Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) celebrates its tenth season with its North American leg at SAP Center in San Jose Nov. 21-22. The event, which is run by ESL and sponsored by Intel, is the longest-running global eSports tournaments. League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive pro gamers will be competing for a cash prize pool of $175,000 over the weekend.
George Woo, global sponsorships manager at IntelCorporation, has been with the program since its inception. He said Intel initially got involved in eSports to create brand awareness and be relevant to the gaming communities.
Ten-plus years ago the Intel brand awareness was very low with gamers, Woo said. With Intel s continuous involvement with eSports and the entire PC gaming ecosystem, we are now one of the strongest brands with gamers.
Michal Blicharz, managing director of pro gaming at ESL, said the partnership between ESL and Intel has been like a good marriage.
There were ups and downs and we had to make lots of changes and adjustments along the way due to the ever-changing landscape of eSports, but ultimately it comes down to the insane amounts of trust we’ve built up for each other, Blicharz said. Intel has not been afraid to take the plunge with us a couple of times first when few other companies really believed in eSports, and more recently with the movement towards stadium events. We’ve had crazy ideas and Intel has supported us — sometimes blindly. And we’ve managed to eclipse my personal dreams for where eSports would be, together.
Woo has seen tremendous growth with IEM with regards to scale and reach. He said more IEM event stops in the future will be hosted in sports arenas, instead of co-locating in a trade show or event, due to the growth and popularity of eSports.
Intel has been the longest-serving supporter of eSports in the world when it comes to major corporations, Blicharz said. In its early days, the industry was build on Intel money, even before Intel partnered up with ESL for the Intel Extreme Masters in 2006. Millennials can no longer be reached via traditional marketing. They close the door on the corporate world because all of their entertainment is consumed on demand, and whenever they browse the web they’re likely running ad block. The best way to reach them is to support their hobby in a way that’s meaningful and come in invited through the front door into their lives. That’s what Intel has done.
The IEM trophy has expanded over the past decade, just as eSports has evolved. The cup has champions names from WarCraft III, Counter-Strike 1.6, QuakeLive, World of Warcraft and League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is being added this year.
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich attended the San Jose IEM event last year, and this year he s participating in a celebrity League of Legends competition along with Mark Cuban and others to raise money for Cyber Smile.
One of the reasons we decided to go to San Jose, next to the fact that there are so many gamers in the Bay Area, is because we wanted to turn as many Intel employees into eSports fans, Blicharz said. The Intel CEO s involvement in the charity match this year shows how much Intel has opened itself up to eSports.
Intel has benefited from the past decade of eSports tournaments. Woo said being involved in eSports allows Intel interact with the PC gaming communities.
IEM is the global marketing platform that we use to connect with PC gamers to introduce them to our latest gaming experiences and product offerings, Woo said. IEM being the longest running global independent gaming platform provides Intel a strong and relevant PC gaming platform for the Intel Geo s to leverage and make an impact in their markets.
Blicharz said the largest IEM event so far was the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship last season, which had over 100,000 attendees and over 10 million viewers on Twitch. At the peak, around 1 million concurrent viewers were watching the event on Twitch and on Asian streaming platforms.
Our smaller events don’t reach that level of viewership yet, but as we are adding more events in arenas, that viewership is getting higher as well, Blicharz said.
The explosion of livestreaming platforms like Twitch has allowed ESL and Intel to tap into a global audience simultaneously with big eSports events.
Livestreaming is important, and will play a more significant role in Intel s marketing plans in reaching the gaming audience worldwide, Woo said.
ESL is also using IEM to experiment with virtual reality for the first time, partnering with Jaunt VR to capture highlights of the event to be viewed through 360-degree video in the near future.