Last Friday (31st January) 3 Mills Studios played host to a new 21st-century phenomenon, on track to disrupt the broadcasting world with its own kind of technological revolution. It almost felt like a bombastic space ship had landed with fanfares and pyrotechnics in one of the UK’s leading film and TV studio complexes.

3 Mills Studios is best known for feature films (Like Legend or Isle of Dogs), drama (Killing Eve 2 for the BBC and Giri/Haji for Netflix and BBC2) and entertainment (RuPaul’s Drag Race UK for BBC 3 and Masterchef for BBC).

This unexpected staging at a ‘traditional’ studios complex might be described as a coming-of-age moment for esports in the UK. Once the reserve of niche gaming fans, then YouTube vloggers now watching other people play video games live and streamed is a multi-million-pound industry. According to YouTube Gaming, viewers watched more than 50 billion hours of esports in 2018.

BLAST, a Danish based esports entertainment platform, is using 3 Mills as the London location for BLAST Premier, a tournament for the video game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. BLAST Premier will culminate in a Spring Final in June 2020, the winner will be awarded $500,000 USD and a place in the global final, where teams will compete for $1,500,000.

Nicolas Estrup is the Director of Product & Experience for BLAST. He remains calm in the minutes building up to BLAST’s January 31st launch, where he oversees the goliath task of running a live esports tournament in front of a live audience and streamed to over 150 countries and territories. The studio design and workflow is set up to maximise intimacy between the viewer and the players “if you look at the player, you will see a small camera mounted next to each of them. That’s because what is expected in Counter-Strike is that you can see a video feed of the player when you see that player’s avatar inside of the game. The fans want to see the [player’s] face, they want to be in your face, see them live, see their reactions.”

BLAST is streamed from the Twitch platform but is also shown on YouTube and re-versioned for local markets. Estrup sees no distinction between the studio and the virtual world “Normally in sports, you have a ball on a field, and you just point the cameras out, and then you kind of see what happens. Instead, we have a virtual field, and every single player, that’s a camera, that’s a point of view that we can shift to. inside of the game, we mount or position virtual camera to get high-flying drone-style shots.”

The event has scale. The production company brought in 600 square metres of LED, its own flypack for a vivid, complex and dynamic live workflow. The sheer weight of the lighting grid was one of the reasons they chose to shoot at 3 Mills.

The production is constantly curated by a group of storytellers, who in real time must make sure any noteworthy action from the two competing seven-player teams is captured and available to stream. “The biggest task is just making sure you understand the game – the actual match that’s going on – while telling the story of what’s happening." says Estrup "I think one aspect where the community here is really unforgiving is that they want to see the highlight from the perspective of the player doing it. You don’t want to see the player going around the corner and then being shot. So, you want to constantly make sure you get it from the right angles at the right time”

Staging BLAST at 3 Mills studios is representative of a coming of age for esports, as the tournaments attracts ever more sponsorship, prize-money and ever-larger international audiences. With studios such as 3 Mills moving into the esports space, it looks as if the genre is set to become an ever-greater force in the British production world.

Sam Napthine

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