Film stu­dio trans­for­mes into an eSports are­na: the Valorant Cham­pi­on Tour a guest at Stu­dio Babelsberg

A black hall with ela­bo­ra­te LED light­ing and an LED flo­or with inter­na­tio­nal stars sit­ting around in a cir­cle and with ulti­ma­te con­cen­ra­ti­on: the set­ting could be a film shoot becau­se the hall is the Mar­le­ne Diet­rich Hal­le, one of the most his­to­ric and lar­gest sound stagesin Euro­pe. Film clas­sics such as “The Blue Angel” and “Metro­po­lis” had been shot on the lot of Stu­dio Babels­berg in the past. And it was only recent­ly that the cast and crew of “The Matrix Resur­rec­tions” had been here . But the place whe­re film-makers are usual­ly working day and night in clo­sed sets on new pro­duc­tions then play­ed host to the stars from a com­ple­te­ly dif­fe­rent sec­tor last Decem­ber: the best inter­na­tio­nal gamers - and with them one of the year’s most important eSports events, the finals of the Valorant Cham­pi­on Tour (VCT).

Mass phe­no­me­non eSports

Valorant is one of the most popu­lar games in the “free-to-play mul­ti­play­er first-per­­son shoo­ter” gen­re, which was deve­lo­ped by Riot Games and has been on the mar­ket sin­ce 2020. The­re are local league for­mats, but the VCT is a year-long com­pe­ti­ti­on held in seve­ral count­ries whe­re the best of the best can com­pe­te world­wi­de. The sta­ging of the event is always set­ting­new stan­dards. Riot Games’ self-declared aim is to pro­vi­de a high enter­tain­ment value for play­ers and fans and thus to make eSports even big­ger and better.

The suc­cess of eSports events has explo­ded in recent years. Audi­en­ces often num­ber 100,000 or more spec­ta­tors. In just the past two years of lock­down, the user num­bers have soared due to other events being can­cel­led as the indus­try quick­ly swit­ched to online events. In glo­bal terms, tur­no­ver from the eSports indus­try was 947 mil­li­on US Dol­lars in 2020. By 2024, mar­ket rese­arch fore­casts a mar­ket volu­me of around 1.6 bil­li­on Euros.

Expan­si­on of stu­dio infra­struc­tu­re for one of the year’s big­gest gam­ing events

The VCT was ori­gi­nal­ly sup­po­sed to take place in front of a live audi­ence, but, due to pan­­de­­mic-rela­­ted rest­ric­tions and thanks to ide­al con­di­ti­ons offe­red by the stu­di­os, Riot Games opted for the inten­si­ve stu­dio atmo­sphe­re in Babels­berg. After num­e­rous preli­mi­na­ry rounds throug­hout the year, the 16 inter­na­tio­nal teams came tog­e­ther in Pots­dam and Ber­lin for the finals in Decem­ber. The event was broad­cast live on the Inter­net. A lar­ge tech­ni­cal team sup­port­ed by the ope­ra­tors of Stu­dio Babels­berg ensu­red that the final did not lose any of its spec­ta­tor experience.

Talks had alre­a­dy been held with the stu­di­os back last sum­mer. “We are nor­mal­ly focu­sed on film pro­duc­tions and are often boo­ked up for seve­ral months. But if we have capa­ci­ty free, then we are also hap­py to take on eSports events or talk show for­mats. When the decis­i­on was made to come to Babels­berg, we mas­si­ve­ly increased the infra­struc­tu­re,” says Eike Wolf, Direc­tor of Stu­dio Ope­ra­ti­ons and a Mem­ber of the Manage­ment Board. Half of the street in front of the stu­dio was clo­sed off for a short time and a 2x10 giga­bit fib­­re-optic line laid to gua­ran­tee smooth trans­mis­si­on of the high data volu­me. The white stu­dio walls of the Mar­le­ne Diet­rich Hal­le, which were cover­ed with lay­ers of pati­na and splas­hes of arti­fi­ci­al blood from the last Taran­ti­no shoot, dis­ap­peared under black paint. Every lad­der, hea­ting pipe and screw was pain­ted over in black to crea­te the set­ting for the game event.

The pro­duc­tion com­pa­ny Con­com, which spe­cia­li­ses in sport­ing events on the sca­le of the US Open Series or the Red Bull Air Races, work­ed behind the sce­nes tog­e­ther with Riot Games and the Stu­dio Babels­berg team. Months befo­re the event, pre­pa­ra­ti­ons kicked in and arran­ge­ments were being made with calls and emails from all over the world, inclu­ding Ams­ter­dam, Dub­lin, Dubai and Los Ange­les. This was also a chall­enge for the infra­struc­tu­re of the stu­dio team which is nor­mal­ly geared to working on long shoots rather than short-term and simul­ta­neous­ly glo­bal events. A dedi­ca­ted pro­duc­tion office was crea­ted on the stu­dio lot for this peri­od. “They set up their own head­quar­ters here for the three weeks of the Valorant Cham­pi­on­ship Tour’s broad­cast, with offices on two flo­ors to look after the smooth trans­mis­si­on of the strea­ming and the show’s pro­duc­tion,” says Eike Wolf. The play­ers and ever­yo­ne invol­ved went into qua­ran­ti­ne before­hand and the ela­bo­ra­te on-set pro­duc­tion was also accom­pa­nied by exten­si­ve Coro­na­vi­rus tests.The finals of the VCT 2021 as a strea­ming event did­n’t lose any of their appeal in the film studio’s atmo­sphe­ri­cal­ly lit sound stage. The ten­si­on and hours of con­cen­tra­ti­on by the Valorant teams fre­quent­ly mixed with eupho­ria and exci­te­ment at mas­te­ring the chal­lenges. Two exci­ting weeks later, it was clear who the win­ning team was: “Acend” won the last match just ahead of “Gam­bit”.

While the film came­ras are now alre­a­dy to roll again in Babels­berg for the next film pro­duc­tion, the team of Riot Games is right in the midd­le of cran­king up the glo­bal sea­son for VCT 2022. And ano­ther pha­se of eSports has also been ushe­red in. An offi­ci­al regio­nal league for the Ger­­man-spea­king regi­on was estab­lished this year with the laun­ching of “VRL DACH: Evolution”.

About MTH Blog

The media tech­no­lo­gies of the future are alre­a­dy being used today – not only in the enter­tain­ment sec­tor, but also in a wide varie­ty of indus­tries. Chris­ti­ne Lentz meets up with tech enthu­si­asts, estab­lished com­pa­nies and rese­ar­chers for our month­ly Media­Tech Hub Pots­dam blog to tell the sto­ries behind the inno­va­ti­ve busi­ness models.

About MTH Blog

The media technologies of the future are already being used today – not only in the entertainment sector, but also in a wide variety of industries. Christine Lentz meets up with tech enthusiasts, established companies and researchers for our monthly MediaTech Hub Potsdam blog to tell the stories behind the innovative business models.