In Pictures: Behind the scenes at the Gfinity Arena debut

In Pictures: Behind the scenes at the Gfinity Arena debut
Chris Higgins

As the dust settles on Gfinity’s CS:GO Spring Masters I finals last Sunday, it seems a good time to assess the results of the UK’s first eSports arena’s opening weekend.

Clearly, the one that matters most, is that Team EnVyUs walked out of the Fulham Broadway Gfinity Arena with the $25,000 grand prize, having topped their rivals Ninjas in Pyjamas in a 3-1 final. But after the first big test of Gfinity’s grand idea of hosting eSports in cinemas, a great deal of other numbers become just as important.

The three-day tournament racked up a total viewership on Twitch of 9.86m, reaching 4.8m daily unique viewers across the run - each staying for an average of 37 minutes, long enough to watch at least one map. Across official and unofficial rebroadcasts of the action, the games were casted in 9 different languages to viewers in more than 26 different countries, on top of the sold-out 330-capacity crowd in the arena itself.

On the face of things, a successful weekend’s work, however it wasn’t all plain sailing for the good ship Gfinity’s maiden voyage as tech difficulties on the opening match forced a delay of around 2 hours. Head of Partner relations at Gfinity, Martin Wyatt, said: “We had a bit of a network issue, it’s still a bit of an issue, some gremlins conspired to put a brief pause on the show for about an hour, and that was fine because we dealt with it in a way that we’re quite proud of. Process of elimination led us to the source of the issue, we fixed it and we were back within no time.

We’re opening an arena, there’s always going to be a few bumps in the road, but we’ve had two completely flawless days, which is some of the best work we’ve done.” Wyatt also spoke of the effort that has gone into converting three screens of the Fulham Broadway Vue cinema complex into a spectator and broadcast hub for their grand eSports plans.

“It’s been brilliant for us actually because a lot of the infrastructure that’s already in place works really well and lends itself to what we’re trying to achieve, which is a really high quality viewing experience for the spec that come along and something different that’s not been seen in the uk before.” Wyatt said. “But at the same time when you’re trying to set up the gaming booths, and caster desks, and multiple cameras, cinemas have not been built for that. So of the somewhere between 11 and 12,000 metres of SDI and XLR cables that we’ve had to run, it’s been an effort but so far so good, it’s coming off.”

The production desks themselves, the nerve centre for the operation, are seated in the projection booths behind the audience. A considerable walk for technicians, but has its own benefits for those on the monitor team. “It’s worked out really well, because of the way traditionally in cinemas the projection booths sit behind the screens themselves,” Wyatt said. “This one is a corridor and it runs along all of the different stages that we’ve been able to put together so we have a live view of what’s actually happening in the stages at the same time through all the tech we’ve set up and all the production equipment we can manage and monitor what we’re putting out to the world.”

Through the array of mixing desks, monitors and match admin and observer PCs, the production team has the ability to produce a wide-ranging spectator experience on stream and in the stages themselves. “We can offer multiple camera angles, instant replays, picture-in-picture. In time, we’ll insert microphoness inside the booths so people can do listen-ins, too. We’re able to offer indiviudal player views, views of the teams themselves and views of the arena, the crowd, so people can connect at home what the atmosphere might be like here inside the arena.

“So what we’ve tried to do is give ourselves as much opportunity as possible to show to the person at home exactly what’s happening here and also an insight into the game, that works in an entertaining way. So something like CS:GO, when it gets down to a 1v1 we’ll be able to show each player’s perspective and really build the tension and give each and every person at home an exciting viewpoint.”

However, as Valve found when declaring in-booth audio as a perk from their The International 4 compendium stretch goals, it’s not as easy to offer these insights into how teams work. Many declined their permission citing worries other teams would know more about their tactics. “We’re going to set the technology up anyway and have the functionality there, but with everything we do we always sit down and engage the playing community about something we want to do broadcast-wise to ensure it doesn’t detract from their performance,” Wyatt said.

“So if there are some very, very strong opinions about not doing that then clearly we won’t do it. But at the same time if the players are actually quite keen for the fans to hear what happens inside the booths, parental advisory sometimes included as you can imagine at this elite level of competition, it can get quite emotional.”

The team at the helm of Gfinity’s output on the weekend was all in-house, bar a handful of KaosTV crew members who have experience working on DreamHack’s production. “Of course, we recently announced that we’ll be bringing in Paul Chaloner to become our head of broadcasting,” Wyatt said. “And he brings masses of experience in not only the production side of things, but eSports as a whole in terms of how to create a really great viewing experience.

“A lot of investment and a lot of time has gone into bringing in some raw talent from various areas of the community. Our production team is made up of people with strong production experience, former YouTubers and so on, who can really add a certain skillset. And we’ve invested the time to upskill them and bring them together which has resulted in an efficient and creative production team that we’re proud of.”

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