Energy drink maker Red Bull has been sponsoring and working with professional video game players since 2008. And now the company has built a high-tech lab to help pro gamers become better at what they do.
The Red Bull High Performance eSports lab, which is still in development in Santa Monica, Calif., aims to measure, deconstruct, and train key gaming skills—with the goal to enhance the performance of novice and pro gamers.
“There are obvious differences in an eSports athlete verses a traditional or action sports athlete in that they aren’t propelling their bodies during their sport,” Kimberly Popp, eSports performance manager at Red Bull, says. “However, eSports players are utilizing skills and mechanics such as hand-eye coordination, and their physiology impacts performance. Players train for hours throughout the day to perfect their craft, but only playing the game is no longer enough to remain competitive.”
Popp says the lab, which currently has enough equipment for one player to be tested at a time, is being set up as a prototype for a larger scale laboratory. The concept is to match gameplay data and stats with a player’s biometrics and team interactions, such as eye tracking, brain states, heart rate, galvanic skin response, facial patterns, team communication, and so on to give deeper insight into what really goes into the performance of an eSports player.
The lab uses SensoMotoric Instruments’ (SMI’s) REDn remote eye-tracking devices to provide data for real-time performance measures, including concentration, reaction time, precision, and anticipation. The eye-tracking device contributes to insight into how these critical skills are impacted by common factors such as stress, competitive play, and fatigue.
“Athletes, in general, are not aware of their visual strategies,” Eberhard Schmidt, managing director at SMI, says. “Seeing their own gaze patterns sometimes surprises them, and makes them look differently at their play.”
Popp says Red Bull eSports athletes are now looking at stats, running plays, and securing performance coaches to improve their gameplay. The lab team also helps pro gamers use techniques employed by traditional athletes such as exercise and training regimens, nutrition, sleep, stress monitoring, etc., to help their gameplay.
According to Peter Warman, CEO of Newzoo, Red Bull’s core marketing strategy has been to partner with extreme sports, and more recently more mainstream, athletes. While other brands spend the majority of money on advertising and what is left is spent on sponsorships, Red Bull takes an “athletes first, events second” approach illustrated by their training center in Santa Monica.
Popp says the similarity to action sports in these “early days” of eSports is that the mass media market does not yet understand competition in video games or even know that eSports exist, as was the case before action sports rose in popularity.
“The difference lies in the accessibility of the games to general participants and spectators,” Popp says. “A snowboard might not be accessible to everyone, but a console or PC is more widely available. The common denominator is the passion and competitive spirit all athletes bring to their sports, be it online or in the snow.”