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Transcript: Digital Production Buzz – March 14, 2019

HOST

Larry Jordan

GUESTS

Brenton Ough, CEO & Co-Founder, Touchstream

Tom Sloper, Professor, Game Designer and head of SC eSports, SC eSports

Leon Pao, President, SC eSports

Sophie Chu, Secretary & Player, SC eSports

Miguel Mendoza, Competition Manager & Player, SC eSports

John Kowalski, Director of Broadcast & Network Sales, Clear-Com

James DeRuvo, Editor-in-Chief, doddleNEWS

==

Larry Jordan: Tonight on the Buzz, we look inside eSports. This growing phenomena on college campuses appeals to highly competitive non athletes. Tonight we chat with members of the USC eSports club, then learn how Clear-Com enables teams to communicate, and finally discover what it takes to make online video look good.

Larry Jordan: We start with Brenton Ough. As CEO of TouchStream, Brenton explains how his company monitors live streaming video quality to make sure when the viewer clicks play, they see a great looking image.

Larry Jordan: Next, we turn to the world of eSports. We start with Professor Tom Sloper, adviser to the USC eSports team. Tom explains what eSports is, as well as his background as a game designer for Activision.

Larry Jordan: Next, we talk with several eSports players, Leon Pao, Sophie Chu and Miguel Mendoza about what attracts them to eSports, and how it has influenced their college career.

Larry Jordan: Next, we meet John Kowalski, director of broadcast and network sales for Clear-Com about the tools they make to enable teams, both large and small to communicate.

Larry Jordan: All this, plus, James DeRuvo with our weekly doddleNEWS update. The Buzz starts now.

Announcer: Since the dawn of digital film making, Authoritative: One show serves a worldwide network of media professionals.  Current: Uniting industry experts. Production: Filmmakers. Post-production: And content creators around the planet.  Distribution: From the media capital of the world, in Los Angeles, California, the Digital Production Buzz goes live now.

Larry Jordan: Welcome to the Digital Production Buzz, the world’s longest running podcast for the creative content industry, covering media production, post-production and marketing around the world.  

Larry Jordan: Hi, my name is Larry Jordan. I had seen the sign at the back of the classroom where I teach, celebrating the victory of the USC eSports team over UCLA. But I never enquired further until this week. As you may know, eSports is exploding in popularity across the globe, professional teams are competing and leagues are forming. I thought it would be interesting to learn more about this and share it with you, so last week I took our microphones to the USC eSports club to talk to faculty and students about what eSports is, what attracted them to it, and how this impacts their education. What I learned was fascinating, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you tonight.

Larry Jordan: By the way, if you enjoy the Buzz, please give us a positive rating and review on the iTunes store. We appreciate your support, to help us grow our audience.

Larry Jordan:  And now it’s time for our weekly doddleNEWS update with James DeRuvo. Hello James.

James DeRuvo: Three weeks away from NAB Larry and it’s coming like a freight train.

Larry Jordan: I know, I can’t wait. It’s exciting times. Exciting times. So what have we got for the news this week?

James DeRuvo: We’re building up to NAB so there’s really not going to be a lot of news for the next couple of weeks until we actually get there. But there are some few stories that are starting to percolate out, and one of them is is that we have found some footage for Canon’s prototype 8K cinema EOS camera. The footage is from a prototype 8K cinema EOS camera that was showcased at NAB last year, but we knew very little about it then. We have since learned that it is a super 35 size sensor positioning it to go head to head with the RED Helium, and it records 8K raw to an external recorder, and the design looks very similar to the C300 Mark 2.

Larry Jordan: James, this is a rumor.

James DeRuvo: No it isn’t. And I tell you why, before you roll your eyes over this being a rumor, this footage comes directly from Canon itself which wanted to get the word out about a new short film called Roots of Japan. This was recorded with the cinema EOS prototype in 8K raw and frankly, I like the idea of seeing what a camera can do through footage before we know what the specs are. Before tech geeks like me can tear a camera apart, point out its flaws, we actually get to see what the footage is and what it’s capable of, and I wish every camera company would do this. And though we don’t know when the camera will make its debut, the timing of it before NAB suggests that maybe we’ll see something about it in Vegas? I don’t know. Could be. Or soon thereafter.

Larry Jordan: Sounds lovely. So Canon with 8K images is your lead story. What’s number two?

James DeRuvo: RED is pivoting on the RED Hydrogen One smartphone camera development. The launch of the Hydrogen one, though it was very much hyped with its 4 View holographic display, was very flat and it didn’t translate into good sales. To be honest, it had mixed reviews of an under powered sensor and a very blurry screen. Jarred Land and the Cinema Group will now run development of the Hydrogen moving forward, and there’s going to be a professional model for cinema camera platforms that’s in the making. Although quite honestly, I thought that’s what this whole Hydrogen One thing was about? It was a professional cinema camera platform. So I don’t know.

Larry Jordan: Well it sounds like the Hydrogen One is not living up to the hype.

James DeRuvo: Pretty much. While it was supposed to shepherd a new era in 4 View holographic content creation, it simply hasn’t translated into robust sales and reviews gave it lackluster performance from an under powered processor, and a blurry screen. And while we hear a professional model is coming, the bad news is that users have noticed Hydrogen’s expansion modules which were promised to come out later this year, have disappeared completely from the website and that hints at a massive redesign.

