During a special, Twitch streamed press conference on Jan. 11, Intel Extreme Masters Katowice commemorated its 10 year anniversary by looking toward the event’s future. However, the organizers also acknowledged how far they had come from those risky, early days as one of the first arena esports events.
“For esports as a whole, it was one of the milestones that helped usher in the arena era,” Michal “Carmac” Blicharz, VP of product development at ESL Gaming, said. “It wasn’t obvious at all ten years ago that this was the right thing to do.”
At Katowice, esports were not an afterthought. The event was not a gaming tournament at a trade expo — it was an entire event dedicated to the celebration of professional esports. As it grew from year to year, that spirit spread from the arena to the city of Katowice, Poland itself.
“Intel Extreme Masters is a good opportunity to send a message to the world,” Mariusz Jankowski, head of the investor service department at the City Hall of Katowice, said. “‘Hello, Katowice is also an attractive city to live. We invite any young people to study here and stay after their studies.’”
IEM Katowice has become a cornerstone event for ESL, and the upcoming tournament running from Feb. 15-27 is no different. Ten years is an eternity in esports and the history and prestige of the tournament has only grown year to year.
“If you win this event, we genuinely want to build you a statue,” Blicharz said.
With the 10 year milestone, ESL is also launching a new campaign, “X Years of IEM Katowice — Celebrate the Heroes,” as well as a rebrand. The ESL globe and signature royal blue will stay the same, but everything else is getting a makeover.
But the press conference’s announcements weren’t all superficial. Here are five more takeaways about what ESL and Intel have in store for 2022 and beyond.
ESL rebrand will extend to the stream
Even as ESL plans their return to arenas, the organization has considered how to update their stream’s viewing experience. Blicharz hinted that a new head-up display would follow the new ESL graphics.
For tournament organizers, the HUD is a part of their identity and no small matter. It remains to be seen how the rebrand will alter the visual overlays.
Blicharz also addressed a question about the forays that ESL and DreamHack made into POV streams at past tournaments.
“There was interest in POVs but I think we need to do it slightly differently for it to really click,” he said.
Crowds at ESL and DreamHack events in 2022
ESL recently announced that the IEM Expo at the International Congress Center would be canceled at this year’s IEM Katowice. The event will be limited to the StarCraft II and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments taking place in the Spodek arena. What’s more, entrance will be limited to ticket holders carrying a valid EU COVID-19 passport.
All these measures are taken in an effort to maintain the crowd at this year’s IEM Katowice, after two years without an audience. As of now, Poland COVID-19 cases are somewhat under control, but if the Omicron variant makes its way to Katowice ahead of Feb. 25-27, plans for an in-arena crowd may still be called off.
“We will do everything in our power, everything in our power, to make sure that this event happens with the audience because this is why we do it,” Blicharz said.
ESL also plans to have IEM Cologne and DreamHack Dallas tournaments feature a live audience. Blicharz expressed his desire to add more in-person events but, as it stands, even Cologne and Dallas are subject to change based on COVID-19 cases and measures.
Intel’s plans for Asia
George Woo, gaming and esports marketing manager at Intel, fielded a question about the company’s plans for esports in Asia. He pointed to ESL’s steady expansion into Asia and, specifically, China as an encouraging sign in that area. Still, if ESL cannot meet the demand fast enough, Woo said Intel might look for other opportunities.
“If it meets what our objectives and strategies are, and ESL cannot serve us in that capacity, we do look at other leagues to fill that void,” Woo said. “We’ll continue to expand in markets where ESL may not be as strong.”
ESL is not yet in the market for new game titles at IEM Katowice
“Right now, it’s firmly Starcraft II and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive,” Blicharz said of the esports being played at the upcoming IEM Katowice.
That said, Blicharz and ESL are not against the idea of adding more games to the Intel Extreme Masters circuit. In the past, they ran events for popular titles like League of Legends.
For ESL to consider a new title, Blicharz said it must meet certain criteria. Namely, it must be a global title that the publisher has relinquished exclusive control over, and it must have a large enough viewership to meet the demands of both fans and Intel.
“If those things are met, we can look at new games,” Blicharz said. “I’ll tell you that, right now, I don’t see us adding a new game to Intel Extreme Masters in the near future.”
IEM Katowice will be a tournament to remember
Blicharz and ESL made it clear that their desire for this tournament is as strong, if not stronger, than that of the fans.
“Most of us are not doing this for the money,” Blicharz said. “You can get a job anywhere else and get paid … and not deal with reddit threads with 1,000 upvotes calling us incompetent if some tiny little thing goes wrong. Our payoff is really standing in the Spodek arena or Lanxess Arena [in Cologne] and being part of that moment.”
With BLAST Premier and PGL Esports having put together arena events in 2021, there’s no doubt that ESL are chomping at the bit for a chance to run Katowice to its fullest potential. The first large tournament of 2022, Katowice, will be a chance for Tier 1 teams to debut their new rosters.
CS:GO fans are eager to see if anyone can dethrone Natus Vincere. And, if all goes according to plan, it will all go down in front of thousands of screaming fans in the Spodek arena.