The Intel Extreme Masters Sydney (“IEM Sydney”) returned this past weekend for its third consecutive year. Thanks to the generosity of Intel, I was fortunate enough to experience new technology, get amongst the Australian esports ecosystem and witness another year of CS:GO professionals duking it out for the title of champion.
Being hosted by Intel is always fantastic as the team truly go above and beyond to ensure that their partners and guests are treated to the best experience at the event. I can’t thank Intel enough for having me on the trip, as it not only reinforced my passion for technology and gaming, but also allowed me to learn more about the nature of esports in Australasia, which is something very worthwhile in today’s world.
Below is a roundup of all the excitement across the three days of IEM Sydney 2019.
Day 1: Panels & Activations
The first day of IEM Sydney was filled with Intel specific activities, which offered a great opportunity to learn more about Intel’s new core i9 processors as well as their vested interest in esports.
My IEM Sydney experience kicked off with two very interesting panels, which offered Intel’s guests and members of the media an interesting view on the esports ecosystem in Australia. The first panel, “Esports: The Global Dynamic”, painted a broad view on the nature of esports and the changing landscape of esports across the globe. This particular panel included panelists from a diverse background including Lee Machen (General Manager of Gaming and VR/AR Sales at Intel), Anna Lockwood (EGAA Board Member, Head of Global Sales at Telstra Broadcast Services), Erik Anderson (Head of Esports at FaZe Clan) and Michal Blicharz (VP Pro Gaming at ESL).
It was particularly enlightening to listen to these brilliant minds speak about the importance of esports and the reasons behind its growing popularity. Michal Blicharz’s insight into the IEM and ESL events around the world, in particular, was of interest as he detailed just how much planning and work is involved in getting equipment to locations, the challenges faced when competing for venues against popular music artists and the fact that every event needs to run like clockwork in order to keep the fans engaged.
Lee Machen made an interesting point about the ESL One event that was recently held in India, a country with a population that was predominantly consuming mobile games as opposed to PC. Being able to successfully run a PC gaming event in India was a grand feat and showcased that even in countries that was mobile gaming dominant, esports events were easily consumed. This idea of a country like India taking to esports was exciting to hear, given my own background and the fact that I, personally, have not seen many Indians and Sri Lankans getting amongst the esports hype.
The second panel, “Breaking Into Esports: How Brands and Businesses Can Thrive”, was intriguing and I was thrilled to be able to learn more about how businesses could benefit from esports. The panelists sitting on this panel featured Michal and Erik once again, however also included two very dynamic and talented women in the esports and gaming business, Tiffany Huang (Co- Chief Operating Officer at Acer) and Brittany Williams (Esports Business Development Specialist at Intel).
Listening to both women speak about esports and their experiences working with brands and businesses was inspiring and was a reminder of the fact that there are several women who work at the forefront of gaming and esports in today’s society. I had the pleasure to chat with Brittany on a one on one basis immediate after the panel and she was truly a gifted woman in the industry with such fantastic ideas on diversity and inclusion in gaming.
The entirety of the panel was fascinating, especially since the panelists clearly spoke from experience. My interest certainly piqued upon learning that Acer was so committed to esports and gaming that they had picked up the content creator, Shroud, as one of their influencers and had a dedicated training room in their facility, which was used to educate people on how to stream and create content, provide them with tools to prepare both physically and mentally prior to ‘Going Live’ and essentially allow budding artists to utilise Acer’s technology to do what they love most.
After the panel, as mentioned above, I had a very open and captivating discussion with Brittany Williams, in which I learnt a lot more about Intel’s motivations behind sponsoring esports events as well as what women working in the esports industry should do to help create a space of inclusion in gaming. Check out our chat here.
With the panel and interview out of the way, we were taken on a tour around the IEM arena at Qudos Bank Arena, which included checking out the latest technology up close and personal. It was here that I got to bear witness to Acer’s amazing Predator Thronos gaming chair, fully equipped with recliner facilities, cup holders and even a massage function! It was also great to see so many familiar faces, including friends and people I’ve worked alongside in the ANZ gaming industry.
Once the tour was concluded, we had some free time to enjoy the activations around the arena so I did the only thing a geek like me would, and went around the entire venue playing AR games, checking out the latest technology from Intel’s various channel partners and got to see some very cool PC case mod designs.
Acer Predator Fort
Acer certainly brought their A-game to the Predator Fort by having not one, but two Predator Thronos prototypes on show at IEM Sydney. Pretty to look at, the innovative next step to ‘at-home-gaming’ was so much fun to experience. Though my experience was short, I thoroughly enjoyed sitting back with my feet up and playing games while my entire back was massaged. To be fair, after a couple of minutes, I was more interested in closing my eyes and enjoying the tension be released from my back than concentrating on killing enemies and getting that win. The Predator Thronos isn’t currently available for sale but if you ever get the chance to demo a unit, I would highly recommend it.
