Diversity and digitally scanned players - Intel on changing the face of eSports

The company best known for CPUs is getting its game on in a big way

One of competitive gaming's main players has big plans for the future - but you might not even know it was calling the shots.

Intel - that's the company behind all those CPUs, motherboards and SSDs, right? Yep, but it's also one of the biggest names in eSports, and has been for the past 10 years.

eSports isn't all spotty teens and online fame, either. The biggest stars earn hundreds of thousands of pounds playing League of Legends or Counter Strike. They have coaches, dieticians, psychologists and financial advisors to help them go from sitting behind a keyboard to standing on stage in front of 10,000 screaming fans.

The running theme throughout all of that? With only a few exceptions, the whole scene is male-dominated.

That's something Intel wants to change.


You wouldn't know it if you tune into the average Twitch stream, but women make up 48% of all gamers worldwide.

Intel hopes that making female role models more visible will lead to more girls getting into competitive games - that's why it just stumped up US$30,000 for a women's Counter Strike tournament at IEM Katowice in Poland.

With some of the world's best female gamers facing off against each other, it was one of the biggest signs that the gender gap is closing. In fact, Intel's head of events and sponsorships George Woo is hopeful that mixed-gender teams are just a few years away.

"It's all about creating the platform at first, and getting that message out there," Woo told us during a roundtable away from the main stage at IEM Katowice.

Making women gamers more visible at big tournaments is easy enough for a giant like Intel, but addressing the bigger problem of online abuse is much tougher.

It's the harassment and trolling that put off a lot of players, which is why Intel also used Katowice to launch the AnyKey diversity initiative. 

"We need to get to gamers at a younger age in order to cut down on this harassment," Woo explained. The initiative is working on a code of conduct that will set out what is expected of all eSports players and fans, with a zero harassment policy.

It's promising stuff, but how it can be enforced and what impact it'll have on the keyboard warriors spitting the most bile online remains to be seen.


Intel can change the face of eSports in another way, too. Don't forget it's a tech company at heart - one with the3D scanning wizardry to put players inside their games.

RealSense cameras can digitise your face and turn your Fallout 4 avatar into your virtual doppleganger, so the next logical step is to do the same to eSports pros before they head up onto the big stage.

"It could definitely happen in the future," Woo explained. "Intel doesn't set the rules, we leave the big decisions up to ESL, but I'd love to see it happen."

ESL, the company behind IEM and one of the world's biggest eSports broadcasters and event organisers, has never compromised to let a sponsor get it's way, but if it meant giving fans a new way to get behind their favourite players, RealSense could become a part of the eSports scene a few years down the line.

Virtual reality could be on the cards, too. According to Woo, VR is going to be "the next usage model that rejuvinates the PC as a gaming platform."

"It definitely works for spectators, it would help bring them closer to events like IEM." Even so, there are no competitive VR games yet, and until one takes off in the same way League of Legends or Counter Strike has, VR eSports seem a long way away.


Right now, the IEM roadshow is winding down; Katowice was the end of the road, the last stop of the season ahead of the Spring break.

Realistically, it's going to take a lot of effort to close the gender gap among top teams, regardless of the game, but everyone we spoke to seems committed to making change happen.

The more techy changes could be made overnight, but it's down to the ESL to see if the players, and the spectators, want to see them introduced.

We'll have to wait until July, when the IEM roadshow starts again in Shenzhen, to see if Intel's plans have already started making an impact.