There are certain events that you simply can’t miss. You will do whatever it takes to see them, follow or attend. For some it’s the Oscars, for some it’s the ComicCon. Whatever floats your boat. For me there are 3 events I will simply not miss – BlizzCon, The Game Awards and Intel Extreme Masters. This post will be about IEM.
Intel Extreme Masters exists as format since 2006/2007. Originally, for the first season, it was an European league. In season II it became a global thing, and Counter-Strike was joined by Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos. For 5th season League of Legends and StarCraft II joined the format, replacing Warcraft III. 8th season became a game changer. CS:GO replaced CS, Hearthstone was added and Spodek in Katowice, Poland took over from Hannover, Germany as the place where finals were taking the place. And things got real. In 2014 Spodek, the venue for the event in Katowice made the history.
Let’s face it, many people were baffled by the decision of moving the finals to Poland. I mean, polar bears on the streets, do they know what esports are? Do they even have electricity and running water? I’m well aware of stereotypes and misconceptions about Poland. I can imagine what people thought when they heard the news. But boom! In your face – Katowice became THE esports place, globally. Not only they have electricity, they have people who are capable of challenging other countries in terms of magnitude of organized events. Call me biased but not only we have proven ourselves as THE best venue, we also kicked everyone’s asses when it comes to the class of the crowd. We owned it. And if you don’t trust me on this one, here’s what ReDeYe, a senpai, had to say about event: click!
But the ESL team is always going for bigger and better, so each year the event amazes more and more. 2014 gave us first Hearthstone Tournament and a decision to have 100 000$ prize pool for the winner only. 73 000 people visited Spodek. In 2015 ESL added another building to the venue – MCK (International Congress Center) which holds the Expo part of the event and some of the tournaments, it also gave us access to Heroes of the Storm beta. In 2016 the tickets were sold out in 15 minutes and the venue was visited by 113 000 people. We had a chance to watch European finals of ESL Heroes of the Storm Championship, as well as Hearthstone’s Fireside Gathering Tournament. In 2017 the event became so big it was held over two weekends, with League of Legends tournament held week before CS:GO, Heroes of the Storm and StarCraft 2. 173 000 people visited Spodek while 46 million unique viewers watched online, 35.5% increase from 2016. 2018 had the same format and it felt like it had even more people than 2017.
I have not missed a single IEM final since 2014. I was there where NaNiWa lost his game and career to Polt (thank you, Polt <3) and sOs owned herO. I was there in 2015 when top of the top world players in SC2 attended, marking it the last year of Korean full domination. I was there in 2016 when European players made their mark on the game, giving the Korean players a run for their money. Polt won the tournament in beautiful style, retiring as a hero he was. I was there in 2017 when Korea made a come back, dominating the finals and giving us an amazing game between Stats and TY. I was there when Virtus.Pro was dominating; when card games made their return via Hearthstone; I was there during so many magic moments so of course I wasn’t going to miss IEM 2018.
I am not a fan of LoL so I skipped the first weekend, attending just March 2-4 events. The Expo part of the event grows so much with each year. And each stand offers some interesting activities, trying to lure people to the franchise and their products, adding the subconscious advertising to it. Which, in turn, leads to absurd situations like the manufacturer of chocolate having custom CS:GO games available at their spot. “<Name of chocolate> #6 killed you, Terrorists win” made me giggle every time I saw it. I kinda don’t think this is the best way of being recognized, dear Wedel, but I also totally see what you did there – let me guess, your social media blew up with tags and you are so “hip” among the teens now, aren’t you? GGWP
Apart from chocolate kills in CS:GO we also had backwards racing tournament and a lot of retro gaming options. Overall nice thing to see, a lot of options to spend time there if you don’t want to only watch the games or your favorite team is on the break.
On one hand – retro is making its return, on the other VR stands were pretty much everywhere
Expo is also a great place to check out the latest releases and solutions for gaming, as well as custom builds and original builds. There’s a lot of stuff that is sold as bargain and as much as I drooled over a lot of sales, some got me wondering. I found a custom built PC sold for 17k PLN and no matter how hard I tried, I could not get this price when building the same setup in the same store but without “IEM Special” tag. Depending on which site I used for the build, I got the final price between 9.7k – 11k. Where’s the rest of this price? What am I missing here? The guys at the stand realized I’m lurking around them too often, asking too many questions and they started ignoring me. I’m not going to name and shame but it is the second time I caught the same store on something like this. I’m really happy that companies like Razer or Asus did not follow that kind of behavior. I know where I am going with my money when I’m building my next PC.
