IOC Hopes To Learn More About Esports During Tourney Leading Up To PyeongChang Games
Intel will stage an esports tournament near the site of the PyeongChang Games in the days leading up to the Opening Ceremony, sources said, and the IOC is involved in the preparations to better understand the competitive gaming scene. The event will be branded as part of Intel Extreme Masters, an 11-year-old global series operated by independent tournament organizer ESL and Intel, the single largest corporate spender in esports and a new global IOC sponsor. An announcement could come as soon as tomorrow. The Olympics brand will likely have a limited official presence at the event, slated to start Feb. 6, and culminate with the finals on Feb. 9, the same day as the Opening Ceremony. Despite the Olympics’ limited role, the proximity to the Games in both time and geography is no accident. One source called the tournament the first step in the IOC’s long journey toward figuring out the best role for esports in the Olympics, under constant pressure to modernize itself for a younger generation. The tournament will be held adjacent to the Olympic Park in Gangneung, about three hours east of Seoul, the global capital of esports. An Intel rep said she could not comment on speculation. ESL and the IOC declined to comment. However, the IOC last Saturday issued a statement saying it would seek a dialogue with the gaming industry, saying “competitive ‘esports’ could be considered as a sporting activity” and “can provide a platform for engagement with the Olympic movement.” The statement was a surprising development after IOC President Thomas Bach was critical of the violence in many popular esports titles in an August interview in China.
"STARCRAFT" TO BE FEATURED: Sources said the tournament will feature "Starcraft II," a real-time military strategy game released in '10 by Blizzard Entertainment, but other elements of the program are still in flux. The Olympics have licensed the PyeongChang '18 intellectual property to French publisher Ubisoft, which has developed a new winter sports game titled "Steep," but that is not expected to be a key feature of the event. While the standard path for new events to gain inclusion in the Olympics is via a nonprofit that gains status as the global governing authority and endures a lengthy vetting process, the IOC has acknowledged that its corporate sponsors and media rights holders are best positioned to educate the Olympic world on gaming. “A number of our commercial partners and broadcast partners are actively involved in the esports industry, the esports landscape, and we’re in dialogue with them about their involvement, and possibilities for greater engagement in esports,” said IOC Dir of Sport Kit McConnell in an August interview. Along with playing the lead role in planning the tournament, Intel also expects to make gaming part of its IOC sponsorship activation at the athletes’ village, sources said.
BRINGING TWO INTERESTS TOGETHER: Intel is situated to play a unique role in marrying esports and the Olympics. Along with its longterm title sponsorship with ESL, it sponsors esports teams and also struck a deal today to become the official central processing unit for the new Overwatch League. Separately, in June it signed an eight-year deal with the IOC worth roughly $400M. Its Olympic sponsorship is notable because it is not limited to a general category, but instead contemplates a number of ways it can bring new technology like VR, artificial intelligence and drones to the Olympics. The model of using a third party to execute an esports competition adjacent to the core events at a multisport festival has some precedent. ESPN in '14 first hired Major League Gaming to operate a "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" tournament at X Games Aspen.