Currently in its 11th iteration and dubbed The International, the annual eSports 2022 Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2) world championship tournament was held recently at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, featuring a d&b audiotechnik Soundscape system. Headliner spoke to sound designer and owner of post-production and live events agency Aural Fixation, Jason Waggoner, about the complexities of the project and enhancing the audience experience through sound.
For Valve, the game’s developer, the game audio in the arena needed to sound as close as possible to what it would be like if the audience were wearing headphones or watching at home. The d&b system was primarily focused on game sounds, announcer commentary and video playback in the arena, as well as supporting live entertainment elements when called for. While d&b has been part of the event for several years, Soundscape was specified just last year. But due to COVID, 2022 was the first time the audience was able to experience its sound capabilities fully in person.
“My role on The International is to oversee all of the live audio elements that happen in the arena and how those elements interface with broadcast,” Waggoner explained. “That means designing the sound system, bringing the primary crew members and overseeing the deployment of the sound system and working with the broadcast department to makes sure we can get them the live audio they need from the arena, and they can get us the audio they are producing for the broadcast, because for these eSports events the show that gets broadcast over Twitch or other streaming platforms is the same show that happens in the arena. There is a lot of audio and video exchange between the people building the show in the space and the people broadcasting the show over the web.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the task of managing the event’s audio is an incredibly complex one.
“The International is typically the biggest show I work on in the year in terms of time commitment, equipment and complexity,” he said. “We start planning these shows about six months in advance and it takes a lot from a lot of different departments to get them off the ground and make them successful.”
Despite having been involved in the event for a number of years, this was the first time that the d&b Soundscape system had been capitalised on to the fullest.
“This is the first year we really got to use Soundscape the way I hoped we could,” Waggoner elaborated. “I deployed it on the previous show but we had to cancel the audience and it greatly changed the way we utilised the sound system in the space. We still used it, but it was very different compared to if we had an audience. The gameplay is the most important part of the show, and I wanted to create a really similar experience for the viewer to what they would have if they were playing or watching at home, and they would get a really strong stereo image of the game sounds and they would hear things coming from where they should be coming from. In a traditional PA, that doesn’t happen so much, most of the audience is hearing whatever stack of speakers they are closest too.
“Soundscape allowed me to create a much greater stereo image for the game sounds for a very wide majority of the audience. It also allowed me to take all of the voices that happen on top of the gameplay, all the play-by-play announcers and things like that, and really create a very seamless centre image. The way the system was deployed was like a big LCR system for the entire arena in the round, and in order to do that, Soundscape has some really complex but flexible and useful ways that you can route audio to different sound objects. That allowed me to make a left right system for every seating section that gave a wide stereo field to the listeners. But then I can pop a vocal channel right in the middle of the stage, so you have this seamless image of the vocal coming from right down the centre.”
So how did it feel to finally put the system through its paces?
“As an engineer it was incredibly satisfying to be able to walk around the lower bowl of the arena and hear the interactions between the different line arrays, and as you moved from one source to the next the transition was really seamless,” he smiles. “There was no interference or phasing as the different sources combine. It was a really smooth transition, and on a technical and personal level that was incredibly satisfying.”
Waggoner’s team also complemented Soundscape with d&b V series and ArrayProcessing. One of the major challenges of the audio production of this competition is working to keep as much audio as possible off the stage itself. The show that happens on Twitch is the same show that happens in the arena, so if that sound is getting onto the stage and players can hear it, they may pick up something going on in a different part of the game which would potentially give them an unfair advantage.
To help prevent that from happening, Waggoner says the pattern control and cardioid nature of the V series was critical to the system’s success in the arena. Additionally, the team used ArrayProcessing, an optional software function within the d&b ArrayCalc simulation software. ArrayProcessing uses an optimisation algorithm to determine tailored filters helping control the behaviour of a d&b line array system arranged in a LRC configuration across an entire listening area within the 12,000-seat stadium.
“Being able to use ArrayProcessing is pretty crucial because of the even coverage that you get and the more consistent frequency response across the audience area,” he said. “But it’s also very effective for something else unique to eSports: the play-by-play commentary is in the arena, not in a booth like they would be for a traditional sports broadcast. Using the cancellation functions within ArrayProcessing helps prevent as much extraneous audio as possible from echoing into the commentators’ headsets. That’s critical for broadcast.”
He concluded: “This production is really about rewarding fans for their loyalty with this unique immersive sound experience. Every year there’s a lot of focus and a lot of energy put into the live production and trying to find ways to create an arena setup that is maybe a little bit beyond just a normal sports event.”