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The esports ecosystem, notably gaming titles such as League of Legends (LoL), continues to grow in popularity year by year. Yet, overall, the sector itself can still be described as relatively nascent. Possibilities and opportunities abound.
For this reason, key industry stakeholders are now directing increased attention to supercharging esports growth that can be sustained well into the future.
This is a driving factor behind the exciting new partnership between Riot Games and Bayes Esports. Together, these two leading esports organisations have launched a new Team Data Portal which has the potential to disrupt the industry and bring heightened game and legitimacy to the field.
We spoke with Martin Dachselt, CEO of Bayes Esports, and Jon Knauss, Manager of Technical Product Management at Riot Games, to hear more about their shining new Player Data Portal, to find out what it means for both player and fan engagement and, most importantly, discover how it will help to solidify a successful future for this flourishing industry.
Your recent partnership is an excellent example of solutions providers collaborating with native esports companies. Do you think this is a trend we can expect to continue and is it the best way for the sector to grow?
Martin: “It most certainly is. We can expect this trend to not only continue, but even accelerate in upcoming years. We are in talks with both major esports game publishers and tournament organisers to not only provide additional revenue streams through the distribution of data, but also to increase awareness about esports through our cooperation with major search engines and media sites. It’s the latter that will allow for sophisticated fan engagement solutions to be created, which in turn will push the industry forward. We enable our partners to make esports more sustainable and attractive whilst simultaneously allowing them to focus on their core business.”
Jon: “Sports data has exploded onto the scene over the last few years, both in terms of its value and the opportunities it creates for fan engagement. Esports, in particular, benefits from this because of the granularity of data we generate as a digital sport. Everything is trackable, whereas traditional sports are often limited. As we have innovated in the space, we have seen an opportunity to work with solution providers across traditional industries to adapt solutions to the esports space that have been successful. I expect that to continue to grow with the evolution of esports.”
The new update to the Team Data Portal means teams can analyse a wide range of post-match data more easily than ever before. This will help teams to level up and become more professional, but why is this so important? LoL is one of the most popular esports in the world, is professionalising the sector absolutely necessary?
Martin: “Just because LoL is popular does not mean it is yet played at its limit. Every time a new patch comes out and introduces changes to the game it sparks new discussions about which champions are strong and what the ideal team composition looks like. For what feels like years at this point there have been discussions in the community about what teams can do to make the most out of the draft phase, or which items should be built in which situations. These discussions will continue in the future. Access to a wide range of data will allow the teams to find answers to these questions and support them with data which in turn will allow them to improve their gameplay. Compared to, for example, chess, the League of Legends game theory is still in its infancy. We want to create analytical insights and help LoL theory crafting by making the in-game data broadly available to teams and the community. After all, this is what competitions are all about: trying to be the best and improving oneself until championships are won. If we rested on the popularity of today, what would be the point of playing tomorrow?”
Jon: “While League of Legends continues to be one of the most popular esports in the world, we are always looking for how to push that even further. The LoL Esports Data Portal (LDP) is a first-of-its-kind data platform for delivering the entirety of esports data to teams, partners, and the community. The data accessibility the LDP creates is a key piece of our long-term strategy around enabling development and investment in the experience ecosystem that surrounds professional League of Legends. Through ongoing investment and innovation in that space, we will power long-term growth.”
Access to this portal will be free of charge, helping to level the playing field for all competitive teams. Do you feel that the current esports landscape is unbalanced in regard to available resources? And what else can we do as an industry to help maintain a healthy competitive balance?
Martin: “There are massive differences as far as available technology and personnel are concerned between the teams competing in esports. While some teams can afford to employ a multi-member data science team that creates individual and in-depth use cases with the data, other teams have to rely on the work of part-time volunteers. Many of the smaller teams in esports were never able to gain access to the data and analysis that propelled the top teams forward, because they never had sufficient resources available to them.
“The LDP is the first step towards levelling the playing field in esports in that sense. Teams of the participating regions will gain access to the same set of data and to the same set of tools. This should allow even the smallest teams to synthesise simple analytical insights of their team’s performance data that they previously did not have access to.
“Furthermore, we are looking to create, and provide access to, solutions that will make creating analyses much easier, ease up the process of integrating standard-level software, such as Jupyter Notebook and AWS SageMaker, and support the community in their development of open-source solutions.
“There is a lot we still want and need to do but we are proud to be the ones taking these steps to professionalise esports. Wherever we have control, we should look towards allowing teams access to the same set of tools so that their effort to use the data effectively is rewarded.”
Jon: “We consider providing professional teams with access to accurate and granular data table stakes for any sport. From the beginning, we have worked to provide all teams equal access to data at no cost to create a level playing field. Data is an equaliser in the sports world.
“Teams with a smarter approach to data can build better talent evaluation pipelines, adjust to meta changes, and scout their opponents. In addition to investing in data platform products like the LDP to make data more accessible, we regularly work to help educate teams on the value of data as they compete at the highest levels. We believe that this investment and approach to education will create more entertaining events and help any team compete at the highest level.”
How do you think allowing access to community platforms, such as Liquipedia, will impact the betting community? Will easier and free access to this type of data help to create more informed bettors, potentially driving down operator margins?
Martin: “Having to deal with well-informed bettors is the reality operators are facing in the 21st Century. Fans already have gone to great lengths to inform themselves about their favourite teams and players, which is why platforms such as Liquipedia exist in the first place. The fact that these platforms are now actively supported should not be seen as a negative for betting operators, but as a positive for the development of esports. The betting community will be more than fine if this type of development of sports betting is anything to go by.”
Many of the negative issues in regard to integrity and professionalism stem from the lower tiers of tournaments. Your new portal only concentrates on the top-tier teams, but can it also be useful for lower tiers? Can this data be leveraged for them too, going forward?
Martin: “As previously mentioned, the LDP will be accessible to all and not just the top teams of the participating regions. The initial launch of the Portal will include more than 150 teams from regions across the world, but we plan to increase this number even further in the coming months. Giving them access to the same set of data and the same set of tools that are available to the top teams will hopefully allow lower tier teams to catch up and make progress faster.
“As far as integrity is concerned, the LDP will also allow for statistical outliers to be more visible to everyone. On a positive note, this will allow players from minor regions that perform exceptionally well to be on the radar of top organisations sooner. But on the flip side this should also bring more attention to those players and teams who intentionally perform worse. So, in this sense, the LDP will also be useful in keeping teams honest.”
Jon: “The LoL Esports Data Portal is part of our global approach to data accessibility and allows data distribution on a much broader scale. It is available across all Riot-run regions from the LCS to Academy globally, including European Regional Leagues. In addition to our work helping educate professional teams on the value of the data, we also continuously evaluate opportunities to better provide teams at all levels of professional play with the tools necessary to succeed.”
Both Martin and Jon are clearly dedicated to empowering the farthest reaches of the esports ecosystem. The creation of the LDP represents another significant step on the exciting journey to a fully professionalised esports landscape – one that has equal opportunities for all.
Increased data accessibility on a global level will mean that more players than ever before will be able to leverage the key tools needed to succeed and take their gaming experience to the next level.
This of course is great news for the esports industry as a whole, helping it to be more inclusive and create sustained and sustainable growth. It’s totally logical that an innovative initiative like this would start with League of Legends, one of the most popular titles in the world. But we also hope to see this spread to other games in the very near future, thus enhancing esports’ influence around the world and empowering players and fans.