Streaming is the future
If you’ve never heard of Twitch.tv before, you will soon. Twitch.tv essentially allows millions of viewers to watch other people play games live over the internet. It originally focused on PC games like Minecraft and League of Legends but quickly expanded to console games and live streaming.
According to Wikipedia:
“As of mid-2013, there were over 43 million viewers on Twitch monthly, with the average viewer watching an hour and a half a day. As of February 2014, Twitch is the fourth largest source of Internet traffic during peak times in the United States, behind Netflix, Google, and Apple. Twitch makes up 1.8% of total US Internet traffic during peak periods.”
So obviously Twitch and live streaming is a big deal, but what does that matter to you? Well, if you’ve listened to episode 030 of the Manaverse Podcast you would know. Seriously, go do that.
Card Kingdom uses Twitch.tv to live stream their weekly Legacy tournaments, and they inspired me to write this guide to setting up your own stream. I have to give Chris Cornejo credit for walking me through the technical details of the setup they use at Card Kingdom.
See, the way I look at it, if one of the best LGS’s in North America is doing something we should pay attention.
Setting up a stream can be a little tricky when you’re just getting started so I’m going to break it all down to simplify the process. In this tech guide I’m going to talk about why you should be streaming, how it works and then go over the basic equipment you’ll need to get started. Then in future posts we’ll go over the set up, the graphics, the people, and the plan.
This guide will show you how to set up a stream in your store that will allow you to broadcast all kinds of content. I’m writing it with the focus that your setup will be used to stream Magic tournaments but you don’t have to stop there. Your stream can easily be customized to showcase whatever content you want.
Other CCG’s? Absolutely. Sessions of an exciting, new board game you got in this week? No problem. A soap box to speak from? Sure.
Once all the pieces are in place your creativity is the limit to what kinds of content you can create and stream.
As I pointed out above, Twitch.tv and streaming isn’t going anywhere. It’s growing and rapidly becoming one of the major sources of entertainment on the internet. Even Youtube is getting in on the action with Youtube Gaming.
Streaming is a great way to build an audience and create that all important connection with your community. A major contributing factor to Derium’s CCG’s success is their popular Youtube channel. Streaming works in a similar way by connecting with your customers and community in a new, interesting way.
Pause here for a second and imagine yourself in your customer’s shoes.
Imagine you were about to play in an FNM and you knew the store had a feature match table, feature matches that are broadcast live to potentially hundreds (thousands?) of viewers.
Having a stream set up for your events, when done right, can add excitement to an otherwise run of the mill tournament night. This means more players pumped to play in your tournaments, more players talking about your events, and more customers in your shop.
A consistent and entertaining stream can also help players live vicariously through their friends if they can’t play in the event in person. It creates another way for you to reach your customers and connect with them that scales easily, whether or not they can be in your store every day.
If you’re running an LGS in a major metropolitan city, chances are you’re competing against a number of other LGS’s for customers every single day, in addition to all the other possible things your customers may want to spend their hobby money on.
You need to differentiate your business and stand out.
Marketing, branding, social media, customer service. All great ways to establish your LGS in the minds of your customers.
But chances are, none of your competitors have a stream set up. As a side note, video in general is a very under utilized marketing channel in the game store niche but we’ll explore that later.
Streaming your events is one of the least crowded channels right now and it’s a great time to capitalize on that fact.
A Quick Overview
The basic setup is laid out in the exceptional, hand drawn infographic above.
Basically, at the center of the whole thing you have a laptop or computer that is running the broadcast software OBS. The feature match table is set up before the tournament begins and at enough distance from the commentators’ table that the players won’t hear what’s being said about the match.
One camera is pointed at the feature match table itself, the other is pointed at the commentators. The commentators table also has one or two mics as well as the computer that is streaming the video and audio to the internet. This allows them to comment on the match in real time as well as manage the stream and respond to comments.
The beauty here is the software. OBS. Once set up properly, OBS handles everything for you. The best part is it’s free, the same as creating an account with Twitch.
