Team Liquid Pro Lab seeks to push boundaries of esports player scouting and evaluation

by Brian Bencomo

Walking into The Pro Lab, Team Liquid’s new lab inside their Alienware training facility in Santa Monica, California, you’d think you were walking into some kind of high-tech science research center. That’s by design because the esports org is pushing the boundaries of scouting and evaluating gamers here.

One of the most competitive orgs across multiple games is out to raise the bar on what it means to be a pro gamer. From developing brain maps of current and prospective players to testing reaction times and promoting recovery, Team Liquid has some cool new tools at their disposal in The Pro Lab.

Tanner Curtis, a former PUBG player and coach, and currently TL’s team development coach, has been tasked with overseeing operations at this performance lab. He describes it as “a place where existing players and players on our pro teams can come and get holistic help, whether it be from waking up and warming up in the morning with motor skills and cognitive function before scrims, to recovery and rest.”

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One of the tools in the lab that will be used to assess and evaluate competitors is a program designed by BrainsFirst called NeurOlympics. It tests players in a variety of cognitive games in order to build brain maps that can show where a player excels – and where they need to improve – measuring their abilities in four main categories: attention, memory, control and anticipation.

“We can look for different factors such as, like players who stay calm under pressure, players who ‘want the ball in their hand’ at the last moment,” Curtis said. “They have that clutch factor.”

Photo credit: Team Liquid

Playing a NeurOlympics demo, you can get a sense for the sorts of things it’s testing for. For example, there’s one game where a pattern of colored squares on a grid is flashed on the screen for a second or two, then you’re shown a blank grid on which you need to click on all the squares that were colored in. The object of this, obviously, is to test memory.

There’s another game where bombs drop from the top of the screen, and you control four cannons at the bottom of the screen – two that shoot horizontally and two that shoot diagonally – with the object being to destroy the bombs as quickly and efficiently as possible. This game is testing a more complex skill set involving spatial awareness, coordination and anticipation.

Players on Team Liquid might get tested periodically to see if they’ve improved, but the tests will primarily be used to establish baselines for how they think and to help place them in roles they’re best suited for.

“What it will do for our existing players is give us a little feedback as to who they are and the way they think,” Curtis said. “We want this to be information that we get on them of how their brain works in default. We don’t want this to be something they practice these games over and over and get super good at them.”

It won’t just be beneficial for Team Liquid players. It also is something players who are trialing with the org can take away to learn more about themselves.

“Even if we test the players and end up not having them join Team Liquid, they’ll still be at a benefit because they’ll know more about themselves and where they can improve,” Curtis added.

Photo credit: Team Liquid

There’s another tool in the lab called Blazepods, which are a series of small circular pods that are suctioned to a wall. When the test is run, the pods randomly light up, one at a time, and the player must touch the lit-up pod as quickly as possible with the palm of their hand. It’s kind of like a game of Whac-A-Mole, but the purpose is to test reaction times and also to serve as a warm-up for players. It’s the type of activity you could see a professional basketball or soccer player engaging in ahead of practice or a game.

“[The players] get very excited about it, they’re very competitive, they want to beat each other or beat their own prior scores,” Curtis said. “It’s a fun way to get them some practice without them even knowing, get some reactionary skills, motor skills -- it’s definitely twofold in that regard.”

The other piece of the lab is another thing you might see a pro athlete use -- a zero-gravity chair.

“The zero-gravity chairs are developed to take all points of pressure off your body and they are awesome for recovery, rest and relaxation,” Curtis said.

For gamers who suffer from a lot of tension in their backs as a result of sitting in front of their monitors for extended periods of the time, the zero-gravity chairs will definitely be an asset.

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With The Pro Lab located in Santa Monica, Team Liquid’s LCS and Academy League of Legends teams are best-positioned to take advantage of the lab on a semi-regular basis. However, it will be open to the org’s other teams and players whenever they’re in the area.

For example, if TL’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team has a tournament in the U.S., they can bootcamp at the org’s Santa Monica facility and take advantage of the lab. Team Liquid is also opening a Pro Lab at their Europe facility for its teams based there or passing through that part of the world to use.

So far, only the Team Liquid Academy players have used the lab and, according to Curtis, coaches on the org’s other teams are eager to see it in action.

“All these guys want to compete at the highest level,” Curtis said. “They want to win their respective world championships and we’re hoping that The Pro Lab will improve our chances for them to bring home another trophy.”

Lead photo credit: Team Liquid

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