Mercedes-Benz and SK Gaming – The daily life of an eSports-Pro

At Mercedes-Benz, we love sports. That’s why we have our own Formula 1 team, sponsor professional tennis and golf players, and have lent the stadium in Stuttgart our name. Since January 2019, we also have an esports team. Admittedly, we don’t own all of it, but we do have shares in the Cologne-based esports organization SK Gaming. That’s why it’s team members bear the Mercedes star on their chests at international esports tournaments.

On the Daimler Blog, we have previously written about the biggest misconceptions concerning esports and explained why Mercedes-Benz is involved in this sector. We now would like to dive somewhat deeper into this topic. At Mercedes-Benz’ media day event with SK Gaming, media representatives had the opportunity to get insights into the structures of SK Gaming. Here you can read who or what SK Gaming is, how we can benefit from this investment, and, above all, how diverse and balanced today’s esports organizations have to conduct their training in order to be successful.

The life of an eSports pro: Mercedes-Benz provides insight into training routine of SK Gaming as part of gamescom: Jorge „Werlyb“ Casanovas (Spain/ League of Legends Professional).

The esports organization SK Gaming

SK Gaming is considered one of the pioneers of esports. It was founded as early as 1997 under the name Schröt Kommando (SK). With a history extending back more than 20 years, SK Gaming is one of the oldest and most successful teams in its sector. SK has been able to win more than 60 important championships and is one of the most well-know teams in global esports. To draw a comparison with German soccer, you could say that the successful team from Cologne is something like the FC Bayern Munich of esports. SK’s teams are currently represented in a variety of games. You could compare these games with different sports disciplines. The games in question are: League of Legends, FIFA, Clash Royale, SMITE, and Hearthstone.

Mercedes-Benz’ investment in SK Gaming

In January of this year, Mercedes-Benz took the next logical step in its esports involvement by investing in SK Gaming. The other shares in the organization are currently owned by the 1. FC Köln soccer club and the CEO of SK Gaming, Alexander Müller. Instead of just serving as a sponsor, Mercedes-Benz has thus become an active and organic part of the esports sector. But how does this involvement benefit the Mercedes-Benz brand?

On the one hand, it enables us to credibly let the gaming community know that we want to be more than just a sponsor in esports and that we wish to expand our expertise in this field and build up a larger network. On the other, we can employ the team for communication and advertising purposes. In fact, we have already worked together with SK Gaming on initial photo shoots and content projects (link: film Looping uploaded to YouTube on August 20). Almost the entire SK team were on hand at the media day event in Cologne, including CEO Alexander Müller, several esports players, and the athletic trainer Yann-Benjamin Kugel. Yes, you read right: SK Gaming has an athletic trainer. It also has a sports psychologist and can avail itself of the services of nutritionists from 1. FC Köln. In this sense it is just like any other professional sports team.

From left: Jorge “Werlyb” Casanovas (Spain/ League of Legends Professional) and Yann-Benjamin Kugel (Germany, Athletics coach).

Today’s esports player

The esports value chain has attracted a lot of investment and it has many different stakeholders (publishers, sponsors, the media, various league organizers such as the ESL, fans, teams, players etc.), who participate in its monetary flow. In this web of different interests, the players compete for high stakes and are already under enormous pressure at a young age. An example that was extensively covered by the media last week was that of 16-year-old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf from the U.S., who won the first Fortnite World Cup. He took home about as much prize money as Novak Djokovic when he won at Wimbledon in 2019. When the amounts are so high, esports players need ideal conditions so that they can put in their best performance. Let’s take a closer look at the factors that make SK Gaming successful. What are the distinguishing features of a modern esports organization?

Jorge “Werlyb” Casanovas (Spain/ League of Legends Professional) explains Yann-Benjamin Kugel (Germany, Athletics coach) the game.

Key feature 1: Making the players physically fit

SK Gaming has hired the athletic trainer Yann-Benjamin Kugel to make sure the players are physically fit. Kugel is well-known in the sports business. From 2010 to 2018, he kept Joachim Löw’s lads fit on Germany’s national soccer team. Before that, he worked at the Werder Bremen and 1.FC Köln soccer clubs. SK Gaming takes advantage of 1. FC Köln’s infrastructure to improve its players’ fitness. In addition, it cooperates with the German Sport University Cologne in order to obtain new scientific findings about the training and healthcare of athletes.