We’re not going to get into the nitty, gritty technical details of how streaming on the internet works here since that’s not the point of this guide. Essentially, once you completed the steps outlined in the plan, you will have a Twitch.tv channel and will be broadcasting a stream live for the internet and your customers to enjoy.
This is the core of the operation. It takes care of all the technical details for you. When it comes to streaming a game like Magic you actually have an advantage over other traditional streamers.
Most streamers are running a computer game simultaneously with OBS, this means they need a computer with more resources to handle everything.
Since our aim is to stream a physical game, we can get away with much less when it comes to computing power. Any computer purchased in the last 3 years or so should be more than adequate for what you need. Specifically, you want at least 8 GB of RAM but you can always use more.
Something more important than the technical specs of your machine will be your internet connection.
A good connection is vital to having a smooth stream and creating a good experience for your viewers. An upload rate of 5 MB is the baseline here. You can use http://www.speedtest.net/ to find out what you’re working with. If you’re upload isn’t high enough, you may have issues streaming so getting on a higher plan will be a priority for you.
A second monitor can be a real asset for the tech setup, it allows you too manage the broadcast and also monitor the twitch chat and interact with your audience on the other screen. It’s not strictly necessary but if the computer you’re planning on using can support a second screen you should definitely take advantage of it.
You have a few options when it comes to the cameras you can use and you won’t have to break the bank to buy them either.
One of the side benefits of Moore’s Law is that as technology becomes more powerful it also generally becomes cheaper. Cameras have followed a similar path.
For the feature match table it’s vital to get a camera that can shoot in 1080p. If you plan on streaming Magic tournaments it’s important that viewers can make out the cards being played during the match and anything less than 1080p makes that pretty difficult. Video and audio quality are crucial to giving your viewers a good experience and a HD camera is a big part of that.
A great option, and one that Card Kingdom uses for their feature match camera is the Logitech HD Pro Webcam c920. It offers excellent quality video and the price is extremely reasonable for what you get.
Since the plan is to have commentators and the nature of Magic tournaments is to have downtime in between rounds, the setup we’re going to look at has a separate camera just for the commentators. The second camera could be another c920 but a cheaper option like the Logitech 720p Webcam C510 would also do the trick nicely.
Both Logitech cameras plug in via USB cables which means you are almost certainly going to need USB extender cables. With the setup we are going to talk about in a later section, the feature match table and the area where the commentators are will be by necessity away from each other. The 5″ cables the cameras come with are virtually guaranteed to be too short for what we are going to need so be sure to pick a couple of USB extenders. Depending on the distance between the two areas, something like a 32-Feet USB 2.0 Extension Cable could get the job done.
When it comes to camera positioning a tripod is decent but a wall mount is better. A tripod like the Polaroid 42″ Travel Tripod is a good choice if you can’t mount a camera above the feature match table. Ideally the camera is aimed almost vertically down onto the play space to reduce the glare as much as possible so the taller the tripod and more extreme an angle you can get the better.
If your setup allows it, mounting the camera to a wall above the table is a great way to record the action. The Arkon Wall Mounting Pedestal allows you to have your camera at a high angle above the action. This helps to reduce glare, which can be very tricky to eliminate if your lighting doesn’t feel like cooperating, and you won’t have to worry about the table shaking from the players resting their arms on it during a match.
An added benefit is you can leave the camera mounted between stream sessions and not have to worry about the equipment being stolen or damaged. If your floor plan allows you to utilize a wall mount I highly recommend it.
Microphones and the audio setup for your stream can be daunting at first, especially if you’ve never had experience with recording before. There are so many options on the market you could get lost searching for a mic that will do what you need.
Terms like condenser and cardioid will only add to the potential confusion.
For the purpose of streaming and commentating we’re going to keep the options fairly simple. The important features when it comes to audio is clarity, directional sound, and quality.
To keep things easy, I would recommend either a single mic that sits on the desktop and can pick up two voices like a Blue Yeti or a pair of broadcast headphones like the Audio-Technica BPHS1 Broadcast Headset.