Larry Jordan: James, you’ve told us about Canon, you’ve told us about Hydrogen, how about a product that’s actually shipping?

James DeRuvo: This one has actually shipped, but I just came across it this week. There’s a new app out called Emulsio which promises to offer a warp stabilizer like correction to footage shot on the iPhone 10, and iPhone 10S or XS. I don’t know, depending on what you call it. This new app, known as Emulsio, offers precise stabilization control with a before and after preview capability. You can import other footage from other cameras like GoPros or the DJI drones or any other camera. It will analyze the footage, and it will then do a warp stabilizer like correction to smooth out all the footage, and it will do it in a non destructive fashion so that the data will be preserved and you can put it into your NLE and further fine tune the warp stabilizer settings to smooth it out even further. It’s a really powerful app and I kind of like it. It’s fun.

Larry Jordan: Well it’s interesting to me that mobile film making is continuing to expand on iPhones.

James DeRuvo: It’s truly amazing. Beginning with the iPhone 10, mobile film makers can now do just about anything on that mobile device. They have a platform that is so powerful, they can shoot their footage, color correct it, stabilize, edit the footage, add music, and then publish to the internet all in one device. It’s truly remarkable what this device can really do now. Oh, and did I mention? It makes phone calls.

Larry Jordan: It also makes phone calls. So what other stories are you working on this week?

James DeRuvo: Other stories we’re following this week include Apple sends out invitations to their It’s Showtime event on March 25th. We think Apple is going to talk about their new streaming service and I say we think because reading an invitation from Apple is like reading tea leaves. But we do think this new streaming service that is coming later this year or early next year, will be exclusive to Apple users. We will also look at how to build your own DIY foley space to create your own sound effects, and the Canon EOS RP mirrorless camera gets a firmware update before it even ships.

Larry Jordan: And where can people go on the web to read these and all the other stories you and your team are working on?

James DeRuvo: All these stories and more can be found at doddlenews.com.

Larry Jordan: James DeRuvo is the editor in chief of doddleNEWS and joins us every week.  See you next Thursday.

James DeRuvo: See you next Thursday.

Larry Jordan:  From James DeRuvo we turn to NAB insight. Tonight we meet Brenton Ough, he’s the CEO of TouchStream. This is a cloud based OTT live stream monitoring service for content providers. Hello Brenton. Welcome.

Brenton Ough: Hi Larry, good to be here.

Larry Jordan: Brenton, I’ve read the introduction but I’m still not clear what TouchStream does. How do you describe your company?

Brenton Ough: We focus on live stream monitoring, that’s what we do best. And basically we make sure that these streams are available and working well, so that when people try to watch them, they’re going to be there and be performing well.

Larry Jordan: Brenton, help me understand, what is it that you’re monitoring?

Brenton Ough: We’re monitoring the video streams for all of live channels. So say for example you have CBS All Access, channels in all the different states there, we are checking that that channel is working. We’ll test that channel, and give our customer CBS the information that they need. Now what that means for a viewer, will be if they go to the CBS app and press play, “Am I going to see that channel, is it going to work?” And that’s what we’re checking for.

Larry Jordan: Wouldn’t the broadcaster or the content originator be checking their own channel?

Brenton Ough: We do that for them because basically our customers are all very large and they have lots and lots of channels. They don’t have the resources to build the type of stream monitoring that we do. We are very focused on what we do, so we do very in depth analysis, we have a lot of data sharing agreements with the people who actually provide the streams. So CBS for example, doesn’t actually provide the end stream at the point where you’re going to connect to it. There’s a third party that does that, and so we’re kind of checking that third party to validate that it’s working.

Larry Jordan: You’re more looking at the technical quality of the channel, the content coming over it, as opposed to who’s watching the channel.

Brenton Ough: That’s right, yes. We’re not checking who’s watching it, other tools and things do that. We’re checking that basically it’s working, the content owner has chosen to get that content out, distributed across the internet, that they’re doing the job that they’re being paid to do.

Larry Jordan: How is your monitoring system different from what other companies do?

Brenton Ough: Nobody does the type of monitoring that we do. We’re kind of a little bit unique in the way we approach it. Other people do things, they embed things in the actual iPhone themselves to check what was the experience that the end user had? Which is all very interesting, but it’s not very detailed, so it doesn’t have the type of information that people need to actually fix a problem. It just tells you that there is a problem, it doesn’t give you any information about it, so what we did was we built something that had very deep technical information that the content delivery networks can actually use to find the root cause of the problem, and fix it.

Larry Jordan: What would be a typical problem that you’d spot?

Brenton Ough: Stalled stream, so things where, the way that the technology works, if things don’t get out to the edge of the network fast enough, it can appear to be stalled, so you get caught in a little loop. Or it would slow down so you’d see a bad quality stream. Lots of pixilation. Or it just wouldn’t be available. You’d press play on your app and nothing would happen. It’d say “Oops, sorry, try later.” Yes, that’s the worst one.

Larry Jordan: I can see why people would be frustrated. You’re giving a presentation at NAB, what are you talking about?

