For years, SAP has been alongside the biggest names on the football pitch, the hockey rink and the basketball court—globally popular, commercialised sports that have offered the software giant extraordinary opportunities to engage consumers as well as key decision-makers.
Now, SAP is breaking ground in a booming new arena: esports.
Pitting multi-player teams against one another in organised video game competitions, often drawing crowds of tens of thousands to stadiums and exhibition centres, esports has grown so fast that it is likely to reach US$1.5 billion in revenue by 2020—up from US$325 million in 2015.
From the outside, video game leagues might seem like an odd choice for marketing partnerships. However, as the revenue figures suggest, the industry is on fire.
Twitch, the leading live-streaming platform for gaming and esports, reports an estimated global viewership of 385 million, including 962,000 average active viewers. Those numbers put it on par with MSNBC, CNN, Fox—even ESPN, the so-called “Worldwide Leader in Sports”. By 2020, forecasts suggest the esports total audience will near 600 million, too.
All those viewers aren’t just idly consuming content, either. According to a survey commissioned by Twitch, gamers “watch more live-streaming content…and are actively using the latest tech to consume content and connect to their peers.”
So even if esports is still evolving, it presents fertile ground for a company such as SAP. And SAP has indeed leapt at the opportunity to break into the gaming community.
The company has announced a three-year partnership deal with Team Liquid, one of the most successful teams in the information-driven esports world. Beneath the surface, this partnership is game-changing on a number of levels beyond putting a logo on the Team Liquid brand.
The deal makes SAP the Official Innovation Partner of Team Liquid. In that position, SAP will apply its data and analytics prowess to develop software for the team, implementing a vast range of cutting-edge tech to analyse and improve performance both in and out of competition.
“We’ve already used our solutions for many traditional sports and within many different environments,” says Milan Cerny, technology and innovation lead for SAP Global Sponsorships. “Now we’re eager to see how SAP technology will help in the highly competitive—but also decentralised environment—of esports.”
SAP’s decision to get involved in esports only came about after careful consideration, conversations with stakeholders and collaboration with long-standing partners. That includes global sports marketing agency Lagardère Sports, which has helped SAP strike up partnerships with teams in more traditional sport leagues in the past and also facilitated this deal.
“We started to evaluate a potential engagement in esports in 2017 by observing and analysing the market and its ecosystem, the main players and competitions. Despite our long-standing experience in traditional sports, we needed to fully understand the esports space before we decided on sponsorship opportunities,” Cerny says.
“Team Liquid presented themselves extremely well from day one of our conversations. They are a highly professional organisation, they run a variety of successful teams in different game titles, they have a great and engaged fanbase and they share our vision of utilising SAP innovation and technology to make a difference to them, their players and the entire ecosystem.”
As Cerny notes, the partnership offers a unique opportunity to reach out to Team Liquid’s tuned-in, tech-savvy followers. “SAP is always looking for partnerships that help us to address our audience in an authentic way,” he says. “esports fans and players are a highly interesting target group for us: they are tech-driven and IT-affine.”
For SAP, those fans might not be just consumers, either.
“The esports fans of today will become the IT decision makers of tomorrow. Our aim is to engage with them and also send the message that SAP is an authentic and valuable player in the esports market, and—last but not least—an innovative technology company and an attractive employer with a global scale,” Cerny explains.
“If we want to attract, develop and retain talent, we need to create and deliver amazing experiences for our end-consumers. Our engagement in esports is one way of doing exactly that.”
According to Cerny, SAP’s tech innovations will help drive that engagement. “With Team Liquid, SAP will be able to activate its full potential by deep-diving into game-specific questions and challenges together, understanding what we can improve on and where we can help, and ultimately co-developing strong tools that will become useful for esports professionals.”
For example, Team Liquid is the reigning champion in multiplayer online battle arena game Dota 2 at The International annual championship. Cerny admits there is very little room to improve on those results. “However, approaching training methods, match preparation, opponent scouting and analytic efficiency provide huge opportunities for the use of SAP technology,” he says.
“Everything that happens in esports is completely digital, as opposed to traditional sports like football, where—for instance—player or ball movement needs to digitised before we can put analytics on top of that data.”
Outside of competitions, SAP is implementing its SAP HANA business data platform to organise Team Liquid’s back office and analyse data for scouting and coaching purposes.
“In esports, the amount of data generated in each match is enormous. Finding out what to do with this data to generate useful insights is the big goal for us. Fortunately, by using our SAP HANA platform, we are in a position to process huge amounts of data quickly and easily.”
Those technological strengths should enable SAP’s growth as a player in esports as well.
“We hope to become an integral part of the ecosystem and add value for the team,” says Cerny, “but it’s also interesting to evaluate how SAP technology can be applied in esports events and competitions moving forward in the future.”
Less sponsorship than professional collaboration, this unique team of like-minded digital- and tech-focused figures offers new opportunities for everyone involved. With SAP and Team Liquid in the same corner, it’s an exciting time for the esports community.
|Lagardère Sports is a leading sports marketing agency with a global network of local experts dedicated to delivering innovative solutions across sports and esports—from marketing and digital activation, to hospitality services that include comprehensive partnership development—for clients such as SAP, providing them with privileged access to the infinite opportunities of sports.|