Last weekend saw me surrounded by loud, boisterous cheering, copious amounts of beer and Red Bull, as well as men and women donning jerseys of all colours and varieties. One would think, given the surrounding environment, packed stadium and large amounts of testosterone, that I spent the weekend at a large sporting match akin to the Rugby or FIFA World Cup. They wouldn’t be wrong.
Though it wasn’t quite on the same scale as the aforementioned sporting events, what I experienced felt very much similar.
The event I attended over the weekend was the Intel Extreme Masters (“IEM”) 2018, held in Sydney over three days. It was, by far, the biggest esports event that I had ever experienced and one which allowed me the opportunity to experience professional gaming at its finest, while being fully immersed in PC Gaming technology.
Typically a global sporting event held in Europe and Asia, IEM first launched in Australia in 2017, with both Intel and ESL (Electronic Sports League) being committed to the ethos of growing esports and its popularity around the world. Now in its second year, IEM Sydney has solidified itself as a major sport, to which hundreds and thousands flock to watch one of the biggest esports games, Counter Strike: Global Offensive (“CS:GO”), being played in real time.
Thanks to the lovely folks at Intel, who are wholeheartedly committed and dedicated to the future of gaming and technology, I was given the opportunity to enjoy the full breadth of the event across all three days. Not only did I get to experience watching the semi-finals and finals live but I also had the chance to see firsthand the power of the new 8th Generation processors that Intel has recently released, witness the beast that is the Intel Nuc Hades Canyon mini-computer, experience VR gaming at its finest, build my very first PC from scratch and stream games live from a packed showground.
Of course, Intel also provided me with some of the best lunches I’ve had in a while, as well as the most delectable and delicious dinner at the fanciest spot in town, the Sydney Opera House. One thing’s for sure, Intel really knows how to look after its guests and I for one, am entirely grateful to have been able to enjoy such delightful hospitality, as well as meet some very lovely people.
The first day was busy, with a tour of the Intel Experience Arena, just outside of the main stage. As members of the media, we were given early access into the arena before the general public and were taken on a tour of all that Intel had on show, including details on the various products being used to power the experiences, as well as those on offer. Some of the highlights included watching how powerful the Hades Canyon portable computers were in supporting graphically heavy games such as PUBG, the future of virtual reality with games such as Beat Saber and Sprint Vector on show, and the opportunity to Build Your Own PC.
Having experienced a small part of what Intel has to offer at PAX Australia 2017 and being blown away, I wasn’t surprised at the amount of effort Intel went through to bring its A game to the show. Walking around the Intel Experience Arena, which consisted of equal parts desktop PCs to notebook PCs, had me feeling like a kid in a candy store.
Following the tour, I was lucky enough to sit in on a panel discussing esports, gaming and technology. The panel consisted of key industry heads at Intel, ESL, Acer (a partner of Intel) and Showdown (an exclusive distributor of Twitch.tv in Australia), and provided some key insights into the history of IEM, the reasons behind the growing popularity of esports as well as the commitment each company has in helping grow the industry.
Here are some key takeaways:
- Influencers are now more powerful than ever – an integral part of marketing strategies.
- Affiliate marketing is important in today’s world.
- Esports being mainstream depends on audiences definition of mainstream. Millenials are already looking at platforms such as YouTube and Twitch as their primary source for news and entertainment. Therefore to them, esports is mainstream.
- Twitch is currently the best way to reach viewers.
- More non-tech brands are getting involved such as Red Bull and even McDonald’s.
- Esports is generating larger viewerships than traditional sports.
- Esports is very engaging and interactive, more so than traditional sports, which doesn’t engage much with audiences.
- Gaming is open and accessible. People of all ages and backgrounds can game and become competitive gamers.
The panel was by far one of the most interesting as it truly showcased the impact that gaming and technology was having on the world, as well as the changing nature in which the public consume their media. Gone are the days of traditional media as more and more millennials turn to video platforms such as Twitch for their consumption of news and entertainment.
After a spot of lunch came the opening ceremony and pre-show event which gave me my first look at how an esports event is run on a large scale. The stadium was packed and the matches were broadcast to big screens with presenters and casters, much like that of a traditional live sporting match. The preliminaries made me see just how similar esports is to physical sports, just without the ‘physical’ aspect, though this I believe, is debatable as players undergo vigorous training, a strict nutritional diet, routines, as well as physical and mental conditioning, much like that of other sportspeople who partake in traditional sports.
Where Day 1 was more about experience and insight, Day 2 was very much about ‘doing’. Thanks to Intel, I managed to get a one-on-one session with an expert PC technician who helped me build my very first gaming PC from scratch. I was taken through the various parts of a PC, taught all about the Intel processors and Optane Memory, graphics cards, motherboards and the like. The station in which we were in was put together in partnership with MSY Technologies, who ran a promotion wherein all those able to build a PC within an hour would be able to take the PC home for $799AUD. Now, for a gaming PC, that’s a steal! I managed to build mine in just under 40 minutes, though sadly, I couldn’t take the PC home given my current financial situation as well as the fact that shipping to New Zealand would have cost a fortune.
Following the build, I managed to have free time to explore the entire arena and catch up with my streamer friends, most of whom I’ve spent far too much time chatting with online but have never met in person. It was such a fantastic feeling to see many of them as it was as though I was meeting long lost friends. During this time, I took the opportunity to ask what they thought of IEM and was pleasantly surprised to hear some very positive and encouraging responses, particularly about how IEM was bringing gamers together in the real world.
On top of that, for the first time ever, ESL hosted a Women’s Open, which was excellent as it meant that the company was dedicated to inclusion and diversity in gaming and esports, something that I’m incredibly passionate about. Sadly though, the matches often clashed with other events taking place and therefore I didn’t get the chance to show my support.
After networking and catching up with friends, I joined the rest of the media team for dinner at the Bennelong Restaurant at the Sydney Opera House, which was incredible fancy. It was extremely fun chatting with the Intel PR team and journalists from around the world about technology and the future of gaming in a more relaxed context. One thing I found interesting was the genuine excitement the team had about esports and despite working in the industry, doing similar events all throughout the year, there was still wonder and delight in their eyes when speaking about Intel’s commitment to gaming and technology. It was quite refreshing actually.
The first two days were full on and certainly changed my perspective on what it means to be a gamer. Coming from a small country like New Zealand, I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to take in the sheer brilliance of IEM and experience esports at its finest.
Stay tuned for part 2 of my time at IEM Sydney 2018, which will detail the last day of IEM and the Grand Finals, which was absolutely mind-blowing.