Brenton Ough: So we’re part of the Streaming Video Alliance, which is a group of both vendors like myself, and other software in the video industry. And also the content owners, so people like Fox, and Comcast and those sort of people. We all come together to actually analyze what the overall issues in the streaming industry are. We produce basically best practice papers and white papers and things like that, to help other people get the most out of streaming. Because we’re trying to eradicate as many of the common problems as possible.

Brenton Ough:  So what my project has been at the Streaming Video Alliance is best practices in end to end monitoring, obviously monitoring is my thing and end to end monitoring is really important. With live streaming, there’s lots of things that happen, from the time that the signal in the video format comes in, and then it gets turned into a digital format, and goes through a whole bunch of processes, all on different effectively bits of hardware, and at the end it comes out the other end and people watch it.  That process is very complex. It has to happen 24/7, 365 days a year, and lots of little things go wrong. So we have put together, in combination, even with some of our competitors, the best practices of what you should be monitoring at each of those points to make sure that you get on top of the problems as quickly as possible. And remember, we’re doing live streaming, so with live streaming it’s in the word, it’s live, so if any problem happens you have to get to it really quickly.

Larry Jordan:  In addition to your talk, are you introducing anything new at NAB?

Brenton Ough:  We’re actually introducing a new part of our product. We do address end to end monitoring, not by doing it all ourselves, but by integrating other people’s data and any internal monitoring people might already be doing. And we produce an end to end view. But we released this last year at NAB, and what we found in the last year is that basically you want to see the problem when it’s live and you quickly do what you can to patch it up, but you really want to go back in time and re-examine the incident that happened to look at all the little things that might have contributed to it going wrong.

Brenton Ough:  What we introduced was what we call our end to end incident playback and so basically it produces almost a little video of it, because it’s a very visual thing, and then you can stop it at any point and drill in and check all the metrics of all the different data points that we’re collecting. So it gives you very granular data, back in time, just before the incident, as it started to get worse, and you can check a lot of different things that previously you weren’t able to do.

Larry Jordan: For people that want more information about your company, to learn about your products, or hopefully learn more about your talk, where can they go on the web?

Brenton Ough: Touchstream.media.

Larry Jordan: That’s all one word, touchstream.media, not .com and Brenton Ough is the CEO of TouchStream and Brenton, thanks for joining us today.

Brenton Ough: Thank you very much, it was a pleasure.

Announcer: Join the Digital Production Buzz at the 2019 NAB show in Las Vegas, Nevada. Starting Monday April 8th, Larry Jordan and the Buzz team are taking their microphones on the road to cover the latest news and trends from the largest media show in the world. Every hour of every day, the Buzz is live on the trade show floor, creating 27 new shows in four days. More than 100 interviews with key industry leaders. The Buzz has webcast directly from NAB for 11 years with legendary coverage that’s heard in more than 195 countries around the world. If you’re attending the show, visit us at booth SL10 527 and say hello, or join us live every day of the show at NABshowbuzz.com. Join us as the Buzz covers NAB 2019 live at NABshowbuzz.com.

Larry Jordan: Tom Sloper is a professor at USC. He teaches video game design and management and the reason I’m sitting in Tom’s office is because I wanted to learn more about this whole idea of eSports, because he’s the advisor for the SC eSports club. Tom, thanks for joining us today.

Tom Sloper: You’re welcome Larry.

Larry Jordan: What first got you interested in game design?

Tom Sloper: I was a big fan of the video game Tank 2, and I liked QBert as well. Anyway I was working at a company that made electronic toys and I had no idea that I was going to become a game designer, but they had a need and I was the guy to fill it.

Larry Jordan: So what does a game designer do?

Tom Sloper: A game designer defines the details of a game concept. Most people think that a game designer originates the game concept. Sometimes that’s what a game designer gets to do, but a lot of times, the concept is dictated by marketing or business, or the boss. And then the game designer is asked to work out the details. The game designer communicates the vision to all of the stakeholders which includes the game’s publisher, developer, and possibly also the platform holder, and in cases of licensed intellectual property, the IP owner as well.

Larry Jordan: If I remember correctly, looking at my notes, you spent a fair amount of time at Activision?

Tom Sloper: 12 years.

Larry Jordan: What did you do?

Tom Sloper: I was a producer, then a senior producer, then an executive producer. For a while I was working in Japan. I don’t even remember what my title was, but it wasn’t producer or anything like that. I was basically the guy who could speak English better than the other guy, and Japanese not nearly as well as the other guy.

Larry Jordan: What is it that makes games and game design interesting to you?

Tom Sloper: Working in games, to me the most enjoyable thing was the people. As a producer, you get to work with everyone, you get to work with the programmers, the artists, the designers, the marketing people, the sales people, the testers. You get to work with everyone. And they’re all different personality types and you got to kind of get along with all of them, and get them what they need so that they can do their job and so your game can be finished and put on the marketplace.

Larry Jordan: Well let’s shift forward a couple of years. You’ve moved from Activision and now you ultimately ended up at USC teaching game design. How did you get to be the adviser for the eSports club?

Tom Sloper: They asked me to.

Larry Jordan: And you said yes. This was how long ago?

