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The International Olympic Committee and worldwide sponsor Intel have teamed up to announce the Intel World Open, an esports competition that will take place in the run-up to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.
The Intel World Open will feature Rocket League and Street Fighter V competitions in partnership with Psyonix/Epic Games and Capcom, respectively, with $250K USD awarded for each tournament for a grand total of $500K. Intel and the IOC will host the World Open finals at Tokyo’s Zepp DiverCity venue from July 22-24, 2020, with the Olympics themselves kicking off on July 24.
Online qualifiers will allow anyone from the participating countries to compete for a chance to be named to his or her national team, with a live qualifying event to be held in Katowice, Poland, in June to determine which teams will ultimately compete in Tokyo. Intel’s partner for the Intel Extreme Masters, ESL, will handle production for the World Open.
The World Open represents an evolution in the partnership between Intel and the IOC, who previously teamed up to hold Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) PyeongChang ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. That competition was solely focused on Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft II and was only streamed to viewers, while the Intel World Open will have a live audience in Tokyo.
Mark Subotnick, Intel’s director of business development for games and esports, said that Tokyo is an ideal location to kick off this new competition format, even beyond the obvious association with the 2020 Summer Olympics.
“This is a new tournament, and it’s meant to celebrate our values—being open and welcoming to anyone, in alignment with the Olympics,” he told The Esports Observer. “There really is no better host country for us to kick this off in than Japan. It’s the first place for the Intel World Open and it has an extremely rich history in gaming. We’re honored to be able to add to the bright future of esports in Japan. Producing this as a large-scale global event, it requires a lot of commitment, a lot of collaboration, and a lot of partners. We’re lucky enough to have two amazing partners for 2020.”
Rocket League and Street Fighter V are very different games, but in the world of esports, they’re two of the most easily-understandable titles to watch. Psyonix’s Rocket League—now under the Epic Games umbrella following the recent studio acquisition—is just soccer with cars, albeit cars with rocket boosters that can drive along walls and soar through the air. And Street Fighter V builds on the series’ decades-old lineage, with straightforward melee action and large health bars to indicate the state of the match.
“When we’re working with the IOC and working on something like the Intel World Open, we’re really looking for the broadest audience and the most accessibility, and these two titles really lead well for that,” said Subotnick. “These two titles are something that the average consumer or audience member can look at and get what’s going on, and that’s unfortunately not always the case in esports. So that makes a lot of sense to work with these two partners.”
With Street Fighter V, Subotnick said that the franchise’s “clear, rich history” in Japan made it an ideal pick for the Intel World Open. Mike Larson, vice president of marketing at Capcom Media Ventures, said that the national approach to the Intel World Open made it an ideal complement to its existing Capcom Pro Tour and 3v3 Street Fighter League offerings, and that the event helps drive the publisher’s increasing focus on esports.
“Even though we have two existing products in the marketplace, nothing really touches on that specific, unique trait. That’s why we’re super excited about the program,” said Larson. “Esports is very much a part of where we see the franchise and company going forward. We’re thrilled to be part of this, because it really allows us to move even further in that direction with the good people of Intel.”
For Psyonix, it’s an opportunity to not only expose Rocket League to a potentially new and larger audience, but also to test out a national team format. According to studio Vice President of Publishing Jeremy Dunham, the response to the Intel World Open could lead to additional kinds of competitive formats outside of the twice-yearly Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) and other pro-level competitions.
“We think the fact that even though it’s not an official Olympic event, it’s still something—just given the nature of the event itself—which can generate a lot of excitement within the esports community itself, and then also the fans,” said Dunham. “It’s something different. We haven’t really done anything like this before, and it’s something our fans have been asking for for a really, really long time—to have national pride on the line whenever they’re playing Rocket League.
“We think that this is a really good opportunity not only to showcase our skills in front of an audience that might not have ever seen Rocket League before, but also to test the waters to find out what other kinds of really cool ways people want to watch Rocket League be played outside of the traditional World Championship setup,” he added. “On the whole, we can’t contain ourselves. We’re pretty excited about it. We think it’s going to be a really big deal.”
Expanding the Relationship
Subotnick said that the expanded scale of the Intel World Open over the previous IEM PyeongChang 2018 collaboration has been a learning experience for both parties. It’s a joint venture that has potentially significant benefits on both sides, however, as the International Olympic Committee seeks to tap into a young, engaged audience and the esports industry explores the potential for an official future in the Olympics—and increased mainstream recognition along the way.
“I think they’re looking at esports as this growing segment that has captured a lot of youth and captured a lot of attention, and they’re trying to figure out: How do we get that audience interested in what we’re doing with the Olympics?” said Subotnick of the IOC. “For us, this was a great opportunity to partner with the IOC, and take our leadership in esports and our understanding of this space and help bridge that gap. Working with them has been amazing. It’s an educational process. We’re teaching them about esports, and they’re teaching us about the IOC with this. We’re continuing to evolve and learn on both sides.”
Whatever the future Olympic prospects might be, Subotnick believes that the Intel World Open will help open up esports to a much broader audience in the short term.
“It’s getting esports this large public stage: being able to bring partners like Capcom and Psyonix into the mix, and having them help us collectively elevate esports,” he said. “As someone who’s passionate about gaming and esports, pretty much my entire career, it’s just a great opportunity. It’s a great spotlight for what we’re already doing, and it gets exposure to a lot of people who don’t understand what we’re doing.
“It ties back to the choice of these partners, right? It’s hopefully much easier for people to view what we’re doing, get it, and then understand why it’s compelling, awesome, exciting entertainment,” he added, “and start getting interested into deeper aspects of esports over time.”
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