A blue reflection on Katowice

The dust has settled on the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship, and so, too, on the EMS One Katowice grand finals.

It was a weekend filled with magical moments that I and hundreds of thousands of others will cherish for many years to come. It’s funny, but as time goes by and we reminisce on this tournament, more and more will claim “I was there” – I’m personally glad I really was.

When trying to summarize the event, it’s hard to put it in to words (I know, I’m supposed to speak for a living!), but I’ll do my best and sum it up in three: magical, tremendous, and spectacular.

For someone like me, who’s been involved in gaming since the earliest days of the spectrum and in eSports from almost the mid nineties, this event was the stuff that dreams are made of. I’d always wanted and hoped that we would one day be in huge arenas showing off the most competitive players on a big stage with millions tuning in, but I’ve had more than my fair share of doubts that it would ever happen. Yet within the space of nine months, we have seen The International, LCS World Finals and now the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship do just that. There is more on the way, too, with our visit to the Frankfurt World Cup stadium for Dota 2 and ESL One’s first major event.

There were many people thanking us for a great event, but I also want to pay tribute to the people who made it all possible. I rarely get a proper opportunity to do so, at least publicly, and I feel there are many, many people who deserve to be mentioned in relation to Katowice.

Firstly, the volunteers. What an amazing, dedicated bunch of ladies and gents we had from Poland helping us run and organize the event. Dozens of them worked very long hours, ferrying players and talent to the venue and airports and back to hotels, organizing their badges and entry, managing the catering and drinks and generally making sure everything at the venue ran smoothly. Not once did I hear a complaint or a hint of tiredness, but they must have been shattered! It takes a great deal of skill, motivation and hard work to pull off an event of this size, and it was in no small part thanks to these awesome people.

I’m also extremely proud of the entire talent crew we hired for the event, including our own ESL TV personnel. In all, I hired more than 25 people to cover observer roles as well as commentary, analysis and host positions, and every single man and woman gave their all over long days and lots of stress that never once transferred to the screen. In addition to this, we had many players and managers step in to help us on the CS tournament, and to those people, too, I thank you for making it great.

I also want to say a massive thank you to the people backstage in our production units, both from ESL HQ and ESL Poland. What we collectively delivered over the four days was amazing. Sure, we made some mistakes and we’ll learn, but I can’t remember a time where I had so little to complain about (and trust me, as these guys will tell you, when things go wrong, I complain like a little bitch!). Everyone works hard at every event, but there was a spark here like at no other event we have produced. An edge, if you like. Something that made them all work longer and harder and better than ever before to deliver a fantastic experience for those who turned up and tuned in.

There was a significant reason for this: the crowd.

I’ve traveled the world in the last 12 years, witnessing first-hand the crowds that turn up to eSports events. At some, they are polite, while at others they can be noisy, passionate or restrained. In some, we have had football style chants (hi, Brazil!) and in Sweden it’s obvious they are in love with their games, but in Poland we had all of that at the same time, and, bolstered by their sheer numbers, they cheered every frag, every kill, every shot, every hook, every drop and every GG. Whether they knew the game or not, they cheered. Loudly.

And, when I mingled with the crowd to soak up the atmosphere as I did at least once a day, they were polite, pleasant, funny and appreciative as well as being more excited than a five year old on Christmas morning.

As I sit and write this, I have ‘LAN Blues’, a phenomenon we once associated with returning home from what we used to call a ‘LAN party’. We would take our own computers, complete with monitors that were the size of small garden sheds, and play for three days straight through to the early morning hours, socializing and drinking with our new found frenemies. Where competition wasn’t played out on a stage of any kind, let alone one half a mile long. Where players had no team shirts and the only sponsors they had were the parents who’d paid the train fare. The prize pots, too, were modest – the most we could win back then would be £100, and that was considered pretty damn good.

Yet, for all that has changed, ‘LAN Blues’ have not. I already miss the crowd, the people, the players and the tournament, which is why I make a point of soaking up every moment and committing it to memory forever, especially when a tournament is as special as this one was.

The only difference now is we won’t have to wait long for the next one.

It can’t come soon enough.


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