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Why Network Infrastructure is an Increasingly Critical Piece of the Gaming and Esports Ecosystem

Article from Telstra

Mon 08, 02 2021

In May 2019, the League of Legends Mid-Season Invitational, set in Chinese Taipei and Vietnam, drew peak viewership north of 1.7 million. The massive audience watched in near real-time as G2 Esports claimed the title, knocking off Team Liquid 3-0 in the finals.

Production for the event was done remotely, thousands of miles away in Riot Games’ studio in Los Angeles. Via a mix of local internet providers in combination with Riot Direct, the company’s privately owned global internet network, video and audio HD feeds were sent from Asia to L.A., where the feeds were edited, finalized for broadcast and sent back to streaming and broadcast partners throughout the world.

“All of that took a matter of moments, and it’s an awesome success story,” said Adam Day, Head of Technology + Media, Americas for Telstra, whose global network of fiber-optic subsea cables supports Riot Direct. “Riot now handles all of their production for global events out of those studios, leaning heavily on our network infrastructure.”

Contrast this to less fortunate stories around the gaming universe. For example, a professional gamer loses in a major tournament because of latency issues. Or more players than anticipated logon for the launch of a new title, resulting in thousands of gamers being kicked off or unable to connect. This seems particularly problematic in China, where up to 25 percent of mobile gamers recently said they have turned off a game and moved on to the next one because of technical difficulties, according to a 2020 survey by market research firm Niko Partners.

Highly important, but far less talked about

Success in this industry is dependent on a multitude of factors: storylines and graphics, community and competition, but also a far less talked about and visible consideration – the reliability of the network through which publishers get their games into players’ hands or esports properties broadcast their events around the world.

“As a gamer, you just assume the network will be there when you want to play,” Day said. “It’s not visible until something goes wrong. But there’s a considerable amount of work that goes into ensuring that the network is reliable, fast and efficient. It’s critical that game publishers and esports companies are working closely with telecom network providers like Telstra to do that.”

In addition to online battle arena games such as League of Legends, first-person shooter games and fighting games are especially reliant on networks that provide for low-latency competition. The shift toward cloud and mobile gaming also makes the network increasingly key, according to Day.

While League of Legends was among the esports competitions able to stay up and running during the pandemic, many fighting games shut down because of latency and connectivity inefficiencies. Some game publishers have failed to develop a coherent strategy around esports and were unprepared for the shift to online competition.

The trend toward online competition and remote production started before and will continue beyond the pandemic, industry insiders believe. With the exception of major tournaments, playoffs and finals, esports properties will be more prudent about which events they place in venues. This enhances the importance of network capacity and connectivity, as companies look to streamline the number of people and amount of equipment they have onsite.

Esports on TV

Another trend accelerated by the pandemic was traditional sports leagues and broadcasters offering esports programming to their fans. Facing a shortage of content caused by the shutdown of traditional sports in March, NBA2K made its national television debut on ESPN2, FS1 drew over 900,000 viewers for NASCAR’s iRacing Pro Invitational Series, and the Formula One Virtual Grand Prix Series attracted 30 million viewers across TV and digital platforms.

As linear TV networks look to capitalize on the popularity of esports, they’ll demand top-quality production for their audiences and advertisers. This marks a change for esports, whose fans have gotten used to hanging out on Twitch waiting for a tournament to start past its scheduled time.

“When an ESPN or a Fox Sports pays for and is distributing your content, you need a company that knows how to bring that content to the viewers. Your expectations are pretty high as to the quality of a broadcast,” Day said.

Linking the esports markets in Asia-Pacific and North America

Asia, meanwhile, is critical for game publishers eyeing a larger piece of the $150 billion industry, as about 60 percent of the world’s 2.5 billion gamers are based in Asia, half of those in China.

With up to 30 percent of the internet traffic in Asia traveling across its network, combined with the fact the company has licenses in 20 countries, including China, Japan, and Korea, Telstra has a unique perspective on the challenges and regulations within these enormous gaming and esports markets.

“As you see the gaming market continue to grow between North America and Asia, which are the two biggest markets with massive audiences, the network strategy and how you deliver content between those regions will start to become more visible and important,” Day said.

“The Asia Pacific region is an incredibly diverse and unique group of countries and not one of them is the same,” Day added. “Each country across Asia Pacific has their own language, their own traditions, culture, political landscape, regulatory environment, and they all come with their own complexities as it relates to telecommunications infrastructure. It does cause challenges to deliver gaming and esports content into those countries. We’re in the unique position of making that happen for game publishers every day.

“Additionally, with the demand for games and esports content unlikely to slow in Asia or North America, Telstra is investing in more infrastructure and technology to enable the entire ecosystem to continue to grow.”

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