Intel and ESL sign 3-year, $100 million deal, adding heft to booming esports market

Participants in the Intel Extreme Masters tournament in Chicago,  November 2018.

Intel and esports company ESL have extended a long-standing partnership, signing a three-year, $100 million deal designed to boost the profile of electronic sports worldwide, the companies announced Thursday.

Under the deal, Intel will provide multiple layers of technology — including its high-powered "Core" computer processors and 5G — for some of the biggest esports events through 2021. The semiconductor giant will also work alongside ESL to create new events seen around the globe. ESL runs multiple esports leagues and tournaments worldwide.

The Intel Extreme Masters, an ESL-run league sponsored by Intel, is set to enter its 14th season as the longest-running global professional gaming circuit. As part of the deal, another tournament will be added to the roster with the IEM event in China set to be converted into a stand-alone event.

The $100 million investment marks an even deeper foray into esports for Intel, at a time when many big brands are entering the industry. The company has sponsored ESL events for 18 years — making Intel one of the first major companies to dive into the now-exploding esports space, which is expected to surge to $1.4 billion in 2020, according to estimates from research firm Newzoo.

The deal makes the Intel-ESL (formerly known as the Electronic Sports League) affiliation the biggest brand and technology partnership in the esports space, the companies said.

John Bonini, Intel's vice president and general manager of virtual reality, gaming and esports, told CNBC the company is "very proud to have been a key part in growing esports." The partnership creates more long-term, sustainable paths in the industry, he said.

"It puts substantial weight behind [Intel's commitment to esports], and allows us and our partners at ESL to create new opportunities with the next 15 years in mind," Bonini said.

Mark Cohen, ESL's senior vice president of global brand partnerships, said Intel's commitment represents the next phase in the rapid rise of esports.

"For a really long period of time, there were a lot of one-year deals, sometimes two-year deals, in esports," he said. "Now other big brands and traditional entertainment companies have started to invest, and it's allowed us to have an approach and strategy that's pretty identical to traditional sports entertainment," Cohen said.

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