Tom Sloper: I’m not exactly sure. It might have been 2008, 2010, I don’t remember exactly.

Larry Jordan: We’re going to be up in the room talking to some of the gamers in just a minute. But I have been in that room before, and across the back of the room are some computers. Where did those come from?

Tom Sloper: Those came from our eSports club playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II better than the UCLA team. Nvidia had sponsored the contest and awarded us a bunch of computers as our prize.

Larry Jordan: So there could be some prize winning soon? The eSports business?

Tom Sloper: eSports is turning into a big money proposition. A lot of owners of traditional sports teams and leagues are getting interested in this whole eSports thing. Everybody wants to be a sport and then be in the Olympics. And so there’s movements for Mind Sports to be part of the Olympics. A movement for eSports to become considered a sport. Maybe there’ll be eSports in the Olympics some day.

Larry Jordan: Well is the eSports club here at that level? Is this more of a casual group or is it much more intercollegiate competitive? How does it work?

Tom Sloper: On a weekly basis, the folks in the eSports club compete with each other. They may also be competing with people at other schools or even players who are not affiliated with schools. But then frequently they do get together and have competitions with other schools in person. So they’ll get together in an auditorium, either over there or over here. We had a competition at UCLA one time. It wasn’t part of the Black Ops II. We’ve had competitions with UCI. When we get chances to participate in broader competitions, then we jump at those.

Larry Jordan: What’s your goal for the club?

Tom Sloper: I want the students to have fun basically. That’s really all I’m interested in. If they want to compete and go on and get into professional eSports, that’s something that I’d be happy to support, but really I’m mainly concerned with having the students have a good time.

Larry Jordan: Do you see students taking their game experience and turning that into game design or game programming? Or is there a disconnect? People are interested in game design but don’t game.

Tom Sloper: Playing is not the same thing as making at all. I don’t really expect too many of the eSports members to go on into careers in making games.

Larry Jordan: Why not?

Tom Sloper: Playing games is not the same thing as making games. They’re different interests. I mean, people who make games usually play games. But there’s an awful lot of game players, the vast majority of whom don’t get involved in making games.

Larry Jordan: One of the things that I saw as I was watching the gamers play, is there’s lots of different personalities that play games. But is there a personality that is a successful game designer, or game programmer?

Tom Sloper: Yes. So I talked before about all the different personalities that are involved in game development and game creation. Programmers are engineers and the personality actually is straight ahead thinking. You tackle problems in a systematic approach and you might think that this engineering mindset leads to dry personalities, but in my experience, programmers are often very quick witted and very funny people, despite what you would think from that engineering mindset.

Tom Sloper: Players, to be good at eSports, you have to be very competitive and you also have to be a team player because a lot of eSports are team games. And so they need to be competitive, yet cooperative.

Larry Jordan:  Do you see that eSports could become an intercollegiate activity like basketball or football or track?

Tom Sloper: Absolutely. And that’s starting to happen now. The momentum is building there.

Larry Jordan: Tom, you’ve had a chance to work with this club for multiple years. What motivates the players?

Tom Sloper: Some of them are motivated by their competitive spirit. Some of them are motivated by school spirit. Some of them are like, “I want the other students on my team to think I’m a great player.” And some of them are, “I want USC to win.” And there are maybe some who are thinking farther down the road and really want to be professional eSports players because there’s a lot of money to be made there.

Larry Jordan: But it strikes me that the over arcing theme is the social aspect of game playing. Is that a true statement?

Tom Sloper: Absolutely. The people who are in the club are there to enjoy being with other people who think the way they do and feel the same way they do. Sometimes they skip getting together up in the classroom altogether, and they go out to the Korean barbecue and just sit and talk. And eat.

Larry Jordan: I’m about to go upstairs and meet with some of the players. What should I be looking at as I watch them work on their screens?

Tom Sloper: Watch the body language because sometimes what you’ll see is you can’t see from the screen how well the game is going, especially if you’re not familiar with the game. But you can see from the body language and from the facial expressions you know, that they’re losing or they’re winning, and I think that’s very interesting.

Larry Jordan: I shall go up and take a look. Tom, thanks for joining us today.

Tom Sloper: My pleasure.

Larry Jordan: Tom Sloper is a professor at USC, teaching game design and management. And it is fun learning about eSports. Thank you again.

Tom Sloper: You’re welcome.

Larry Jordan: I’m sitting in a classroom at USC filled with students intent on the computer except it’s seven o’clock at night and they’re not studying, they’re participating in eSports. I’m talking with Leon Pao who’s the president of SC eSports, and Leon, thanks for joining me today.

Leon Pao: Yes, no problem, thanks for having me.

Larry Jordan: What is eSports?

Leon Pao: eSports is basically competitive video gaming where players who enjoy these video games very much and want to compete and want to be the best at these games, can compete by themselves or with a team, and try to beat other teams at the game.

Larry Jordan: Who are you competing with? What are some of the other teams?

Leon Pao: Personally I compete in Super Smash Brothers Ultimate currently, that’s a single player game, and a lot of the other popular games are primarily team based. So for SC eSports, we support competitive teams in games such as League of Legends, Overwatch, Hearthstone and those are all primarily team based games.

