At E3, Intel Bets On VR And Esports As Gaming's Future

Intel headed to E3 2017 with a grab bag of announcements related to its new Skylake X- and Kaby Lake X-series CPUs, VR, and esports.

We learned about the new X-series CPUs recently at Computex 2017. This lineup ranges from a $242 Core i5 with four cores and threads all the way up to a new $1,999 Core i9 with 18 cores and 36 threads. Intel's goal with today's presentation appeared to have been convincing gamers that they need all those cores and threads for their own systems. Why? Because of VR, esports, and where they're going to intersect.

Intel opened by saying that a new Core i7 is capable of pushing twice the frames per second in Blizzard's team-based competitive shooter, Overwatch, although it didn't specify which CPUs it was comparing. More interesting was the company's push to allow you to livestream yourself playing Overwatch in mixed reality without putting you at a disadvantage because of a CPU bottleneck. That became something of a trend during today's presentation--the company knows that most gamers don't need a bunch of cores and threads specifically for games. Instead, they need the extra processing capabilities because they want to livestream while they're playing, and they're increasingly interested in doing so in VR.

To that end, Intel announced a partnership with ESL, the world's largest esports organization. That partnership will bear fruit in a few ways. First, Intel will become the "backbone of all ESL esports operations on a pro, amateur, and grassroot level," ESL said, as the organization's global technology partner. Second, Intel will host the new Intel Grand Slam, which will offer competitive Counter Strike: Global Offensive players up to $1 million. Finally, the companies will also partner up with Oculus for a new VR Challenger League competition that will run until early 2018. Intel said the competition will begin in July and will take place online and at "key events with players from around the world."

Intel explained its efforts to support VR and esports:

Of course, as the popularity of esports continues to rise, the experience should too. Gamers and fans want more immersive experiences. This is why we are working to bring more VR to esports in every possible way. Not only do we want to put fans inside the action with a truly immersive VR spectator experience, we’re also working with partners to make VR esports a reality. A big part of this is creating game titles that are worthy of the pros and fans, and growing the VR esports player base to create the pros of the future.

The VR Challenger League will feature two games: The Unspoken, which has already been played at several competitions, and Ready at Dawn Studios' upcoming Echo Arena. Intel will further support Echo Arena by sponsoring a free launch for all Oculus Rift owners on July 20. The game seems like a futuristic take on ultimate Frisbee that tasks two teams of five players with scoring against each other in zero gravity. We're a little worried the game might make us sick--it's in first-person and features a lot of fast-paced movement--but it also looks like a rollicking good time. Echo Arena is a companion game to Lone Echo, another VR title that promises an "immersive adventure in a hands-on virtual world." In space.

Intel has effectively wagered that more people will want to experience VR and participate in esports in the future. Both require more powerful CPUs than traditional games that aren't being live-streamed. Many games fail to utilize just four cores, let alone 18, and the GPU is often the deciding factor in frames per second. (That isn't true of CPU-intensive games, of course, but the GPU is what makes everything look pretty and play smoothly.) Thus, if the company wants to convince gamers to spend up to $1,999 on a CPU, it has to look outside the games themselves. Catering to VR and esports makes sense, especially with the rise of platforms like Windows Mixed Reality (for one) and Twitch (for the other).

Oh, and Intel also hitched its wagon to what it thinks is another area of interest for gamers: a "VR destination" for Linkin Park fans. The company said very little about this during its presentation, but it offered some more information in a press release:

Linkin Park Destination powered by Spatialand and Intel will help the band extend its social media engagement with fans via a curated experience in VR – from the studio to on tour to anywhere in between. Available in July, fans can enter into the VR destination via the Spatialand app to access Linkin Park’s music, interact with the band, sign up for contests, buy merchandise, and even unlock secret fan experiences and events created by the band.

We aren't quite sure how much the "X-series buyers" and "Linkin Park fanatics" markets overlap, but apparently Intel thinks the answer is "enough to sponsor a new VR experience."

Nathaniel Mott
Freelance News & Features Writer

Nathaniel Mott is a freelance news and features writer for Tom's Hardware US, covering breaking news, security, and the silliest aspects of the tech industry.