Intel and eSports: Staying on Top

From February 13th to March 3rd, 2019,

the major world Counter-Strike event occurred in Katowice, Poland. Counter-Strike is a first-person shooter video game with a user base of around 600,000 players in 2019, meaning this particular variety of eSports targets a relatively niche market of gamers. However, it clearly meant enough to Intel, because that event bears the name 'Intel Extreme Masters.'

For many, it would be difficult to tell the last time they have seen a laptop or personal computer (PC) without an Intel processor, and there is a good reason for that. Since the turn of the century, Intel has achieved a position of undisputed market dominance in semiconductors. While the company just makes the top ten most valuable tech companies, the other nine are all in some ways competitors to each other (think Apple vs. Samsung or Alphabet vs. Microsoft).

Yet, competition never ceases to exist and nothing can be taken for granted. In the final quarter of 2018, Intel saw a growing challenge from Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) in the central processing unit (CPU) market. In another sub-category of semiconductors, the pressure from competitors like NVIDIA and Qualcomm are always present.

The fierce competition means one thing: every opportunity counts.

The gaming market has typically been seen as a niche market, but its scale should not be underestimated. According to Newzoo, in 2018, global spending on games alone amounted to nearly $138 billion. That means an even greater amount spent on gaming gear, including PCs, Consoles, CPUs, and other accessories.

Intel has been comparatively late in joining the party. The two most popular consoles on the market, XBox and PlayStation, both run on AMD processors. In other markets like graphic processing units (GPU), Intel’s Celeron is also behind the duo-race between NVIDIA GeForce and AMD Radeon. While these markets are unlikely to offset Intel’s dominance in a foreseeable future, Intel cannot turn a blind eye to a burgeoning industry of which the impact is yet to reach full potential.

The challenges for Intel were AMD’s long term contracts with XBox and PlayStation, and NVIDIA’s technological supremacy in GPU, which brings in eSports.There are many who game, but there are even more who watch. The growth of eSports means that there is an increasing number of people who follow the games without actually playing it, similar to other traditional sports. The event in Katowice had an average viewership of 300,000 per game, which translates to 300,000 pairs of eyes consuming Intel commercials.

This unique advantage of eSports to Gamescom and other gaming conferences means that Intel opens itself to a much greater audience from a seemingly unique context. Some might argue that what is even more important is the fact that the Chinese demographic happens to also enjoy gaming. With the Chinese government’s control over the Internet and the exclusion of Facebook and Youtube, Western firms face critical challenges in penetrating the market. eSports events provide a unique opportunity for Intel to access Chinese consumers without conventional means.

The other side of gaming events would undoubtedly be the gamers. People might watch a game because they play it, or because they simply follow famous gamers. By supporting the right team at the right time, Intel, or any other companies, can access fandoms that can be as committed as those of any traditional sports. Last year, the Intel-sponsored Invictus Gaming won the World Championship in League of Legends, a $6.5 million dollar event.

Intel is not only taking the right step, it is ensuring that its monopoly power translates to the gaming battle well.

Intel is not only taking the right step, it is ensuring that its monopoly power translates to the gaming battle well. The Counter-Strike event is part of a $100 million dollar deal that Intel signed with ESL, a major gaming tournament organizer. Apart from Invictus Gaming, Intel also sponsors Edward Gaming, a Chinese gaming powerhouse. These efforts ensure that Intel will remain relevant in the gaming industry despite the setbacks it may face.

As gamers and viewers around the globe turn their attention to Katowice, Intel also shows how in this game, it can stay on top.