The Predator Fort also included several Predator Gaming desktops and laptops including a revamped version of the Helios 300 (my review of the older generation can be found here) as well as the new Helios 700, which is one heck of a gaming laptop! At just over 3kgs, it’s by far one of the heaviest gaming laptops I’ve seen, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it still keeps the sleek, discreet look of a gaming laptop and doesn’t take up as much space as a desktop. The keyboard and track-pad is also able to be pulled down, thanks to a new sliding mechanism, to allow for a more comfortable typing/wrist resting position.
Where the Helios 700 was the main attraction in terms of laptops, the Orion 9000 was the key desktop offering on display. My first look at the Orion 9000 was at PAX Australia 2017 and it’s good to know that the beast is still going strong nearly two years on.
Of course, I geeked out over the range of Predator Gaming peripherals that were being sold at the Predator Fort. The Predator backpacks were glorious, with enough pockets to fit all your gaming needs. The Predator Aethon 500 Gaming Keyboard was so comfortable to use and apparently was also the best seller all throughout IEM Sydney. Both the Predator Galea headsets and Predator Cestus mice were also two very cool looking pieces of tech, which I won’t lie, I’ve added to my Christmas wish list!
What set the Predator Fort apart from other booths though was the presence of Gfinity Australia influencers and staff hosting the various events at the booth, as well as a host of Acer staff who were so knowledgeable about not just their own products but gaming as a whole. It was such a delight to chat with them. The added bonus was also being able to meet the Australian esports team, Grayhound Gaming who were also present at the Predator Fort for fan signings.
Legion by Lenovo
After enjoying my time with Acer Predator, I couldn’t help but wonder what the competition was up to and made my way towards the Legion by Lenovo booth. What a difference in style Lenovo had compared to Acer! Where the Predator suite of gaming laptops and desktops were mighty, powerful beasts of machines, the Legion suite were more stylish yet packs a punch. Lenovo certainly stayed true to their tagline “Stylish outside. Savage inside” when it comes to their designs.
I’ll have to double check the names of the Legion gaming laptops I saw but boy, they were sleek and maintained such a thin look that you wouldn’t be able to tell that the laptop packed Intel’s latest core processor, an RTX 20 series graphics card and such. I was definitely blown away by how light the laptop I was shown was as well.
Of course, the desktops on offer was equally elegant with a small case that would fit almost anywhere but yet still provide the necessary power and graphics required for top tier gaming experiences.
After being a console gamer for so long, seeing both the Predator Gaming and Legion line has me convinced I’m missing out.
The 9th Generation Intel Core Processor Showcase
In the afternoon, Intel hosted a showcase of their 9th Generation Core Processor (H-Series) alongside several of their channel partners. It was fantastic listening to Lee Machen give an overview on the power of Intel’s new core processor and the way in which it takes gaming and content creation to the next level.
The showcase involved a live comparison of how the new processors handle games with the latest RTX graphic cards as well as how quickly data transfers occur on WiFi 6, which was really interesting to see in real time. Hitman 2 was the game on show and the differences in terms of lag was astounding, with the new processors showing a much more superior experience. As for WiFi 6? Well waiting around for files to be copied seems to be a thing of the past.
After the live demo, I was able to check out a few of the latest laptops across a variety of brands, which work with Intel’s new processor. From MSI to Lenovo, it was a real feat to be able to see how different laptop brands utilise the processor in different ways. Of course, I was definitely taken by the new Razer Blade 17, which was so shiny, sleek and stealth looking with a full HD screen that lit up the room.
The showcase was most definitely an eye-opening view of technology at its finest and was a great way to learn how Intel’s new technology works with its various channel partners.
Once I had my fill of esports and technology for the day, I made it a point to ‘people watch’ and took in the sheer glee on attendees faces as they roamed about the arena playing every game they could get their hands on and also took the time to chat with some of the event staff to learn more about what part they play at events such as IEM Sydney.
Day 1 ended on a high as Intel hosted a delicious dinner for the Asia Pacific media team in attendance. It was such a nice way to meet new people, learn about different cultures and how gaming and technology brings us all closer together.
After an exhilarating and equally exhausting first day, the second and third day of IEM Sydney was a breeze.
The second day of IEM Sydney was a lot more relaxing, with some time exploring the arena again. Being a Saturday, there was a lot more people in attendance and it was really interesting to see the demographic of people who attended such an event.
Not surprisingly, there were more males in attendance compared to females. Of the attendees, a good portion were in the 18-30 age group, which again, isn’t surprising. There were however, a handful of young children though, which was nice to see.
After walking around the arena, taking photos and what not, I sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the semi-finals in which I was able to see the intense CS;GO match between MIBR and Team Liquid.
