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Intel didn’t have a booth or consumer-facing setup at last week’s gamescom in Cologne, Germany, but the chipmaker and technology company was there. According to Mark Subotnik, the company’s director of business development for games and esports, gamescom provides an opportunity to connect with a broad range of developers, publishers, media, and more.
“It’s the biggest show globally… you get a really good, global presence of attendees that gives us a better chance to have a broader range of conversations,” he told The Esports Observer, noting the company’s press summit and meetings with various companies. “It’s about making sure that we continue to have a presence. We don’t have a booth, but we have a lot of people here talking, learning, listening, engaging, and then giving updates on what we can share.”
It’s similar to Intel’s wide-ranging approach to esports sponsorships. The company has a broad array of partnerships, including with ESL for Intel Extreme Masters (IEM), as well as with the Overwatch League, NBA 2K League, China’s League of Legends Pro League (LPL), and even the Farming Simulator League. Subotnik said that the goal is to maintain that overall sense of a beneficial presence in the industry rather than to specifically align with one game or league—and then use that presence to push for greater awareness of the benefits of PC gaming and esports on the platform.
“The growth in esports and streaming has shone an interesting spotlight on PC, so it gives us a lot of great opportunities to have a continued conversation about why our platform is growing, and why we think it’s the best to play on and stream, compete, whatever,” said Subotnik. “We’re in a unique position as a company to be neutral—to be a key ingredient in the platform that we think is the best to play esports on,” he added. “I think we’re going to continue to use esports in that regard, to drive the affinity to the platform we love versus try to continue to monetize in all these other areas.”
Intel’s Grand Slam promotion with ESL, which awards a $1M USD bonus to a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team that wins a certain number of events within an established timeframe, has helped create a meta-narrative around its Intel Extreme Masters events. Team Liquid and Astralis have each claimed the prize within the last year, leading to tougher rules for the current third season.
Subotnik said that Intel is “open to working with anybody” in esports, but believes that recreating that kind of promotion in another esport or league wouldn’t be as easy as cutting and pasting the premise. “It was 14 years in the making, so I don’t think it’s something you can do overnight,” he said. Even so, given Intel’s ‘neutral’ approach to esports sponsorship, Intel could well enter other esports in the future.
“We’ll continue to look at new opportunities,” he said. “Sponsorship is less of an attractive thing for us over time. We have a pretty well-known brand, and it’s really about working with partners to make sure that we can help them, partnering with OEMs, and making sure that we can continue to have a presence in the right leagues.”
Esports and the Olympics
Intel’s next upcoming focus in esports is the Olympics, said Subotnik. Esports could be a long way from joining the Olympics as a medaled sport—but Intel has helped drive the conversation over the last couple of years. In 2018, ahead of the Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, South Korea, the company held IEM PyeongChang with official support from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
As an official worldwide technology sponsor of the Olympics, with its current deal lasting until 2024, Intel is well-positioned to advocate for expanding the role of esports within and around the traditional sports event. Subotnik couldn’t detail any specific plans around the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but he spoke to Intel’s aims in the space.
“We’re going to do more. More, bigger, better, I can definitely say. That’s the intent, and why we got into it—it’s again reinforcing that we have a partner in the IOC that wants to talk to an audience that we have a good idea of how to talk to. And it’s really exciting,” he said.
It should be noted that Intel’s current IOC partnership covers a broad range of technologies including 5G and virtual reality, both of which are seen as potential ways to increase the mass market appeal of esports. “The Olympics is less around enthusiast/hardcore, and it’s more about bringing more people into the fold and getting a larger reach,” said Subotnik. “It’s not going to be the same type of content, in terms of some guardrails that we’re working with, but we’ll do our best to bring true esports content to a larger audience.”
Making any esports game a medaled sport would require overcoming significant structural hurdles, including the need for governing bodies as well as licensing a game from a rights holder. The nationalist approach is also largely uncommon in esports, outside of events such as the Overwatch World Cup and PUBG Nations Cup, although Subotnik is optimistic that aligning with the Olympics could build more interest in that kind of approach for esports.
“I do hope that our work with the Olympics helps us all as an industry figure out how to do that,” he said. “Is there an excitement about representing your country? Would we get more people watching and viewing if they’re rooting for their hometown? I find myself being pulled into the Olympics and caring about America in ways that don’t feel natural to me on a daily basis unless the Olympics are happening. It’s weird. It’s like, where does this nationalism come from? But I think we all have an errant nationalism and pride of where we come from.”
A number of components must contribute to larger mainstream interest in esports, he said, from improved watch-ability and broadcast presentation to continuing to chip away at the stigma of videogames and professional gaming. Subotnik also believes that a key element is highlighting great and uncommon stories in esports that nearly anyone can connect to.
He pointed to the recent example of popular Fortnite streamer Soleil “Ewok” Wheeler, who competed in the Fortnite World Cup Pro-Am competition and recently signed with FaZe Clan. Not only is Wheeler a young girl (13) in a male-dominated industry, but she was also born deaf, and has overcome that challenge to become a skilled player and visible streamer. Subotnik said that stories like hers, in which players overcome the odds and embrace greatness, must be highlighted to create wider interest in esports.
“The hero story is what people call that, and the narrative of someone coming up that we can resonate with will get more people to care about the actual sport itself, in my opinion,” he said. “Telling more stories that can resonate with people like my wife, who is not going to watch Twitch or watch esports on a regular basis—but wow, if there’s a great story, and now I get to watch Ewok or whoever compete, and for a large amount of money? It starts to get a different group of people caring.”
Editor’s note: Interview conducted by Graham Ashton
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