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Setting the Gold Standard for PC Gaming in eSports

Jason Johnson Freelance writer and editor

Learn how regulation rigs built with top-of-the-line components help maintain the integrity of PC gaming in an eSports tournament.

The 11th season of Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) is once again featuring regulation PCs that set the standard for competitive gaming.

IEM Shanghai is the last StarCraft II LAN before the World Championship Series (WSC) Summer Circuit Championship the following week, and the tournament will determine the favourites going into the WCS Summer Championship.

Shanghai is also one of the final chances for players to win WCS points, which help them qualify for the year-end WCS Championship at Blizzcon and get closer to the coveted title of world champion — not to mention the top prize of $200,000.

Photo credit: Joe Brady
Photo credit: Joe Brady

The ever-mounting stakes of the eSports qualification system show exactly why fairness is a top concern for organisers and players alike. It’s important that the players’ equipment does not falter during the competition, ensuring matches go off without a hitch.

“The PC is like the tennis racket of eSports,” explained IEM organizer George Woo. “It’s the brains, brawn and preferred tool for competitive gamers.”

Unlike conventional sports equipment, however, the specs for IEM’s regulation PCs are constantly improving. The components are upgraded to keep up with the latest technology.

To ensure the evenness of competition, all of IEM’s PCs meet the same gold standard of performance. Each championship-level gaming PC used throughout the IEM season will feature an Intel solid-state drive, a Gigabyte motherboard and a GTX 960 graphics card.

When IEM began in 2007, the parts inside the PCs were changed out several times during the course of a season. Ever since, computers at the event have kept pace with advancing technology. Woo says that means using the best performing PCs available.

For that reason, cumbersome hard drives (HDDs) have been succeeded by zippy solid state drives (SSDs). The motherboard is replaced as needed. And the tournament will soon be transitioning from USB ports to Thunderbolt I/O ports, which permit more accurate communication between the mouse, the keyboard and the game.

Keeping the processor, or CPU, up-to-date is particularly relevant to the integrity of a match. The likelihood of a hiccup occurring in a deciding moment is high if the processor is under powered, according to Intel gaming strategist Mark Chang.

IEM PC internal components. Photo credit: Jeroen Weimar
IEM PC internal components. Photo credit: Jeroen Weimar

Chang said CPUs are taxed most when calculating complicated physics like the behaviour of bullets during an enemy encounter.

“As soon as an enemy comes in, you need to be at the top of your game,” said Chang. “If your machine slows down even a tiny bit, it might be time to look under the hood.”

If a processor can’t maintain a proper frame rate, the game’s running speed, it’s tough to compete.

“The thing about processing power in competitive gaming is that, while you may not think about it, a lag, a stutter or a hiccup in computing can really cost you the game if it happens in a deciding moment,” said Bastian Veiser, product manager for ESL Pro Series and Intel Extreme Masters.

Because of concerns like these, the push toward standardised PCs at eSports events is becoming a bigger issue. After the 2015 Dota 2 Asia Championship, Valve allegedly held a meeting with many of the top Dota 2 organizations’ captains to discuss player conditions.

Close-up of IEM gaming PC. Photo credit: Jeroen Weimar
Close-up of IEM gaming PC. Photo credit: Jeroen Weimar

The first thing on the agenda was standardizing hardware across all tournaments.

“We sat down as a group from almost every team here at the Major and talked about what was important to us when it came to tournament regulations,” Evil Geniuses captain Peter ‘ppd’ Dager explained on his vlog.

The importance of high-performance, standardized rigs extends to the pros’ personal rigs. To train properly, they need fully upgraded gear that emulates regulation rig standards. This allows them to cultivate their skills under controlled, replicable and reliable conditions.

MSI graphics card. Photo credit: Jeroen Weimar
MSI graphics card. Photo credit: Jeroen Weimar

“These are things that a casual player will overlook and not necessarily consider to be paramount,” Alex “LeX” Deily of Winterfox’s CS:GO team told ESPN. “Fifteen-year-olds that are getting on these pro teams, I guarantee you at some point they bought competitive gaming-grade products.”

MSI graphics card. Photo credit: Jeroen Weimar
MSI graphics card. Photo credit: Jeroen Weimar

Gameplay isn’t the only thing players can improve with the right gaming PCs. Players using 6th or upcoming 7th generation Intel Core processors can also take advantage of improved streaming and always-on DVR options while playing tournaments.

“Whenever you see live video brought to you by IEM, that video was rendered on a machine powered by an Intel processor to shorten render times,” Veiser explained.

Looking beyond season 11, Woo said IEM tournaments will take advantage of even higher performance with the new Intel Core i7-6950X Processor Extreme Edition. He explained that the right tech can go beyond competitions to impact game development, tournament production and broadcasts, and even the future of virtual reality.

“CPUs will definitely continue to play an important role in the eSports space,” said Woo.

Feature image courtesy of Joe Brady.

Editor’s note: Follow these links to learn more about making your gaming tech “Core Strong” with innovations such as the Intel Core i7 Extreme Edition processorTurbo Boost Max technology 3.0 and overclocking. Find more stories about gaming and eSports in the Game On! collection.

Find more gaming resources from Intel here

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