Larry Jordan: Are you competing with students at SC, or are you competing with students at other schools?

Leon Pao: Most of us here in our eSports club compete with other students at USC, yes.

Larry Jordan: Tell me about what competition’s like. What’s going on? Is it one person on one computer, or multiple people on the same computer? Just describe it for people that haven’t watched an eSports game.

Leon Pao: Typically each player will have their own computers. At collegiate tournaments like the ones we have here, typically we play over the internet online, so each player could be on their own computers. They’ll probably be at their own homes, at their own dorms, so separate from each other, playing on their own computer, but they’ll all be playing in the same game. And they’ll be communicating through voice chat programs such as Discord or Skype, something like that. At a higher scale, with higher production value they’ll be competing together in the same arena or a stadium kind of like those that you would see at Riot’s LCS events.

Larry Jordan: I understand the attraction of sports, what’s the attraction of eSports? What draws people to it?

Leon Pao: eSports is a lot like regular sports in that you’re sharing the experience with your fellow team mates, but for those of us who aren’t exactly physically adept or inclined as for traditional sports, we have eSports where players who can show off that like their mental fortitude and competing in these electronic games.

Larry Jordan: What kind of attributes or character skills makes for a good eSports player?

Leon Pao: A good eSports player would have good game sense, like good knowledge of the game as well as good mastery of their inner game, so having a good mastery over their inner emotions and being able to keep a cool head in high tense situations. Yes.

Larry Jordan: You’re the president of the club, what does that involve?

Leon Pao: As president I typically oversee most of the club meetings, as well as the eBoard meetings that we hold every week to discuss future plans for the club. I help oversee all of our competitive teams, keeping track of where they are, how they’re doing and whether they’re in need of our help and I also help host these casual events where all of these eSports players can get together and play games together every week.

Larry Jordan: In traditional sports, we’re used to the idea of the athlete and the coach where the coach is providing guidance to the athlete on how to improve. Is there a similar situation in eSports? Or is it all self taught?

Leon Pao: It can be both ways actually. For casual teams it can be entirely self taught but there’s a lot of resources online on YouTube or from pro teams or high figure players in the game that a lot of players can use to study from. But a lot of professional teams also hire coaches and analysts to help them improve their team and improve the players.

Larry Jordan: Well it sounds like the burden is on the player to improve, rather than having coaching enforced from outside, is that true?

Leon Pao: Yes, I guess you could say it’s a lot like regular sports where you have coaches and what not to like help the players improve, but at the end of the day it’s the players that are playing and showing their abilities in game.

Larry Jordan: What are some of the most popular games right now?

Leon Pao: In eSports, I would say the most popular games are League of Legends, Hearthstone, Overwatch. I’d say a lot of fighting games are also quite popular with Evo, so stuff like Street Fighter, Super Smash Brothers, Tekken and stuff like that.

Larry Jordan: Is it just men doing eSports? Or is it both men and women?

Leon Pao: Both genders are represented. Although we mostly see male players there’s definitely a lot of female players in the scene, and we also see a lot of female commentators and coaches as well in the scene.

Larry Jordan: Aside from the camaraderie and the fun of actually playing the game, does this extend outside of school? Or is this something that once you graduate it’s over?

Leon Pao: Well you can definitely make a career out of eSports, whether as a player or as a manager or something. So if you’re very good at a game, you can potentially be drafted or scouted by a professional team and picked up to be a part of the professional team and play competitively with a salary and all that. I definitely know there’s a couple of students here who have definitely been drafted and scouted by these professional teams from USC. But even if you’re not very good at the game, if you have the passion for eSports, and a passion for games, then you can still be hired to an eSports team and help with the managing and things like that.

Larry Jordan: If you put your president hat off and just become a player, what is it that really appeals to you about these games?

Leon Pao: I grew up with video games and I’ve always found video games to be fun and now that I’m here in a community with a lot of other players who share the same passion with me, and I can go to these tournaments and share all this time with my friends that also share the same feelings with me. It’s just fun you know? I don’t know how to put it any other way.

Larry Jordan: And Leon Pao is the president of SC eSports, and Leon, thanks for joining me today.

Leon Pao: Thanks for having me.

Larry Jordan: Continuing our conversation with players at the USC eSports club, I want to introduce Miguel Mendoza. He is both a competitive manager for the eSports club and an eSports player. Miguel, thanks for joining us today.

Miguel Mendoza: Glad to be here.

Larry Jordan: What is it about eSports that caught your attention?

Miguel Mendoza: For the longest time I always played single player games but when I first started playing League of Legends which is the most popular eSport in the world right now, there was a sense of community and belonging with playing with other people you know, against people from around the world, that could be anybody, anywhere. And I just always felt that the drive to aspire to do better, the game itself was fun so it went hand in hand.

Larry Jordan:  I’ve asked one of the players at USC eSports to take a break because I wanted to get her opinion on why she plays. Her name is Sophie Chu, she’s a junior at USC, and Sophie thanks for joining me today.

Sophie Chu:  Oh yes, thank you.

Larry Jordan:  What is it that appeals to you about eSports?

Sophie Chu:  Well I’ve always been interested in video games since I was really young. Playing competitively, having a community to play with, doing fun stuff with other people is what I really like, so I figured coming to this club was a good fit for me.