The Blue Yeti plugs directly into the computer you’re using via USB which makes it the simpler of the two options as well as the less expensive one. The downside to a single mic is that if you have two commentators the audio may come out uneven. If one person leans back in their chair the mic won’t pick up their voice as well. The fact that the commentators will move around means that the audio quality will vary quite a bit through the broadcast. That being said, it’s mostly a minor concern and the stream will still sound very nice with this microphone setup. And if you really like the Blue Yeti, you could always get a second one for the other commentator too.
The upside to the Blue Yeti is it’s a stand alone microphone and ready to go out of the box. No need for a mic stand or boom arm or any other equipment to make it work. This makes the Blue Yeti a great option to start out with. Keep your barriers to entry low at the beginning and you will have a better chance of actually getting started.
Now if you want to have really great audio commentating, headsets are the way to go. The downside to using headsets is the price is higher and the setup is a little more complicated. If the headsets your commentators are going to be using have XLR lines or 3.5mm headphone jacks rather than USB like the BPHS1, you’ll have to also make use of an audio mixer like the Behringer 4-Channel Line Mixer.
The mixer acts as an intermediary between the audio equipment and the computer and allows the commentators better control over their respective volumes.
The software is where many get stuck and give up but we’re going to knock those barriers down right at the start.
We’ll take these one at a time and make it easy.
First up is OBS or Open Broadcast Software. OBS is a completely free, open source program that handles the actual streaming you’re going to be doing. You can download your copy of OBS from https://obsproject.com/, just choose the operating system you plan on using. Your browser will show something like this:
You’ll be presented with two options, regular OBS and OBS MultiPlatform. I recommend downloading the MultiPlatform version because that’s what the rest of the guide will be using but also because if you’re going to use a Mac for your streaming computer regular OBS won’t work. Grab the MultiPlatform version of whatever operating system you’re using and install it, and we’ll move onto the next piece of the puzzle.
Notepad++ is an extremely versatile program but at its heart it’s a text editor which is what we’ll be using it for. Notepad++ will be used in conjunction with OBS to edit text on screen without leaving the program. That will make more sense and we go into the actual software configuration.
Head over to https://notepad-plus-plus.org/ and download it. Don’t worry, it’s free too.
The last program you’ll need to get your stream set up is Adobe Photoshop, and alas, it’s the only program on the list that costs money. The good news is Photoshop no longer costs hundreds of dollars to acquire, you can sign up for a reasonably affordable monthly cloud subscription. Check out http://www.adobe.com/ca/products/photoshop.html and pick a plan that works for you.
Photoshop is the program that allows us to create excellent looking overlays for our stream. Overlays give your broadcast a more professional, polished look. They are the nifty graphics and text that tell the viewers more information about what is going on on screen.
You can make a stream work without Photoshop and overlays, but if you’re serious about setting up a consistent and interesting stream you should invest a little time into creating some decent graphics. And nothing does graphics like Photoshop.
Adobe even offers free trials so really, you have nothing to lose.
The Step By Step Setup At A Glance
- Acquire the equipment (as detailed above)
- Download the software
- Create your Twitch.tv account
- Choose the settings for OBS
- Design and create the overlays
- Create the scenes and sources you will need, this will make sense later
- Choose the location of your commentators area and feature match table
- Set up the stream computer/laptop plus mics
- Get the feature match table set up plus the cameras
- Run OBS and use the feed to adjust the camera, fix glare issues, and determine the edges of the screen
- Test the stream to make sure everything is working
- Start the event and begin streaming
Those are the basic components for getting a stream up and running in your shop. The beauty is they can all be had on Amazon so you don’t even have to do the leg work, you can get literally everything delivered directly to your store.
As you can see from the step by step guide just above, we only covered the first two steps in this post.
Next post, we’re going to go over creating a Twitch.tv account and getting the OBS settings just right for your future stream. As we go through the steps I’ll link back each post to a single page that will act as a table of contents and make it super easy to browse and find the information you need to get started.
If you’re currently streaming on Twitch, leave a link to your channel in the comments. That way we can see what everyone is doing and get better as a group overall.