Championship Gaming Series keeps it real with Surround Sound

By Dan Daley SVG Audio Editor

The Championship Gaming Series (CGS) has everything that most sports leagues have, including drafts, colorful nicknames, million-dollar signing bonuses and broadcast media saturation. But what it doesn’t have is real people on the field as humans are at the controller, manipulating player avatars in what has become a global championship across a dozen or so game types, culminating in an annual championship series that spans four weeks twice a year telecast via satellite net DirecTV.

This summer’s games will play in June and July, with audio being handled by NCP-IV’S remote truck at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, CA, site of the production. Video game audio has had a poor reputation despite the fact that resolution and sampling rates have consistently increased over the years. But CGS, which was launched last year by News Corp. properties DirecTV, BskyB and STAR, takes it light years ahead. A-1 and sound designer Michael Abbott handles as many as 120 sources for a 5.1 Surround mix through a Calrec Sigma or Alpha Bluefin digital console and Yamaha DM2K submixer.

The fiber-carried audio codec is Dolby Digital AC3 and it stays that way through transmission to the satellite, avoiding the redistribution and multiple compression stages of analog terrestrial broadcast. That makes it all the better to hear the cinematic-level sound design such as “hooligan” rants during gameplay of FIFA soccer and the realistic SFX of artillery and ticking time bombs during play of Counterstrike, which correspond to the action of the gamers and their coaches via tally-assisted camera mics from the Calrec audio console’s GPIs. Monitoring is through Genelec 1030A speakers using the Dolby DP-570 for multiple formatting of mixes, and the LM100 loudness meter for dialogue intelligibility and level consistency.

“The freedom I have in the 5.1 mix is incredible,” says Abbott, who is also an audio consultant to award shows including the Grammy Awards and the CMA Awards. Fox Sports is known for having taken sports audio to a denser, hyper-real level, and, says Abbott, “That’s perfect for video game sports.”

CGS sets up teams of up to five players per side who control avatars on screen. They wear Sennheiser HMD 25 headsets and can interact with each other while that same audio can be cherry-picked as part of the overall sound design. The audio follows camera cuts, using the video switcher to mute and un-mute channels, allowing the audio to follow the video action. Combined with the sound design elements, Abbott says it creates an immersive sports audio environment.

“It’s like being inside a stadium,” he says. “It’s the same approach taken with Fox’s NFL and NASCAR broadcasts with lots of sound effects and sound design. You’re going to see a lot more of video games turning up as broadcast sporting events. The audio helps make the difference.”