The U.S. likes to think of itself as a world power in all sports, and in new sports in particular. But its forays into eSports pale in comparison to those of tiny Katowice, a southwestern city in Poland.
When a new 15,000-square-foot eSports facility opened March 3 in Las Vegas by hosting a Halo World Championship qualifier with $50,000 in prizes, it was a first - but only for the United States.eSports have been, and continue to be, a major draw in Katowice.
During two recent consecutive weekends, Spodek — the city’s multipurpose arena — hosted Championships for the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and StarCraft II. Collectively, the event is dubbed IEM Katowice, and it’s considered the Super Bowl of eSports, with live streams on multiple platforms that reach an estimated audience of 40 million viewers. More than 125,000 attendees were expected; that’s almost half of Katowice’s population of 300,000.
“Katowice is an old industrial city that was built around the coalmines in the region, but today it’s building an image as a place that’s open to modern technology and youth culture,” Michael Blicharz, managing director of pro gaming at ESL TV, an online channel that live streams eSports competitions, told PCWorld.com earlier this month. “A global gaming event held in Katowice’s main sports venue fit into that image very well. The city had the vision to recognize a great opportunity and has benefited tremendously on an economic and PR level. In 2014 the Katowice city council [passed] a bill to support IEM until 2019.”
Special tickets that allow holders to skip long lines and entitle them to other benefits, along with a convention center filled with sponsors and games, have helped IEM Katowice become the largest eSports-themed expo in the world. But it’s not easy: Blicharz says 1,845 days’ or work are required by staffers in less than two weeks to make sure the event runs smoothly — and that doesn’t even include external staff hired to build the stage and provide security and catering.
“IEM Katowice has a World Cup type of buzz and feel,” adds George Woo, worldwide event marketing manager at Intel. “The partnership with the city and those venues allow us to deliver a world class event.”
To read more about the evolution of this most unlikely of eSports destinations, click here.