HITS Spring: Blizzard Entertainment Eyes AI, ML to Enhance eSports Content Offerings

Game maker Blizzard Entertainment — which relies on Amazon Web Services (AWS) to distribute content from its popular Overwatch League eSports competitions — will see its Activision Blizzard division look to use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to enhance its content offerings, according to the company.

“Cloud is an essential building block for us” when it comes to “the future of our broadcast world,” and it also “helps future-proof our roadmap,” Corey Smith, director of live operations broadcast technology at Blizzard Entertainment, said May 23, during an AWS-sponsored breakout session called “Harnessing the Power of the Cloud to Deliver OverWatch League to a Global Audience”at the annual HITS Spring event.

Smith and Kristoffer Harrington, Blizzard Entertainment transmission manager, explained how their company is utilizing media services in the cloud to scale faster than traditional hardware, adding the agility needed to distribute OverWatch League as a global broadcast event.

One important component for the cloud the ability to use automation, Smith pointed out, calling Overwatch League “the most successful league launch in eSports history.” The league includes 20 teams globally and Blizzard makes live competitions from the league available through deals with Disney and “primarily” a distribution arrangement with Amazon’s Twitch live streaming video platform, he noted. So far this season, it’s been able to get competitions distributed through “many primetime slots” thanks to Disney and its ABC and ESPN networks, he said.

“We try to operate like a regular sports league” even though eSports content is obviously “a little bit different,” he said. ESports is becoming increasingly popular and it’s “not just played in a basement anymore,” noted.

“Our routing is all in the cloud” now and Blizzard is “constantly … packaging out the content from the previous day and sending” it out to other media distribution partners who put it on their own eSports networks, he told attendees.

“One of the things we’re trying to do in the future is” use AI and ML to “auto clip” highlights from live competitions and publish those clips to social media almost instantly, he said. Right now, what clips are selected is handled by the technical director and others in the studio, but that takes too long, so the company wants to get robots to make such editorial decisions, he pointed out.

“We have a cloud platform that we built from scratch,” Harrington told attendees, providing more technical details. Blizzard uses Mobile Utility Live Encoding (MULE), he noted, pointing out that productions “can be remotely managed,” are live encoder-based, feature multichannel audio and “everything onboard is fully redundant.” Blizzard usually plug into battery backups on site at each event, so if one side of the facility goes down, the other side remains on, he said.

HITS Spring was presented by Entertainment Partners, with sponsorship by LiveTiles, 5th Kind, AWS, Birlasoft, Exactuals, Expert System, MarkLogic, Microsoft Azure, Richey May Technology Solutions, SoftServe, Spark Digital, Avanade, CDSA, Cinelytic, EIDR, MicroStrategy, Signiant, the Trusted Partner Network, human-I-T, and Zaszou IT Consulting.

The event was produced by the Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) and the Hollywood IT Society (HITS), in association with Women in Technology: Hollywood (WiTH); the Content Delivery & Security Association (CDSA); and the Smart Content Council.