The virtual competition that defied all odds
Diageo and World Class were adamant that even a pandemic wasn’t going to prevent the hospitality sector from celebrating the best bartending talent in the world. But neither the competition organisers nor the event professionals at Chorus, the creative agency tasked with delivering the international bartending competition, could have predicted the challenges they would face when they decided that the World Class 2021 event would go ahead “no matter what.”
The World Class 2020 competition final was originally scheduled for July 2020 in Sydney but was postponed to 2021 due to the Covid-19 outbreak. When it became clear that Australia would remain inaccessible for some time, the event was moved to Madrid to become part of a consumer cocktail festival already planned to take place in the city. Finally, with safety as a top priority, the decision was made to embrace a completely virtual format and stream the competition and awards from Anna Valley’s virtual event facility in London where the delivery agencies were based. With the date and venue confirmed, the team was determined to deliver the best World Class event yet, regardless of any other challenges that lay ahead.
Every year, the final stage of the World Class competition brings together national competition winners from all over the world to compete for the title of World Class Bartender of the Year. The hopefuls sip, shake and stir their way through a series of challenges, creating original-recipe cocktails for a panel of judges, culminating in the global awards ceremony. The competition is normally attended by an exclusive audience of trade, influencers and journalists and the 2020 event in Sydney would have welcomed consumers into the audience for the first time.
In 2021 however, the fifty participating bartenders from as far afield as the US, Canada, Nigeria and the Czech Republic participated in the competition from their home countries via live video links. In a unique twist, the competitors’ drinks were then recreated for the judges in London by highly skilled avatar bartenders provided by drinks company, Sweet & Chilli. The bartending challenges were filmed in London along with presenter links, expert interviews and brand content to create an 8-hour daily show which was live-streamed to audiences around the globe.
Preparing the participants : video solutions for remote contributors
Before the competition could begin, the bartenders were provided with live streaming video equipment to capture broadcast-quality live footage of their participation in the challenges. The Chorus team worked with Anna Valley to research, specify and prepare 50 laptop camera systems and lighting kits that were optimised for maximum performance with minimal user setup and with logistics partner, Transglobal Express, to deliver the kits to all the participants within a very short timeframe. Once the equipment arrived, the bartenders were taken through an on-boarding process to ensure that secure and stable internet connections were in place and set audio and lighting levels in preparation for the competition. But the bartenders weren’t the only remote participants that had to be accommodated. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the in-territory translators working with foreign language competitors had to contribute from another, separate location. This meant that the already extensive technical infrastructure put in place for the event required an upgrade to receive and send return content between the bartenders, translators and the studio in London.
Delivering a virtual competition to shape cocktail culture
World Class 2021 not only booked out Anna Valley’s virtual event facility – but the competition also totally took over the audio-visual company’s 42 000 square foot office and warehouse – and then some! Anna Valley project manager, Andrew Leslie explains, “We’ve never had something of this scale in the building. With around a hundred people on site on any given day, the project occupied every space other than four desks in our finance area. We also built a temporary structure in the carpark to expand our warehouse and make space for the awards studio.”
A total of three studio spaces were created for the show; the main studio housed four bar stations to facilitate the bartending challenges and judging, the custom-built second studio featured an LED backdrop for the awards ceremony and the third studio was used to film brand content, presenter links and interviews. Anna Valley’s master control room was extended and reconfigured around 10 Quicklink live video link systems and a range of Barco switching systems to manage the remote contributions and redirect them to the relevant studio bars. All the spaces were linked together via fibre lines so that the systems were seamlessly integrated, and any feed could be sent to any area including the on-site edit suite.
What we had was four different elements, all live and active at the same time, doing four different things. The back of house infrastructure to enable us to manage it all effectively was massively complex but, when gelled together, it produced a fantastic, polished stream.
Chorus head of technical production Andy Fennhiggins.
The complex project relied on the joint efforts of an extensive team of technical service partners working with Chorus’ producers and heads of department for sound and video. Set build services were provided by Steel the Scene, lighting design and execution by Spirit Design, networking and connectivity by Pylon One and editing and streaming services by Flux Broadcast. Anna Valley looked after the displays, video and audio elements and facility management, including working through the technical specification and delivery of the extensive master control room and a wireless matrix comms system which linked all crew members throughout the building.
In addition to the demanding technical requirements, the team faced the challenge of hosting the event in the midst of a pandemic. Daily testing and strict hygiene and social-distancing protocols (devised by H&S consultants HornerSalus) ensured a safe environment, but Diageo’s travel policy meant that the client couldn’t be on location. “We were in constant contact with Diageo throughout the event, and we had to make a lot of calls on their behalf which was tricky,” explains Chorus’ director of events and operations, Cassidy Knowles.
The World Class 2021 competition exceeded all expectations. Views of the live stream increased from 5.9 million in 2019 to over 20 million in 2021 with 19 million engagements, and the feedback from both the competitors and the judges has been overwhelmingly positive.
Chorus attributes the success of the project to working closely with their technical partners and setting up systems and processes designed to enable agility. On working with Anna Valley, Fennhiggins was confident from the outset saying, “For me it was an obvious choice – I had no hesitation about using Anna Valley and their capabilities are, in my mind, second to none.” Knowles concurs adding, “Nothing was ever a problem.”
I haven’t got enough words to say how good it was to work with such knowledgeable partners, they certainly contributed to the event’s overall success.