Anyway, I felt like a kid in a candy store looking at some of the setups offered. I still remember my Amiga 500 and huge TV plugged to it. It’s amazing how far we’ve come. I almost went home with a mouse bungee (a mouse bungee!) and I swear it took a lot of inner strength to leave HyperX. Hyper is about headsets for me, I have never came across better gear than theirs so far. At IEM they were displaying their newest keyboard, Alloy Elite RBG and for me it was a chance to see if Hyper can become my go-to company in other aspects too, not just with headsets. I’m a weird animal, if I find something that fits me, I’ll stick to it as long as it is possible. And if it breaks, I’ll get the same model. I’m not a big fan of mechanic keyboards but I am longing for a good black Cherry MX. I don’t know what it is with such venues, but the moment you start asking questions, people suddenly have to be somewhere else. So I was told that Alloy only comes with 3 option and “why” was not clarified. It’s ok, bro, I’m not here to attack you, you however are here to sell your product to me, to advertise it as the best option eva eva. You could have gone with “black Cherry is the loudest, we want to lower the volume” or “red Cherry is as responsive as black but it is softer which is an advantage for a gaming keyboard” – which btw is true as black is better for other purposes – and I would drool all over your gear. Instead you turned around away from me, cutting any conversation, which only says to me that you are not comfy talking about tech side of it which in turn means that you either aren’t sure of what I mean or, to quote the Nightfallen, something’s not quite right. Guess I am staying with Logitech for now.
But we’re here for esports!
IEM 2018 was the final event of season XII and part of Season 1 of Intel Grand Slam, also the first one to use new group stage format. Group Stage was held between Feb 27th – March 1st and had two double elimination format groups, 16 teams total. 500,000$ prize pool is what they were after. Broadcast team consisted of Machine as Desk Host; OJ Borg as Stage Host; SPUNJ, YNk and friberg as Analysts; HenryG, Sadokist, moses and Pansy as Commentators. Playoffs were held on March 2nd – 4th, 2018. Quarterfinals and Semifinals were Bo3, the Grand Final – Bo5.
I’m not a huge fan of CS:GO so that format had me confused – why not Swiss? Ok, Swiss wasn’t perfect but this one will take some time to get used to for me. Now we have 2 groups of 8 teams each. Group stage winners advance to the Semifinals, group stage runners-up advance to the Quarterfinals as the High Seeds and group stage 3rd place teams advance to the Quarterfinals as the Low Seeds. And each level is with different BoX. Really annoying if you are running between the stages, you never know who is playing with whom and why, unless you follow social media all the time. Anyway, in Quarterfinals FaZe Clan beat Cloud9 2:1 (16-5, 13-16, 22-20), same as Team Liquid vs Ninjas in Pyjamas (16-13, 13-16, 16-9). In Semifinals Astralis was sent home by FaZe Clan 0:2 (10-16, 10-16), while Fnatic dominated Team Liquid 2:0 (16-13, 16-7). In the Grand Final Fnatic won over Faze Clan 3:2 (5-16, 22-20, 16-7, 11-16, 19-17).
I don’t know if it is just me but CS:GO simply did not have the spark this year. Fan favorites, Virtus.Pro were invisible, other games were just…boring. The only moment when it was actually exciting for me was the final. I was waiting for de_train and I got it! That was really something worth watching. But overall something is missing in this tournament for me, I just can’t place it. But hey, at least I had no regrets making Expo hall my usual hanging out spot!
Heroes of the Storm
Disappointed with CS:GO, I had no regrets spending most of my time in Expo hall between Heroes and StarCraft 2 stages. This year IEM hosted 2018 Heroes of the Storm Global Championship Phase #1 Western Clash. Time not wasted, what a display of skills it was. Team Dignitas and Fnatic (without QuackNiix who had to drop due to illness but with SonicLeBeast as replacement), Method and Zealots, Tempo Storm, Team Twelve, HeroesHearth and Team Freedom. Four top teams from NA and EU, double elimination format, this was going to be fun. 100 000$ prize pool and extra spot at the Mid-Season Brawl – the rewards were really nice. Quarterfinals were Bo3, everything after that was Bo5, apart from Bo7 in Grand Final.
The broadcast team was really well chosen this year. Khaldor, Trikslyr, JHow, Dreadnaught, Gillyweed and Vandie as casters were a great team and let me just say this, ladies kicked asses this year. Oh my, how Gilly grew! I always liked her but she was usually this giggling addition to the caster team, dominated by her colleagues, but at HCG she absolutely took over the desk with class and she did an amazing job. And Vandie? Holly…that was some proper casting! Girl power!
It was quite surprising to see Tracer being the most dangerous damage dealer, involved in most of the fights. I guess the cavalry is here to stay, haha. I don’t like to go with the crowd so I usually support the teams that are unpredictable and can surprise because this is what brings the wow factor to the game for me – those little surprises, those things they do when nobody expects them, those amazing recoveries when they should be dead twice already – this is what makes my interest peak. And during IEM 2018 this was delivered for me by Team Twelve and Zealots. Yes, there are the solid teams that shine every time but come on, you don’t ignore the wild cards! TT had amazing performance this year, yes but Zealots? Holy guacamole, talk about wild wild card. And shout out to the crowd. It’s amazing to see how much Fnatic and Method are loved by the crowds, but what is even more amazing is the fact that fans cheer at everyone. There is no crowd like Heroes crowd, best recharger ever.
