring technical directors can work intuitively, by ‘muscle memory’, and with the feel of traditional hardware while fully leveraging the advantages of remote, virtualised production.”
Following a trial with Grass Valley for an Apex Legends live tournament in early December, EA first went live with AMPP later that month to support its FIFA 21 Global Series European Qualifier 1 Event that took place on 12 to 13 December.
More than 20 camera feeds from Europe and additional live contribution feeds for the talent came into an AWS datacenter in Northern Virginia. EA’s technical director, Geoff Butler, punched the show using GV K-Frame on AMPP from his base in Sacramento, US. The production went off without a hitch, thanks to AMPP’s low-latency and intelligent timing management capability, with no perceivable difference to punching the show in a physical studio.
Lynch commented: “Grass Valley’s GV AMPP was a helpful solution, bringing all of our needs together within one harmonised ecosystem. AMPP gives us a professional broadcast quality platform – in the cloud – with the production values and the reliability that we need to give our fans the best experience. For our operators, using K-Frame in the cloud was seamless, with no perceivable difference to working in a studio environment.”
By migrating its operations to AMPP, EA can deliver 100% cloud-based processing across the globe when needed and benefit from the solution’s flexible and scalable capabilities, including extremely low latency, high quality probing, and monitoring.
Cronk went on: “Unlike many other software applications used in cloud production, AMPP is the first system solution with a breadth of broadcast-grade production tools, from Grass Valley’s K-frame production switcher, to its powerful new audio mixer supporting up to 64 stems and all the features one would expect in a professional audio mixer. AMPP’s UI are operator-specific and designed to tackle the needs of professional broadcaster and streaming service today and in the future.”
Grass Valley’s K-Frame switcher now seamlessly integrates with the AMPP platform with a simple software upgrade. While the physical switcher panel remains, the frame runs on either a COTS server or a public cloud service. With K-Frame on AMPP, operators can set up a show on a regular K-Frame, then punch it using an AMPP-connected frame accessing all the familiar functions they are used to. For EA, the familiar operator-specific UI is central to ensuring productions run smoothly and consistently.
Alongside K-Frame on AMPP, EA’s set-up includes a range of AMPP applications, including Master Control, Flow Monitors, Clip Players, Master Control Switcher, I/O, Test Signal Generators, AV Mux, Delay module, HTML 5 Graphics Render, Multiviewer, Recorders and Streamers. The team has access to extensive probing and monitoring capabilities for transparency across all parts of the workflow.
The Grass Valley system will be used on an ongoing basis for the 2020-2021 FIFA World Cup qualifying tournaments.