Larry Jordan:  Is it the challenge of the game, or the camaraderie of the group?

Sophie Chu:  Both. I don’t consider myself good at games, so I’m more into the social aspect of it.

Miguel Mendoza: When I compete in the competitive scene with my team here in League of Legends, everybody wants to win right? There’s nobody that deliberately wants to lose. But it’s always about fighting these challenging players, they’re really good, they train a lot. They aspire to be better, and to aspire to be better than that I think is what’s the most fun for me. But it’s also about getting to know these people who you’ve never known, you’ve never met them before and then just coming together in kind of like a little family in a way.

Larry Jordan: Well you described your role at the club as competitive manager. What does that mean?

Miguel Mendoza: Here we have a little community for our club, and for the most part a lot of the people here play casually. There’s a small niche of us that want to play competitively. The ultimate goal of playing in these competitive teams is to win prizes or if their players are really good they can earn money up to $10,000 in the program we’re currently in. So as a competitive manager, we hold try outs to see who wants to be a part of this experience where we can get together in groups, play together as practice and then every Saturday around noon we are assigned a different team from across the nation to compete online, and from there if you’ve played any game, if you’ve seen any sports like soccer or basketball, they have group stages where each team in a group competes to get the most points. Then the team that gets the most points advances to say, as in soccer or FIFA, they go to the World Cup. It’s kind of similar to that where the most points the team goes to another competition. We play against more teams and then I’m in charge of organizing the times we play, I also organize how many teams and what games. It’s not just League of Legends, there’s also Dota, Rocket League, all these different games, and I’m in charge of making sure everybody gets a chance to play and making sure that we are able to play to our fullest ability.

Larry Jordan: What kind of games do you like to play?

Sophie Chu: My favorite games are League of Legends and Hearthstone. Recently I’ve been getting into Apex Legends.

Larry Jordan: Why League of Legends? What is it that appeals to you?

Sophie Chu: I think it’s the first mobile game I’ve gotten into. I got into it in high school. There’s so many different team comps and ways to play the game. Every time you start a new game is a new experience and it’s just fun. There’s so many people who can relate to it also, so it’s easier to start a conversation with other people who play the game.

Larry Jordan: What’s it like to be a woman playing games which are traditionally reserved for men?

Sophie Chu: I don’t think I find it too different, but that’s because online I don’t make it a point to say that I’m female or anything. I don’t think I stand out too much. Here at the club, I can see who’s a guy and who’s not, and so I think we all tend to talk about the same things. We have the same interests, so it works out for me. I don’t feel like I’m too different or anything you know?

Larry Jordan: I have to ask. When you’re not playing games, what are you studying?

Sophie Chu: Yes, when I’m not playing games, I’m actually a game design major at school so I’m studying games.

Larry Jordan: For you, where do you see eSports going after you graduate? Is this a career opportunity or just something you like to do for fun? What’s the future?

Miguel Mendoza: This is a problem that I was struggling with for a while because ever since playing competitively, I’ve thought maybe this is actually a viable career choice. For most people, I would say if you think so, go for it. eSports is really big right now. I just think that me personally, I don’t think, how do I put this? I think there are better prospects for me personally. I think I would ideally like to keep playing League of Legends as a hobby or maybe play eSports every once in a while and have it as something dedicated. If it turns into a career, great you know? I wouldn’t be opposed to it, but I don’t think ideally it’d be a viable option as I think, because personally I’m a film student here at USC. I enjoy editing, making films here at USC. I enjoy that so much more than playing League of Legends. Even though I enjoy playing League of Legends a lot, I just think I’d much rather make film making a career over playing eSports.

Larry Jordan:  What part of game design are you interested in?

Sophie Chu:  Well I can’t code for the life of me, so I’m actually into the actual design, level layouts and stuff like that for how games will be designed rather than the technical aspects of it, like actually making them.

Larry Jordan:  Now when you say design, what does that mean? The level design.

Sophie Chu: The creation of stories or how games are laid out.

Larry Jordan: The challenges the characters have to go through?

Sophie Chu: Yes, the challenges, that type of stuff.

Larry Jordan: So you’re much more interested in the design of the story than the actual coding of the game?

Sophie Chu: Yes. It’s the creative half of game development, yes. I’m also interested in game art too, because I said I have visual arts as an interest before. Stuff like concept art, character art, that type of stuff.

Larry Jordan: What do you find makes for a compelling game?

Sophie Chu: Depends on the type of game. But story, immersiveness, how easy it is to learn and just jump into it. I think those are really important.

Larry Jordan: As you look back over the games that you’ve played, what has the strongest resonance for you?

Sophie Chu: I would say the people I play. Every little achievement I make in a game, no matter how big the medal, a few years later I wouldn’t remember that. I know I used to play a lot of Mario Kart with my brother, just at home. I remember having a lot of good times. I don’t remember specifically, but it was just always fun to “Hey you want to come play games with me something like that?” you know?  Yes. The people, the interactions.

Larry Jordan: Well like you said, you’ve always been interested in the social side of games. So it’s being able to meet people both in person and online which strikes me as being most important to you?