The tension in the crowd was apparent and you could almost feel the adrenaline rushing through each player as they strategically played their matches. Watching such fast paced action, it’s difficult for CS;GO newbies, like myself, to truly get a feel for the game and the skills required. However, watching the expression on each player’s face throughout the match showed the intensity of the game. It was such an experience to watch esports professionals play on stage. Bearing witness to each team’s coaches instructing them through each turn, seeing the way the crowd roared with excitement upon a masterful kill, and the exhaustion on each player’s faces, reinforced the idea that esports in this day and age is, most definitely, a sport.
As the semi-finals concluded, with Team Liquid moving forward to the finals, I took my leave. Once again, Intel went over and beyond to treat their guests with a marvelous culinary experience. This time taking us on a cruise across the harbour, allowing us who don’t reside in Sydney to take in the attractive city skyline and harbour views. It was such an thrilling ride to dinner and certainly one that will remain in my memories for a long time to come. Dinner itself was an experience as the Asia Pacific media team sat together and shared stories, laughed, and were merry over delicious food and delightful drinks. It was a fancy and fitting way to enjoy Sydney and of course, Intel’s, hospitality.
The third day was again, quite relaxing, with a media only early access into the Intel Experience Zone within the arena. This media only session allowed us to actually get some hands-on time with the games and tech on offer at the show. It was really fun watching others play the hit VR game, Beat Saber, for the first time and experience the physical labour that comes with playing such a game.
I was more interested in checking out the channel partners’ area and spent time chatting with the likes of Razer to learn more about their new Razer Blade laptops, the Razer Core X Chroma as well as the highly effective Razer Nari wireless headphones. The Razer Nari was fantastic, with in built drivers that vibrate to in-game sounds, allowing for a truly immersive gaming experience. They even vibrated while I held them in my hands, which was quite freaky!
The second and third day was certainly more esports-centric with plenty on show, from the Overwatch Contenders League taking place to the Caches III matches. There were even smaller competitions held at the channel partners’ booths where attendees were pitted against each other for the glory of winning at IEM Sydney, as well as some the chance to win an Intel NUC Hades Canyon PC.
With all of the excitement around the arena, I was eager to catch the Grand Finals between Team Liquid and Fnatic and secured my seat early so as to not miss any of the excitement. The atmosphere was surreal. Though, once again, there weren’t as many people filling up the arena compared to last year, the crowd was still as boisterous as ever and were roaring with eager anticipation. The matches went smoothly and it was quite clear that both teams had found their match in terms of the CS:GO competition. Though there weren’t many present at the arena to watch the Grand Finals, I was informed that there were on average about 7,500 people in attendance per day across the three days of IEM Sydney 2019. Not only that, but early indications stated that online global viewership of the event was approximately 260K (excluding China). Considering that these are tentative figures, imagine the scale of viewership for IEM Chicago, or IEM Katowice?
The numbers for the weekend alone, show that esports is an event that is consumed both online and offline, though as mentioned earlier, it felt as if there were less people in the crowd compared to last year. I had interesting discussions with several opinion leaders in the field over the weekend who suggest that there are still several challenges when it comes to getting esports fans to leave the comfort of their homes to attend a major event such as IEM, especially when tickets are often pricey.
Regardless, the finals was intense, and the environment around me certainly made me feel like I was at a traditional sports match. The match went on for a good three hours, which is insane if you think about the fact that these players are using their minds, hand eye coordination, motor skills and the like for three hours without substitutes involved. Thankfully there were regular breaks, but that wasn’t too much help when the game kept going into overtime. The number of overtimes involved proved just how talented both teams were. I won’t lie, as someone who doesn’t understand CS:GO, I did eventually get tired and decided to watch the match from the comfort of my hotel room (given that I had a bad headache as well). Though it was essentially the same thing, it wasn’t quite the same atmosphere wise compared to sitting in a crowd of cheering esports fans.
After what was a grueling few hours, Team Liquid finally took the win and IEM Sydney came to an end for another year.
The Importance of Events Like IEM Sydney
Events like IEM Sydney, along with several other major esports (as well as grassroots) tournaments across Australia, play an important role in helping businesses and residents understand the value that esports brings to the Australian economy, not to mention tourism as well. Esports is rapidly changing the nature of entertainment and events such as IEM Sydney, sponsored by renowned brands such as ESL and Intel, are required to help pave the way for the future of the industry.
With more and more people getting involved in esports, it’ll be interesting to see where it all leads and how the continued advancement of technology will help assist with developing the industry.
Thank You Intel
A huge thank you to Intel, once again, for allowing Attack On Geek to experience all the fun and excitement of IEM Sydney 2019. I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to not only get amongst new technologies and esports but also get to know some key figures at Intel who have such a well thought out plan and a vision of seeing esports succeed.
Here’s to one day being able to understand CS:GO and get my own gaming PC to start testing out those powerful new core i9 processors.