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Netherlands’ Team Liquid revolutionises e-sports with data analytics

Data analysis is often used by enterprises, but the discipline is also gaining ground in other areas in the Netherlands, such as e-sports

Dutch Dota 2 gaming outfit Team Liquid is the first Netherlands-based e-sports organisation to use data analysis for decision-making.  

Victor Goossens, co-owner and co-CEO of Team Liquid, said it helps the team to stay ahead of the competition. 

Goossens is no stranger to the gaming world, having turned Team Liquid into one of the most successful e-sports teams in the world. It is active in 15 different games, including Dota 2. In 2017, it won The International, a renowned e-sports tournament, which earned the team $11m.  

E-sports is a now a billion-dollar industry and Team Liquid was valued at 300m in 2020. The team has modern training facilities and its own media department. Last year, the club opened a high-quality training centre in the Dutch city of Utrecht. It pulled out all the stops in its push for success, with professional cooks, psychologists and managers working at the centre.  

Team Liquid entered into a partnership with technology company SAP in 2018. “Data analysis has already proved itself amply in regular sports, such as football or cycling,” said Goossens. “We wanted to investigate whether we could also benefit from it. E-sports is still a little behind in this kind of development. Six years ago, such a high-tech training centre for gamers was unthinkable.” 

The SAP partnership was renewed recently. “We are very satisfied with the results achieved so far,” added Goossens. “SAP developed software especially for us that collects and analyses game patterns for our Dota 2 team. We use this in preparation for tournaments to get to know our opponents better. The technology also gives us better insight into our own performance. Our coaches can use the data to instruct them to change tactics during matches.”

Bu not everyone within Team Liquid was enthusiastic beforehand. William “Blitz” Lee, coach of the Dota 2 team and one of the most popular Dota 2 streamers in the world, did not immediately see the benefits. “I’m quite stubborn and didn’t know what the possibilities were,” he said. “We decided to hire someone who could come up with ideas and with that, we went to SAP. Slowly but surely, I became convinced. This technology has now become indispensable. It saves a lot of time and has made my job so much easier.”

Lee is particularly enthusiastic about the “draft tool” used by the team. The rotating selection of heroes, also known as the draft, is very important in Dota 2. “A good draft can make all the difference,” he said. “But a hero can be used in multiple roles and combinations with other heroes. You also have to match the selection of your heroes with those of your opponent. That’s what makes Dota 2 drafting so complex. With the SAP tool, we can analyse the other team’s choices in a completely new way.” 

Previously, all these analyses involved manual work. “That was a matter of watching public replays, which takes a lot of time and energy,” said Lee. “Per hero, you’d spend about an hour, but our the tool does this within a minute. That means I can go through someone’s draft technique in half an hour. Otherwise, it would have taken me about four days. With the tool, I can also more accurately predict what an opponent will do. It prevents mistakes, too. All in all, it increases our chances of winning.”

Read more about data analysis in sport

But the software can do even more than that. “It is now much easier to analyse the opponent’s first movements,” said Lee. “Before, we had to load the game each time, find the replay of the match and watch the first five actions. The tool reduces that work from half an hour to only a few minutes. Before, we could only properly analyse four out of 18 teams in the run-up to a tournament, even if we worked hard. Now we don’t skip a team any more.” 

Team Liquid’s players do not use the technology themselves. Lee and his data analyst do, and advise the players accordingly. “We give a presentation before the game with mock-ups of the other team,” he said. “We share bite-sized information that the players can use, but which does not distract them. The tool is also valuable for giving feedback. Not everyone agrees with criticism straight away, but now I can back it up with data. That prevents difficult discussions.”

Team Liquid is the first e-sports club to use data analysis in this way, yet Goossens does not think that gives it an unfair advantage. “The data we use is public,” he said. “The challenge is only how to collect, analyse and present the data efficiently. In e-sports, all sorts of rules apply. You can’t use a mouse that automates actions or software that makes the whole map visible. Data analysis, on the other hand, is allowed, just like in other sports.”

If it were up to Team Liquid, the current tool would not be the end of the line. They are currently developing an analysis tool in collaboration with SAP for another game – League of Legends. But this is not a matter of cutting, pasting and adapting.

“We are active in 15 games and these are really 15 different sports with their own game mechanics and strategies,” said Goossens. “You can’t just use a data analysis solution in cycling for analysing football matches, either. You have to start all over again.”

According to Goossens, the role of data analysis within Team Liquid will only increase in the coming years. “Our sport is professionalising,” he said. “We have come a long way, but e-sports still has to prove itself as a serious business. It is therefore valuable that a company like SAP has committed itself to us. Together, we are trying to revolutionise e-sports.”

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