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Volume 24 No. 180
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Catching Up With: Intel's John Bonini At IEM Pyeongchang

Photo: Ben Fischer

Intel’s John Bonini was in Pyeongchang this week to oversee one of the company’s most audacious activations as a new Olympics sponsor: Intel Extreme Masters Pyeongchang, an esports tournament designed in conjunction with the International Olympic Committee. Cobbled together in just a few months, the Starcraft II competition was a modest affair, set in a venue far from the Olympic Park with no live audience. But he said it was nonetheless a worthwhile experiment that will pave the way for bigger ambitions in Tokyo 2020 and future Games.
 
When I first heard about IEM Pyeongchang, I was picturing a live event with a crowd inside the Olympic Park, where passersby might see it and be intrigued. What we’ve got here is not that. Does it still accomplish what you hoped?
BONINI: The major sponsorship with Intel was announced in June, and we came back in August and said, let’s add esports to it as a category. So just as a timing perspective, to go from August to February to have a tournament, you just start running out of time. So yes, we would have liked to have fans, have a venue, and have it all be inside the Olympic Park and everything. It just wasn’t going to happen. That said, we’re broadcasting to a live audience, we’re watching the feeds and [asking ourselves] what’s the quality of the feedback?
 
Safe to say we’ll see this bigger and better in Tokyo?
BONINI: I wouldn’t go quite that far, but if I had to put money on it, I’d say it’s going to be bigger. Maybe it will be a stadium event, maybe it will even be two or three titles. … I don’t want to convey this is all locked down. Get a little bigger, get a live audience, start getting some more feedback.”

A participant competes in the Intel Extreme Masters Pyeongchang tournament.
Photo: Intel/ESL

You said this was a difficult partnership to put together. Can you give a for-instance?
BONINI: The media rights were very difficult. The IOC says, “We own the media rights.” [Starcraft II publisher] Blizzard says, “No, we own the media rights.” And [tournament operator] ESL is used to having a big role, and everyone grabs a piece of the pie, and next thing you know, everyone’s grabbing each other’s hands. It took some time to understand what are the real guardrails, what’s everyone’s motivations, and then hope people who haven’t necessarily worked together yet to trust each other quickly. Intel tries to play a Switzerland role. … So we said, “OK, let’s everyone get their views out, and now let’s talk about what we’re really going to do in the next two months.” In some ways, I suspect we’ll actually look back on [the short planning horizon] as a good thing.

Intel is promoting its drones and virtual reality tools, and that’s a fairly straightforward marketing plan. But esports is less clear to me. How does bringing esports to the Olympics drive sales?
BONINI: We want to appeal to the enthusiast buyer, and the question is, do you start reaching a broader audience? We don’t know the answer to these questions, by the way, but do you start reaching a broader audience because it’s the Olympics? Someone says, “Hey, I want to get into gaming.” Or they used to be a gamer, but they don’t follow Twitch because maybe they played years ago but had a family and got busy like me. Then they see it associated with the Olympics and they think maybe they want to buy a PC again? That’s one possibility.