The Global Rise and Rise of eSports

Credit Helena Kristiansson

Early in March I traveled to Katowice, Poland for the 2nd year in a row to attend the 10th anniversary of the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) at the Spodek in the center of town. (Spodek translated from Polish is ‘saucer’ as in flying, which is what the building below calls to mind for those who gaze upon it, or in the words of one talented video editor, a giant sombrero.) Full disclosure I traveled to this remote corner of Poland for work, on behalf of my employer Deep Focus supporting our client Intel who sponsors the event.

Credit Helena Kristiansson

As bit of context. The first IEM in 2006 was held in a hall within CeBit. Ten years later, what was a smallish event tacked onto a computer show is headed to be one of the biggest games in the land. Katowice IEM 2016, as evidenced by the live audience and social media tallies, was an even greater success than the record-breaking 2015 which at the time boasted a stunning 1 MM concurrent Twitch streams. What is unique and special about Katowice, it’s geographical and cultural isolation, allows for a clearer understanding of the passion and intensity that eSports holds for its fans around the world.

The apocryphal story is that IEM is held in Katowice due to an interview that Michal ‘Carmac’ Blicharz , then head of Pro Gaming at Turtle Entertainment and the keepers of IEM gave to Forbes Magazine in 2012. He was touting the Intel Extreme Masters and its success and a local politician in Katowice saw the article, understood Carmac was looking for a place to hold IEM and basically said, “I’m Polish, you’re Polish — come to Katowice.” What would seem in America to be a backdoor deal turned into a PR and cultural bonanza for all involved.

This year over 116,000 rabid fans, all seemingly well south of 16, attended the Intel Extreme Masters. They came dressed in their cosplay, they came to support their favorite players and they came to experience the majesty of their chosen cultural passion.

Copyright Jeroen Weimar

Having never been to Vidcon in Anaheim, the meeting place for the YouTube set, I can’t speak to that particular rabidness but watching the tween (and under) set at IEM, as they screamed when the star players walked the gauntlet — I began to get the idea of just what the Beatles meet the Internet may look like.

And for any who remain skeptical of either the regionalism (what else is there to do in Poland) or the ‘niche’ size of the audience chew on these numbers from the weekend:

  • Nearly 200 million impressions from 30 MM plus fans on the ESLCS, ESL and IEM. (For the uninitiated ESL is the League, CS is Counterstrike (a title in tournament play and IEM is well, IEM).
  • 1.8 Million video views on Twitter
  • 52,595,444 Organic Impressions on Twitter across main accounts

These are not small numbers and a testament to the global drawing power of people watching other people navigate complicated digital landscapes both solo and as a teamsport.

America is getting ready to more fully embrace eSports this year. Turner is going to televise CS:GO, Twitch and YouTube are ramping up their eSports offering and major players like Mark Cuban are getting in on the action with an investment in an eSports betting platform. (That’s right betting on eSports. )

For anyone interested in what the next big media trend may be, look no further than eSports. It has all the hallmarks of exploding across the cultural landscape in a manner similar to what poker did a little over 10 years ago. A rabid and growing fanbase. Check. Platforms for distribution in the form of Twitch and YouTube. Check. And behaviors that reward obsession — both in forms of either improving your skills via gameplay or watching others.

So drop in to an event if one comes to you. Or better yet glide over to Twitch and see what the fuss is all about.

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