Yann-Benjamin Kugel (Germany, Athletikcoach) works with Mirza “Mirza” Jahic (Austria, FIFA Professional).

Key feature 2: Cooperation with sports psychologists

SK Gaming was one of the first esports teams in the West to hire sports psychologists to teach its players how they should deal with pressure. The Cologne-based organization is currently working together closely with Mia Stellberg, a leading sports psychologist from Finland. After beginning her career in “traditional” sports, including work with Finland’s Olympic dressage team, Stellberg first came into contact with esports in summer 2016, via Astralis, a Danish rival of SK Gaming. She has been working together with SK Gaming since 2018.

From left: Gerrit „Phrenic“ Stukemeier (Germany, League of Legends Professional), Mirza „Mirza“ Jahic (Austria, FIFA Professional) talks to Yann-Benjamin Kugel (Germany, Athletics coach).

Key feature 3: A healthy diet

As is the case with athletes in general, esports players need a good diet to give it everything they’ve got. To this end, SK Gaming works together with nutritionists from 1. FC Köln. The aim here is to provide the players with extensive support as well as comprehensive information concerning nutrition. Nutrition is a key element of SK Gaming’s training concept because the organization considers its athletes to be “concentration maximizers.” It wants to ensure the gamers’ sustained, long-term development so that they can put in the best performance possible. The basis for this is a healthy and balanced diet.

Gerrit “Phrenic” Stukemeier (Germany, League of Legends Professional) working out.

Key feature 4: Training – but in moderation

The way the training sessions are organized provides another means of helping the players concentrate at the “push of a button.” SK Gaming realized early on that having the athletes mindlessly train for many hours each day doesn’t improve their performance. As a result, the team’s training sessions are organized to simulate real-life tournament conditions as much as possible. In the case of the League of Legends game, for example, it means that the SK team’s training session consists of two sections each day. Each of these sections is about three hours long. They are divided into three sets, each about 45–50 minutes long. This approach ensures the players have sufficiently long breaks so that they can recuperate between sets. The training day is rounded out by preliminary and follow-up discussions before and after each training session.

Key feature 5: The social environment

SK Gaming takes great pains to ensure that its players live and work in a healthy social environment. During the selection and care of the athletes, SK Gaming ensures that the gamers’ families support them in their careers and that they don’t neglect their duties, such as school. That’s because some of the athletes are still underage and thus have to attend school. In another example, SK Gaming flew the family of a Brazilian player to Cologne to attend the world championship. Ensuring a healthy social environment also means that every player has his or her own apartment as well as sufficiently long rest periods between the competitions in order to cultivate friendships outside the world of eSports.

from left: Gerrit “Phrenic” Stukemeier (Germany, League of Legends Professional), Mirza “Mirza” Jahic (Austria, FIFA Professional), Alexander Mueller (Germany, CEO SK Gaming), Yann-Benjamin Kugel (Germany, Athletikcoach), Jorge “Werlyb” Casanovas (Spain/ League of Legends Professional), Tim “Keduii” Willers (Germany, League of Legends Professional)

Conclusion

Mercedes-Benz and SK Gaming — a great fit! The two globally operating companies both have a long tradition and deep roots in their respective home regions. As a result, the two companies have the same views and are committed to excellence. A better fit would be hard to imagine.

More importantly, however, Mercedes-Benz and SK Gaming share the same values and views. SK Gaming is organized in such a way that it provides its teams with long-term support in exchange for lasting performance. That’s because the focus isn’t on short-term success. SK Gaming stands for sustainability, progress, and top performance — values that also characterize Mercedes-Benz.


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Stephan Senger is part of the Team Sports & Branded Entertainment Communications. Part of his work is to draw the attention of the press to the sponsoring measures of Mercedes-Benz in eSports. On top, he has been dealing with eSports on a scientific basis since his days at unversity. And personally he likes to play FIFA on his console and follows how the scene develops globally.