In Quarterfinals Team Dignitas won 2-1 over Heroeshearth; Team Twelve won 2-0 over Method, Tempo Storm won 2-0 over Zealots and Fnatic dominated Team Freedom with the same score. Semifinals gave us really nice games between Team Dignitas and Team Twelve (3-1) and between Tempo Storm and Fnatic (3-1). In the Winners’ Finals Team Dignitas owned Tempo Storm 3-0.
Losers’ Round 1 had Heroeshearth winning over Method 2-1 and Zealots not giving any chances to Team Freedom (2-0). Round 2 was about the domination of Fnatic over Heroesharth (3-0, really?) and crying kitty crying even more as Team Twelve lost 1-3 to Zealots. I love that logo, TT! Round 3 was weird, did someone forget to tell Fnatic they are playing? Zealots owned them 3-0. Losers’ Final was between Tempo Storm and Zealots and there was no doubt that Zealots have their eyes on the trophy as they won 3-1 over TS.
And then there was the Grand Final. Team Dignitas vs Zealots, Bo7. Dignitas had one point advantage on the start and in a way it saved them – Zealots won first two maps and it seemed like we’re up for a huge surprise but TD wasn’t going to give up just yet – they won next two games and we were at 3-2. 5th game went to Zealots and it was the 7th game that was going to give us the winner. And what a game it was. Team Dignitas won in the end, 4-3, in what easily is the best round of the whole IEM for me. GG TG but big grats to Zealots too.
I do hope that Heroes are going to stay in the Expo hall for the future. Yes, Spodek is bigger but Heroes stage just seems nicer, giving the games more spotlight. The chants from other stands are annoying but not as much as I thought they would. Please don’t push Heroes to Spodek, ESL, I beg you.
This year’s tournament, final of Season XII World Championship gave us the games between 76 players. First event of WCS 2018 also marked the return of the domination of Korean players. Broadcasting team had Smix and Kaelaris as hosts, Artosis, Tasteless, RotterdaM, ToD, PiG, iNcontroL and Maynarde as commentators. After 4 server qualifiers, 20 terrans, 27 protosses, 29 zergs advanced to round of 76 and faced each other. Ro24 consisted of 4 groups of 6 players and round robin format. Winner of each group advanced directly to Quarterfinals, while second and third place advanced to Ro12. Elazer and Nerchio were obvious fan favorites, but Ro24 was their final stage of the tournament – in Group C Nerchio won one game, lost four while in group D Elazer lost all five of his matches. In Group A TY won, Dear was second, Maru third. Solar won in Group B, with Dark coming second and Hurricane third. Group C saw the zerg dominance and the last hope of Europeans – Serral as winner, with Rogue as second and Impact as third. Group D was all about that protoss with Classic as winner, sOs as runner up and Trap as third.
We were pretty much back to Korea only matches at this point. In Ro12 Trap won 3-2 over Dark; Dear beat Impact 3-2, Hurricane lost to Rogue 0-3 and sOs and Maru delivered one of the best games of the whole thing – which ended with 2-3 for Maru. Quarterfinals gave Europeans hope as Serral won 3-2 over Trap. Classic beat Dear 3-1, Rogue sent TY home with 3-1 score, while Maru won 3-1 over Solar. Semifinals left no questions unanswered – Serral lost 0-3 to Classic while Rogue beat Maru 3-2, which meant it’s going to be Korea vs Korea in Grand Final. Again. I’m not usually a fan of Korea’s dominance but there are certain players I really like due to their humble attitude and display of emotions. It used to be “go in, win, take the trophy without even thanking your opponent, let audience take few pics, get out”, with no emotions, no smiles, nothing. Maybe this is why I really like players that are human beings. Polt, Maru, sOs, Rogue, Taeja… I was hoping for Rogue – Maru Final but I got that game in Semi. So of course I was rooting for Rogue in the Final, even though Classic was the one that was favored as winner by “pros”. Not sure if it is the same Classic we’re talking about, as in the finals he was struggling imo. In game 1 Rogue proved that he is a fast learner and used the same approach that gave Elazer one win over Classic – this gave him first win. Game 2 was about Rogue’s dominance and patience while Classic seemed undecided on what he wants to do. 2-0 for Rogue. Game 3 could have been Classic’s return but Rogue amassed a huge army and just drained his opponent. 3-0. Game 4 was about better management from Classic who gained some advantage but Rogue kept pushing, getting that 4th win and winning the tournament. 4-0 for Rogue, what a match!
IEM is the event to go to, that’s for sure. It’s amazing to see how each year the ESL crew tops their own records set year before. It’s the pro level, it’s the entertainment, it’s the top players in the world. And it’s the best crowd ever. IEM 2018 only just ended, yet I am already wondering what they have in store for next year. Hype is real <3
And I am not the only one to feel this way. It was -10 to -20 degrees Celsius outside during the event, yet people stood for hours in a line just to get in. ESL tried to accommodate those that didn’t make it in by organizing a fan area in the city center, but the temperatures were cruel, only few die hard fans decided to go for it. Better luck next year, hope they stick to this option because it’s a very good idea if the temperatures are above 0.
As always, Intel Extreme Masters was time well spent. Can’t wait for IEM 2019!