Sophie Chu: Oh yes. Before coming here, I didn’t really have very many gamer friends in my high school. I went to an all girls school. There’s not that many gamers there. Only a couple. Finding that there was a good eSports club here at this school, it’s like I walk into a room and everybody here plays games, so it’s pretty cool. I think it’s really fun, because I automatically relate to everybody in the room you know? As soon as I walk in.

Larry Jordan: You’re with friends.

Sophie Chu: Yes.

Miguel Mendoza: I think that’s where I would like to ideally be, where our efforts are not just recognized, but they’re also encouraged. So we have students talking about “Oh we have SC eSports, it’s a place to go to hang out, and play and have this huge following.” But also at the same time the eBoard members are always willing to talk to you on a personal level, no matter how big it gets. I think the one thing I would like to keep is how personal and how friendly we are to every member, and all that.

Larry Jordan: Miguel, thanks for joining us today.

Miguel Mendoza: No problem.

Larry Jordan: Sophie, thanks so much for joining us. Sophie Chu is a member of the SC eSports team, and Sophie, I appreciate your taking the time.

Sophie Chu: Awesome, thank you. Thank you very much.

Larry Jordan: Miguel Mendoza is the competitive manager for USC eSports, as well as a student at USC. Miguel, I appreciate your time.

Miguel Mendoza: Thank you for having me here.

Larry Jordan:   Here’s another website I want to introduce you to.  Doddlenews.com. doddleNEWS gives you a portal into the broadcast, video and film industries.  It’s a leading online resource, presenting news, reviews and products for the film and video industry.  doddleNEWS also offers a resource guide and crew management platforms specifically designed for production.  These digital call sheets, along with their app, directory and premium listings, provide in depth organizational tools for busy production professionals.  doddleNEWS is a part of the Thalo Arts Community, a worldwide community of artists, film makers and story tellers. From photography to film making, performing arts to fine arts, and everything in between, Thalo is filled with the resources you need to succeed.  Whether you want the latest industry news, need to network with other creative professionals or require state of the art online tools to manage your next project, there’s only one place to go. Doddlenews.com.

Larry Jordan: John Kowalski is the director of broadcast and network sales for Clear-Com. As such, he assists clients in designing communication systems for events ranging from Olympic games to political conventions. Hello John, welcome.

John Kowalski: Hey Larry. How are you?

Larry Jordan: I’m doing great, because I fell in love with intercoms when I first started in live broadcast many years ago. How would you describe Clear-Com?

John Kowalski: Clear-Com is a US based communications company that manufactures products that link people together and often when I’m asked what I do for a living, I make people happy because we make good equipment that works and they’re happy.

Larry Jordan: Well let’s describe that in a little bit more detail. Aside from making people happy, what is your responsibilities at Clear-Com?

John Kowalski: Well I manage our sales in the broadcast market for the company, and that’s working with everyone from independent stations to station groups to the networks to the expanded broadcast production market which these days takes you into small studios and remote production companies that are essentially backpacks. We don’t always see productions with 53 foot Expando trucks any more. They come in all shapes and sizes so it’s a big market.

Larry Jordan: I want to talk about the small work groups in just a minute, but before we talk about the small stuff, tell us about what are your more challenging assignments? What’s the high end of the market look like?

John Kowalski: Now, today it’s leveraging cloud technology and IP technology that’s on everyone’s requirements. Our equipment has to support that with the least amount of latency and the most simplistic footprint for operation and troubleshooting, and that sounds easier than it is these days because there are some ways that the IP world has leveraged itself to make it simpler. But troubleshooting can be challenging at times. When a network or a station group says “We want to leverage cloud to share communications in our group,” we’re at the point where we have to pull them back and say “OK, let’s do that, but we have to work from where we are now. We can’t jump into 2025 yet.” It’s challenging these days to meet expectations that are leveraged against what they see in the much more dynamic and deeper technology of video over IP.

Larry Jordan: Well what does it mean leverage the cloud? What does that envision in their mind? Because I normally think we just simply hit a button and we’re able to talk wherever we want. Clearly that’s too simplistic.

John Kowalski: Good question, because there still has to be local equipment in all communication systems. The end point as it were. But in broadcast we’ve leveraged matrix intercoms for years and the matrix intercom is centered around a switch where you get all your inputs and outputs and connections to user panels, to interfaces, to audio sources and telephones and that. The idea I guess to conceptualize it for broadcast is to say “Do we need that switch? Do we need that matrix frame in the facility? Can’t we have that reside on the cloud, and send everything up to it and pull it down as needed?” And the answer is, “Of course. But there’s things like latency and real time world that broadcast operates in that the cloud just can’t support that just yet.”

Larry Jordan: So what they’re trying to do is offload the cost rather than have to buy the gear for local? They can just simply pay a monthly fee and have it magically disappear?

John Kowalski: I would say that’s probably in their mindset to some degree because other parts of the broadcast workflow are beginning to move to that direction. Intercom will get there, it’s just not there yet. We still have some work to do and the technology has to move forward a bit for us.

Larry Jordan: Since most of us aren’t going to be working for network groups and dealing with this large scale, one of the things you mentioned that I want to come back to, is the idea of small work groups. Earlier in the show we heard from an eSports team that uses communications gear to talk during a live game. What does Clear-Com have that works for the small work group that’s not in a fixed environment all the time?

