Intel is almost synonymous with PC gaming, as the technology company not only makes computing hardware, but also sponsors some of the biggest esports events in the world, namely the Intel Extreme Masters. This year, Intel is taking extra steps to deepen its relationship with the gaming community with the launch of the powerful X-series and Core i9 desktop CPUs, which promise to take games, VR and esports to the next level.

Lee Machen, general manager of gaming and virtual reality sales at Intel

“I think the Intel brand is integral and endemic to gaming,” Lee Machen, general manager of gaming and virtual reality sales at Intel, told AListDaily. “We’ve been involved in gaming on the PC side for such a long time that when people think about what you need for great gaming performance, Intel and our Core brand of processors come to mind.”

Intel made a big impression at E3 this year, where it was the new sponsor for the PC Gaming Show, taking over from AMD. Among the multitude of video game announcements, Intel showcased its new line of high-end hardware and announced the VR Challenger League, which is helping to bring VR and esports closer together.

“Gamers are the most demanding PC users that I’m aware of,” said Machen. “In response to their ongoing need for more performance and better hardware, we’ve launched a new line of very high-end desktop CPUs called the X-series.”

As it turns out, PC gamers don’t need a lot of explanation when it comes to new technology. Machen said that most times, they just want to see the features and they’ll know exactly what it can do and how to build it.

“We tend to just focus on the benefits of the current line of products and what you can do with that level of performance, [then] leave it to the end user to decide whether they can do that with their current line of products or not,” said Machen, explaining how Intel encourages users to upgrade. “That helps them make the decision on whether it’s time for an upgrade.

But Intel isn’t overlooking less tech-savvy users. In fact, it has demonstrated a range of use cases that can take advantage of the hardware’s performance. For example, the base X-series desktop processors have four cores, but they can support up to 18 for an incredible amount of power that will allow gamers to do pretty much anything. To prove this, Intel showed a person playing a VR game with a green screen behind him, which put the player in the game while the computer both recorded and livestreamed the video.

“We showed off our 18-core CPUs pretty much being used across the board as much as possible,” said Machen.

Machen said that sponsoring the PC Gaming Show was an unusual step for Intel, since it usually brings its products to OEM partners (computer manufacturers like Dell), who then explain the value of the PC systems to end users. However, with the launch of the X-series and Core i9 branded products, Intel decided that it was important to tell its story directly to the PC gaming audience at E3, and the PC Gaming Show was a great venue to do that.

He then explained how, in addition to marketing to the gaming community through a variety of channels on television and online, esports played a critical role in reaching the gaming audience.

“We’ve been involved with ESL to put on the Intel Extreme Masters series of esports events that’s now in its 12th season,” said Machen. “So, we’ve been involved since the early days of esports, and in those 12 years it has grown to an enormous viewer base, and there’s going to be over 300 million people watching esports in 2017. We view that as a very big way to engage with a lot of people who watch and largely play competitive games online.”

While discussing whether Intel approached the pro gamer audience differently than general gaming enthusiasts, Machen suggested that there might not be a lot of difference between the two.

“I think there’s a lot of overlap between those two areas,” he said. “There are certainly plenty of gaming enthusiasts that are big esports fans as well, but there are plenty of people that play games that are not involved in esports. From our standpoint, we’re engaging with both.”

Another area that demands high technology is virtual reality, and Intel is partnering with Oculus to link the worlds of VR and esports together while working with developers to make sure games (especially VR games) work smoothly with its processors.

“The current games being played in esports are going to be hugely popular for a very long time to come, but we also think that there’s room in esports for some additional types of games to be watched and competed in,” said Machen. “So, we announced that we’re doing a partnership with Oculus to bring two Rift games to the Intel Extreme Masters. It’s going to be a competition series using two games, The Unspoken and Echo Arena. We’re going to have competitions at Intel Extreme Masters events that culminate into the finals in Poland next year.”

Machen believes that VR is going to become a huge driver for hardware upgrades, despite how premium VR headsets haven’t reached mass adoption yet.

“Even though the number of VR headsets that have been sold on the market is relatively small, there are a lot of people that I think are looking to make a VR purchase decision in the near-term, and they want to make sure that their PCs are ready to go for when they do dive in,” said Machen. “So, there are plenty of people upgrading their PCs to be VR ready.”

Machen also shared how Intel engages with PC gamers, the most performance-demanding group around.

“When we engage with a gaming end user, the game developer and the pro gamer, what we’re looking for is feedback on what we can add to our products that will increase their competitiveness, immersiveness and the fun,” Machen explained. “We also want to understand what they’re looking to do in addition to playing the game itself—things like streaming—so that we can make sure that we’ve got the performance head-room to do that. There are always new things coming to gaming, and they typically happen on the PC first. That happens because we’ve got openness and we’ve got the performance for people to do all kinds of things—anything that they can think of.”