ZMS Live Stream- Behind-the-Scenes

Cycling, virtual cycling, in particular, is very important to me.  I take great pride in combining my professional experience as a physical therapist with my passion for cycling and using the pages of The Zom to enhance the virtual cycling community.  

 

When I see other individuals doing the same, I applaud the effort.  Damon Bates and the crew at ZMS Live Stream are worthy of acknowledgment.

 

You may question their motivations, and for that reason, deem what they do as self-promoting or undignified.  However, it is difficult to argue that the impetus of enterprise fuels advancement in a capitalistic society.

 

If that is what it takes to make virtual cycling better somehow, then I am all for it.  

ZMS Live streams virtual cycling events

The Beginnings of ZMS Live Stream

ZMS Live Stream began as Zwifting Multi-Streamers in May of 2019.  A small group of riders and racers, from the UK, Australia, Hong Kong, and beyond, united by an interest in viewing live streams.  They decided to get together, to watch each other ride, chat, and connect socially.  It wasn’t about public streaming, but Damon Bates, a founding member of ZMS, knew that he wanted to take it to another level.

 

“I started putting the basics together to bring different views in,” remembers Damon.  Through the streaming software OBS, he tied in multiple apps, from Chrome Remote to webcams from their phones, and fed to his PC.  “At the time I didn’t even have a PC or dedicated graphics card,” remarks Damon, and “my old laptop was overworked and overheated regularly.”

Find the ZMS Live Stream on Facebook by clicking here!

As ZMS Evolved, So Did the Ideas and Equipment

The first official ZMS equipment addition was a second-hand gaming PC with an i5 processor, 8Gb of memory, and a GTX1050ti graphics card that Damon used to run Zwift and OBS software.  Damon fondly recalls, “It worked a treat for what I needed, and soon I had more ideas to add windows, improve quality, and change the Zwift GUI (graphical user interface) around.”

 

Damon shied away from the camera, preferring to remain behind the scenes focusing on production and bringing others into the broadcast.  Damon began covering various group rides and community events, mainly with music, sometimes with commentary, for example, the HERD Summer Racing League.

ZMS uses multiple views to live stream

ZMS Was Just a Hobby

Damon enjoyed offering his time to stream events in his way, but it became much busier for him during the pandemic lockdown.  “Our Unofficial coverage of the Tour de France races in 2020 received over 12,000 views as people like watching from different aspects,” states Damon.

 

Then it all changed.  Damon was frustrated running four PCs at a time.  “One always seemed to have an issue, it was tough getting a fix, and it didn’t make sense when the others were fine.”

A Lightbulb Moment for ZMS

Marcus Neil and his WKG team were promoting a 21-stage Vive La France (VLF) on RGT Cycling based on the TDF routes using RGT’s magic roads feature.  Damon provided his brand of streaming for VLF using the “spectate” mode and various commentators.  Guess what?  Not a single bug.

 

With few issues and innovative ways to view races, RGT became Damon’s platform of choice.  It also highlighted an issue that Damon had accepted but didn’t thrill him.  “That you COULD have accurate race positioning, and therefore serious race result in real-time” was a turning point for Damon in his quest to enhance the streaming experience.  

 

Until now, Damon had pieced together the production in his free time with his spare cash.

ZMS live stream control console

ZMS Becomes More Than a Hobby

The teams at Echelon Racing Promotions (ERP) and USA Cycling approached Damon.  They wanted multi-camera, multi-Category race coverage and had shifted to RGT.  The partnership funded equipment upgrades to ensure top-end broadcasts.

ZMS is split into two functions. 1) a total broadcast production with race footage, and 2) Race Footage only, sending multiple camera views to the Professional Broadcast studios of Brad Sohner and his team.

Through the support of ERP, USA Cycling, and multiple sponsors, Damon made equipment upgrades that significantly improved the innovative, cutting-edge streaming that made the difference for ZMS.  Damon and his crew were able to show six broadcast quality camera views of footage that matched Brad’s real-life production expectations.

"The work that Damon does is special and has helped to propel virtual racing and efforts like the Echelon Racing League into the limelight. His use of dynamic camera angles and tools like overlayed graphics brings the virtual viewing experience closer to that of real life, making it more accessible to cycling fans worldwide."