John Kowalski: That’s something we’re turning the conversation back to IP in some regards. So an eSports event or a lesser popular sport that doesn’t get that big network attention. They’re using our gear and they’re communicating throughout the production facility, an arena, a stadium or a ballroom but they have to connect out to a truck and into a production control area and onto the performance area and running cables, hasn’t been something they’ve ever wanted to do and we’ve developed wonderful gear that can leverage the IP connectivity that is available to connect those and transport audio between those spaces. We’re not moving it into the cloud, but we are leveraging IP local LAN WAN or over worldwide we’re leveraging those resources to support a production in eSports or it might be horse racing, it might be boxing, it might be any number of small sports nowadays. Content is king. We’re not surprised to hear some events getting coverage and wanting to get that event on the air somewhere, somehow. Somewhere someone wants it.

Larry Jordan: So what we’re doing is rather than stretching audio cables, we’re basically just moving Ethernet cable from point A to point B?

John Kowalski: Well we’re just plugging in. We have a customer that operates in a small Sprinter vehicle, and his customers are eSports networks but he also does Division Two college sports and corporate events, and that small Sprinter van leverages small fly packs that have IP interfaces, RLQ series, shameless plug, that transports audio intercom, ISP, earpiece cuing over IP and they’ll have an LQ box in the stadium press box. They’ll have an LQ box on the floor of the stadium, and they’ll have an LQ box in the truck and all they’ve done to connect those is just find the nearest house LAN and plugged in.

Larry Jordan: When we need to add this kind of communications gear, what questions should we ask to determine the kind of gear that we need?

John Kowalski: What’s the event to start, but who needs to communicate? That tells us we start to hear about how many users there are, where they’re located, and then we want to know is there internal infrastructure that we can leverage? Do they have a house intercom in the theater that we can plug into? Are we bringing in a wireless intercom? Where does that need to communicate? So we find out what the event is, where the production spaces are in that event, and then who’s going to communicate on that and it usually shakes out pretty well from there.

Larry Jordan: Does Clear-Com rent gear for short term productions or do we have to buy it?

John Kowalski: No, we rent gear but only through our rental partners. I’m going to have to go with thousands, maybe worldwide tens of thousands of rental houses worldwide that have used Clear-Com equipment for decades that have wonderful experience, and as much as we get great exposure and we have a wonderful technical support department, back in our factory and in our remote facilities throughout the world, our end users, those rental houses, are wonderful partners that know how to make our work in ways that sometimes that we haven’t even thought of.  That’s more common to see that, our equipment in rental houses these days on sporting events.

Larry Jordan:  For people that want to learn more about the gear that Clear-Com makes available, where can they go on the web?

John Kowalski:  The best place to start is our website, clearcom.com and there’s some great resources in our support area that will lead to videos and white papers and get them connected with our staff and other users so they can learn from that.

Larry Jordan:  That website is all one word, clearcom.com and John Kowalski is the director of broadcast and network sales for Clear-Com and John, thanks for joining us today.

John Kowalski:  Very welcome, great speaking with you.

Larry Jordan: You know, I was just thinking about something Sophie Chu said during our interview. Remember when she said “When I walk into the room, I feel like I’m surrounded by friends.” It reminded me of Cheers, the place where everybody knows your name. Yes, eSports is a big business but at its core, it’s kids playing games. Personally I’ve never been interested in video games, but both my kids were. Since neither of them could be considered athletically gifted, video games gave them an outlet for their energy and competitive spirit.

Larry Jordan:  I was also interested in Tom Sloper’s comments of the differences between people who play games, and people who design games. Both are driven by challenge, but players are a more eclectic bunch. I enjoyed sitting in the game room watching the focus and interaction of the players. They weren’t just sitting isolated concentrating on their screens, there was conversation, excitement and lots of energy. It was a fun way to spend an evening and something I’m still thinking about as I listened again to these interviews.

Larry Jordan:  I want to thank our guests this week, Brenton Ough with TouchStream, Tom Sloper, professor at USC, Sophie Chu, Miguel Mendoza and Leon Pao, students at USC, John Kowalski with Clear-Com and James DeRuvo with doddlenews.com.

Larry Jordan:   There’s a lot of history in our industry and it’s all posted to our website, at digitalproductionbuzz.com. Here you’ll find thousands of interviews, all online and all available to you today.  Remember to sign up for our free weekly show newsletter that comes out every Saturday morning.

Larry Jordan:  Talk with us on Twitter @DPBuzz and Facebook at digitalproductionbuzz.com.  

Larry Jordan:   Our theme music is composed by Nathan Dugi-Turner with additional music provided by Smartsound.com.  

Larry Jordan:   Our producer is Debbie Price, my name is Larry Jordan, and thanks for listening to The Digital Production Buzz.

Larry Jordan:  The Digital Production Buzz is copyright 2019 by Thalo LLC.

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BuZZ Flashback

Five Years Ago Today on The Buzz …


Writer/Director/Producer John Swanbeck talked about coaching actors and his new book: "How to Steal the Scene and End Up Playing the Lead."