SAP intensifies interest in booming eSports market

Christopher Tredger
By Christopher Tredger, Portals editor
Johannesburg, 27 Sept 2023
SAP has established a co-innovation sponsorship of Team Liquid, touted as a frontrunner within the lucrative eSports industry.
SAP has established a co-innovation sponsorship of Team Liquid, touted as a frontrunner within the lucrative eSports industry.

Global enterprise software company SAP is an official innovation partner of Team Liquid, a top-flight franchise within the multi-billion-dollar eSports industry. SAP is looking to capitalise on the increased reliance upon artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics and machine learning by competitors within one of the fastest growing markets globally.

At the SAP Future of Business Summit hosted this week at the company’s headquarters in Walldorf, Germany, Lars Lamadé, head of global sponsorships at SAP, and Thomas Esser, director of global sponsorships, offered insight into SAP’s vested interest in the relationship between technology and eSports – with Team Liquid serving as a case study.

SAP said Team Liquid has one of the largest footprints within the eSports ecosystem. The relationship is based on the value that can be extracted from data and analytics to boost the performance of players and teams.

Established in 2000 in The Netherlands, Team Liquid is represented across 18 major eSports games, including Dota 2 and League of Legends, and supports more than 150 athletes. It operates training facilities in Utrecht, The Netherlands; São Paulo, Brazil; and Los Angeles, California.

Esser said SAP began its relationship based on co-innovation with Team Liquid five years ago, when eSports was still developing as a market. “It was quite new and primarily aimed at the youth market. Today it is huge … the US is our biggest market, and then, of course, Germany.”

He added that because of thousands of touchpoints involved, eSports lends itself to the application of AI and machine learning to address challenges such as time-consuming manual analytics and review of recorded game-play footage.

“Online gaming and eSports are incredibly data intensive, and success comes from diving into that data to find incremental improvements. To retrieve the most salient insights for guiding heightened team performance during training and competition requires scrutinising multiple data sources across various tools. Each move made by teammates and competitors needs to be analysed, calling for a holistic view of data sets and anytime, anywhere data access,” said Lamadé.

Automating data analysis

In the past, Team Liquid relied on manual collection processes. “For example, data analysis for training purposes involved watching game replays and manually collecting screen shots, which was error-prone and very time-consuming. In addition, Team Liquid used several data sources across multiple tools to retrieve relevant information,” he added.

To get the best out of its teams and players, Team Liquid needed to automate data collection and analysis to extract more value from the vast amounts of data it generated.

To build the analytics tools needed to extract and make sense of the raw performance data, Team Liquid leveraged SAP Business Technology Platform (SAP BTP) and capabilities within SAP Hana Cloud database such as text analysis, spatial calculations, and machine learning algorithms.

The SAP Analytics Cloud solution is used to provide dashboards to display the analysis  results in real time.

“With this tool, Team Liquid can discover, integrate, cleanse, analyse, and visualise disjointed data assets across game data to create the data-driven actionable insights it needs for incremental team and player performance gains,” SAP added.

Mathis 'Jabbz' Friesel, Dota 2 analyst at Team Liquid, said data is a game changer. "While you can’t really change what the players are going to do on a given day, you can give them the best advantage they can possibly have. Our data analytics tool gives us the ability to fully prepare teams for what they’re going to face, making them more comfortable, which helps them play better.

“My vision for the analytics tool built on SAP Hana Cloud is that it becomes self-sufficient, with all the game data residing in the database, accessible and consumable from dashboards,” continued Friesel. “In the not-too-distant future, we will take advantage of artificial intelligence to predict moves and are already innovating with machine learning.”

Victor Goossens, founder and co-CEO of Team Liquid, said his company's business model is very similar to traditional sports. "Data and information are critical in eSports, and technology can help enable that 1% to 2% performance improvement that makes the difference in top sports. They’re crucial for our business, our competitive teams, and developing tribal fandom.”

Sponsorship strategy

Lamadé highlighted SAP's significant sponsorship investments in sports and entertainment as integral to the company's go-to-market strategy. 

While the monetary details remained undisclosed, Lamadé said the vendor has sponsorship deals across various sports, collaborating with tournament organisers, players, and teams. These partnerships align with SAP's business objectives, such as reaching new audiences, creating custom-branded content, fostering co-innovation and collaboration with startups, forming partnerships, implementing community programmes, and engaging employees. 

At the summit, SAP emphasised the importance of collaboration and co-innovation as essential business models in adapting to markets influenced by GenAI, cloud, and machine learning.