Eric Hill, co-founder of the Echelon Racing League

ZMS Live Stream Equipment List and Devices in Use

1 x Vmix Pro PC (Also doubles as Cam1 if required)

5 x Game PC’s (Cam2 to Cam6)

1 x Game backup laptop (Cam7)

1 x Data Source laptop

6 x Android phones for RGT/Zwift Companion App

2 x Tablets (1 for Vmix Shortcuts, 1 for Rider Name List)

2 x MIDI panels, 91 keys each. Used for Rider Name  Stats Overlays and additional shortcuts

6 x Gaming touch keypads

2 x fiber broadband connections for resilience (different suppliers)

Cat7 Cabling with Gigabit switching throughout

The ZMS Difference Became Clear and Was Noticed

Until this time, the virtual race broadcasts were limited to the view of solo riders or the front of the race.  ZMS showed full race coverage from multiple angles, or multiple riders, at different stages in the race.  

“Instead of the huge cost of multiple camera people on motos, ZMS could offer it virtually, in one place for a fraction of the price.”

Damon Bates

ZMS Has Become a Part-Time Gig

Damon is self-employed, making the transition easier.  Damon admits that each broadcast requires around twenty hours of layout and setup prep for the days leading to the event and several on race day for testing.  “It’s becoming a very involved passion,” for Damon.

 

This is an example of Damon’s event broadcast setup and prep process:

Most of the preparation comes in finding the most suitable way to create a layout that looks good to the viewer while not taxing the system past its capabilities.
ZMS live stream control panel

ZMS Tries to Stay True to its Roots

To subsidize the operation and allow Damon and the crew to offer free broadcasts of community events, they have expanded their professional coverage of private events.    

“This allows me to have the best equipment, software, and the time to show off our fantastic virtual cycling community when otherwise they would get none.”

Damon Bates

To Damon’s knowledge, ZMS is one of the few streamers of its kind for the community that doesn’t focus solely upon the major headline events.  ZMS consolidates costs by controlling the multiple feeds from a centralized source, but, as Damon explains, “it requires many hours rehearsing, becoming skilled in the platforms, and learning the courses.”

ZMS Gives Back to the Virtual Cycling Community

Damon’s crew offers complimentary coverage of epic community charity events.  ZMS raised awareness of Corinne Black’s ‘31 Consecutive Centuries’ by joining her for the final 100 Zwift miles.  

 

Kate Ouellette rode a simulated Trans America Bike Race on RGT, 4,200 miles over 17 days and ZMS covered it all.  More recently, Jeff Rooney broke the 12 hour World Record on RGT with full coverage by ZMS to help with the validation process and support.

ZMS is Rapidly Expanding

As Esports becomes a more popular race venue ZMS has seen a considerable rise in opportunities. ZMS is now a broadcasting partner of ESTV (estv.co), a partnership brought via their partners at Echelon, with many broadcasts regularly scheduled or live.

 

ZMS continues to stream via www.facebook.com/zmslivestream, Youtube, and Twitch, but ESTV is becoming their most significant source of viewership, with some broadcasts attracting over 70,000 viewers.

The Future of ZMS

The crew at ZMS intends to remain independent and keep their options open.  But Damon acknowledges the pressure that race organizers are under to enhance the viewer experience and win the battle for sponsors.  

 

ZMS plans to continue innovating and pushing the envelope to provide unique features for Esports competitors, sponsors, and consumers.  Like offering rider names and their statistics across the entire race field and other unique ways to include the community in their broadcasts.

ZMS live stream uses multiple feeds during their broadcasts

In Conclusion - Why Do You Do It, Damon?

Damon is a tech geek at heart.  If cycling and sharing his passion with the virtual community is his first love, then playing around with new tech is his second.  That is what keeps ZMS evolving.  In Damon’s words (because I have no idea what he is talking about),

“Two years ago I didn’t even know what a Graphics Card was, now I have multiple cards and know the capabilities of each one across many platforms.

I now know about latency, SRT feeds (how I send race footage Video to the USA from the UK), Network Switching, Vmix Pro Broadcasting Software, graphic building, and so on.

While ZMS Live Stream is slowly becoming a business, it is still very much a learning process and a hobby that I enjoy sharing within the community!”

Damon Bates

Next Up for Damon and the ZMS Live Stream Crew

Check out the live stream coverage of the upcoming Giro d’Europa Race Series on RGT.  I hope Damon can keep it all together.  I don’t know how he does it.

ZMS live stream
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