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Why Nvidia is Entering the Mobile eSports Arena

Nvidia has set up an eSports lab for pro gamers to practice.Nvidia has set up an eSports lab for pro gamers to practice.
Nvidia has set up an eSports lab for pro gamers to practice.Courtesy of Nvidia

Nvidia is doubling down on its eSports sponsorship investment. The tech company is expanding beyond its core PC gaming audience to sponsor developer Super Evil Megacorp’s mobile MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) game, Vainglory, through the developer’s ESL partnership.

Super Evil Megacorp COO and executive director Kristian Segerstrale says livestreaming has exploded for Vainglory, with over one million unique viewers tuning in to matches in September alone.

According to Jon Gray, content marketing manager at Nvidia, Android players average 100 minutes per session for the game, which he says offers the first real MOBA gameplay experience that’s been designed for touch screen devices.

Nvidia (NVDA) just launched its $200 Shield Tablet K1, which Gray says was designed with Tegra K1 chip technology that offers pro gamers a larger high definition screen on which to play and more enhanced visuals to bring the action alive for both spectators and players.

“Super Evil Megacorp wants to use eSports to grow this brand globally,” Gray says. “The game’s already huge in South Korea and the developer wants to expand its audience in North America and in the EU.”

The inaugural Vainglory China Invitational tournament, which was held November 20-22, had a prize pool of $66,000. Vainglory‘s Autumn Season Finals in Santa Ana, Calif. Dec 4-5 and Katowice, Poland Dec 11-13 will be part of a $200,000 prize pool.

“We have our logo everywhere in the space, and we’ll be on the wait screen between matches with 30-second spots that promote the Shield Tablet K1,” Gray says.

Gray says this Vainglory marketing partnership is part of a bigger strategy to get more Nvidia tablets into the hands of mobile gamers, as well as the pro gamers who make up the four Vainglory Seasons league structure.

Currently, pros can play with either iOS (APPL) or Android (GOOG) smartphones or tablets. Unsurprisingly, more pros play with tablets because of the larger screens. Gray hopes the improved experience will ultimately result in an increase in the number of pros using specifically the Nvidia tablet, and will help promote that hardware to the rapidly growing fan base.

The stakes are rising next year for eSports. Vainglory pro gamers will see an increase in the prize pools in 2016, as there will be over $210,000 up for grabs across the global eSports ecosystem for August alone.

The potential mobile eSports audience is huge. Joost van Dreunen, CEO of Superdata Research, says there were over 2.1 billion people playing mobile games globally this September. By the end of 2016 there will be over 3 billion mobile devices that can play Vainglory.

With over 750 million gaming PCs worldwide, Nvidia continues to extend its GeForce brand of PC graphics cards across the traditional PC eSports landscape with ESL. James Grunke, head of global eSports at Nvidia, says the goal over the last few years has been to work with ESL on an operational level to ensure all competition PCs are identical and running the latest Nvidia GeForce graphics cards.

“It’s not about buying real estate for our brand, but making sure our technology is available to players,” Grunke says.

About 18 months ago, Nvidia decided to build a brand new eSports lab to work more closely with pro gamers across PC games like League of Legends, Dota 2, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Three months ago, the GeForce eSports Studio opened its doors and has hosted several “boot camps” for teams like Cloud9, Team Envyus, Luminosity, and INTZ from Brazil.

“A team will typically come in for six days at a time and they’ll train 14 hours per day,” Grunke says. “We had Cloud9 come in a week before Blizzard Entertainment’s Heroes of the Storm North American Finals in Las Vegas and they won, and then they came back before BlizzCon and they won it all there.”

The lab set-up includes five-on-five PC set-ups so multiple teams can scrimmage together. There’s also a 4K TV for strategy and analysis. And Shield Tablet K1s are available. Grunke says every pro player that comes to Nvidia gets a tour of the entire campus and spends time with teams testing and developing new products.

“We put our product managers in with these guys to understand what they want from our products,” Grunke says. “Their skills are unbelievable, so when our scientists are watching what they’re doing, the opportunity to build new and better technology unfolds in a better manner.”

In addition to working with ESL, Nvidia also provides GeForce technology for Red Bull, Blizzard (ATVI), and Valve eSports events.

For more on Nvidia’s tablet and mobile emphasis, watch this Fortune video:

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