The Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) launches its 11th season on July 28 with its stop at ChinaJoy in Shanghai. The global tournament, which is run by ESL, has awarded over $5.5 million in prize money at IEM events in the last decade. Over $500,000 was given out at the IEM World Championship in Katowice this past March alone. That event also attracted over 113,000 attendees.
IEM has visited five continents with 58 events in cities such as New York, San Jose, Dubai, Los Angeles, Hanover, Chengdu and Katowice over the last decade. The first season of the eSports tournament attracted over 500,000 video sessions, while Season 10 exceeded 132.3 million video sessions.
With a new season and new countries, George Woo, worldwide marketing manager at Intel, explains how the tech giant has benefitted from its investment in eSports.
“The key lesson we’ve learned from the growth of IEM and eSports over the past 10 years is that we have to continue to evolve, scale and deliver an amazing experience for gaming fans worldwide who are now accustomed to the world class experience that IEM delivers,” Woo said. “By working with ESL we have accomplished that with great results year-over-year. For instance, we’re now hosting our tournaments in sports arenas; we’ve added CS:GO to our tournaments; we’re adding new locations like Oakland and Gyeonggi (South Korea) for this season and we’re continuously raising the bar with our overall event and broadcast production.”
Since IEM is publisher-agnostic, Intel has the ability to use different game titles in its tournaments. Each season, the game titles are recommended by ESL. Woo said the plan for season 11 is to continue the use StarCraft II, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
IEM is a global tournament series and Woo said the goal is to have an event stop in key geographies like the Americas, Europe, China and Asia Pacific. The locations are selected based on the size of the eSports community in the region, Intel’s top enthusiast countries per territory, logistical hurdles, strong local partnerships and cost of venue and local government support.
“We are very excited about the addition of IEM Oakland and IEM Gyeonggi for this upcoming season,” Woo said. “Both markets have strong eSports communities, and we’re thrilled to host IEM events in these cities to further extend our reach by delivering an amazing eSports experience. Gyeonggi will be IEM’s first-ever stadium event in Asia.”
According to SuperData Research, pro gamers won $53.8 million through eSports tournaments and events around the globe. Woo said prize pools have always played a significant role in eSports tournaments, and they will play an even more important role as the overall eSports landscape continues to grow and get more congested with more leagues starting up.
“Prize pools have always been important in IEM, but they will never be a top priority,” Woo said. “We put our main focus on delivering a consistent world class tournament experience, which the players and gaming communities have expected from IEM over the years and can expect for upcoming IEM events in the future. With enough money, anyone can always top another’s prize pool, so that has never been what solely defines the value of IEM.”
Beyond the prize pool numbers, Intel is involved with team sponsorships that can help with player salaries, travel, providing the latest Intel-based gaming PCs to practice on, as well as PR/social opportunities. The company also takes care of hotel accommodations for players at IEM events.
New this year is the ESL eSports TV channel, which will broadcast IEM events. Woo sees this development as a natural move for ESL.
“Expanding eSports coverage is good for the entire industry, as well as for IEM,” Woo said. “We want to strengthen the current community and reach new audiences to continue to push the growth of eSports, and ESL eSports TV will help with that.”
The new ESL content partnership with Pilgrim Media will also open up new opportunities for IEM in the future.
“Creating unique eSports content to drive awareness and reach new audiences is the goal,” Woo said. “There are no immediate plans that directly impact IEM at the moment, but we are very open to unique and fresh ideas to grow the IEM brand and eSports in general.”
Both of these initiatives open IEM to a broader audience, which introduces new opportunities for non-endemic brands.
“ESports is a key passion point for millennials, where there are an estimated 225 million eSports viewers worldwide,” Woo said. “So there is a huge opportunity for non-endemic brands to reach that demographic through eSports.”
Woo said Intel measures its IEM ROI through surveys and sales programs, and the value the tech giant gets out of its involvement in the eSports community is enormous.
Intel has been involved in eSports for more than 15 years. The company sponsored other leagues prior to IEM.
“Gaming is very important to Intel, and we’re proud to be involved with the evolution of eSports by providing an amazing eSports experience where gamers around the world can enjoy and learn about our newest gaming product offers to support their gaming passions,” Woo said.
IEM will run through March 2017 and once again culminate in Katowice, Poland for the world championship.