Intel Extreme Masters Katowice


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Take a look at those pictures. They are modern gaming or at least one aspect of it. I took them at the Intel Extreme Masters in Katowice, Poland. It was held in Spodek, a sport’s arena, and that does not seem inappropriate. I was there signing copies of Illidan at the Blizzard shop. At least, that’s what I came to do. I ended up an awestruck onlooker at a phenomenon the like of which did not exist when I was the age of most of the people present.

It’s a measure of how much the world has changed since the 70s. When I was a teenager, video games were something you saw in Science Fiction movies. They did not exist in the real world at least for people like me. They’ve grown through my lifetime from block graphics running on a ZX 81– with its 1 Kb memory, yep, you read that right– right up to today’s broadband-connected Xbox Ones, Playstation Fours and high-end gaming rigs.

These events represent a huge wave of technological and social changes. It’s not just the software and machines that the games run on. It’s the infrastructure that makes esports possible as a spectator sport. The internet, streaming, distributed broadcasting platforms like YouTube. Ultraportable digital camera systems. A swarm of technological miracles.

And then there’s the media infrastructure that let’s you follow the players and teams and games the way newspapers and magazines used to let you when I was growing up. I was interviewed by people using mobile phones to record the chat, photographed on the same phones. Stuff that once took a studio can be done on a device carried in a pocket. I talked with people young enough to be my grandchildren whose shows reach the sort of audiences only possible to mass media when I was their age. Broadcasting empires run from bedrooms. I don’t know why it surprises me. I do the same thing in my own small way with my indie-published ebooks.

I think it was the scale of the thing that really struck me. Standing in those huge crowds, looking at those vast screens, is a very different thing from watching a game on the screen of your laptop. And that’s kind of the point. The only comparable thing I can find in my own experience is being in the crowd at a football game. I suppose that’s the statement being made too. This is an event on that scale. It has the same kind of coverage, the same kind of impassioned commentary, the same kind of audience involvement. Watching the kills in Counterstrike in realtime is a different from watching a streamed video. It’s the difference between watching a recording of the big game and being at the match.

For me, it’s something new in the world. It tickled my sense of wonder. For most of the people in the audience, I am sure it is simply everyday life.

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  1. Davide Cortese says:

    I was first shocked when I decided to check out Twitch a few years ago, and ended up watching the Worlds final of League of Legends, broadcast from a big stadium in Seoul with nice ceremonies and final
    concert by Imagine Dragons. The quality of the matches and of the commentary was on par with some of the best traditional sports event I ever watched. That opened up a world to me, and I quickly become an eSports fan. These days you see more and more games added to the eSports fold and even more money being put into it, both by the gaming industry (see Blizzard’s investment in OW and HOTS leagues) and from traditional sports team like Schalke 04, Roma AC, etc that decided to get involved. The eSport athlete career often is mixer with a streaming career (see guys like Cloud9 Sneaky or any professional Hearthstone player) which surely helps when the results aren’t on your side. Surely there’s money and enthusiasm, and many teenagers willing to get involved. The less nice aspect of an eSports career is that right now most contracts are borderline exploitative of very eager teenagers (who often give up their studies just to get into this).

    • Hey Davide– Sad about the contracts. I am guessing wherever there is money, youth and enthusiasm, there will be this sort of thing. I had a similar experience to your Twitch one. I was in a hotel room in Singapore many years ago and a broadcast of a *Starcraft* game came on the hotel TV. I was boggled. The commentators sounded like pro sports commentators at a football game but they were talking about a real time strategy game that I played. At the time, it felt like entering some strange alternative universe. I mean a computer game, on TV, like it was on a sports network. It was followed up by footage of one of the first person shooters. I can’t remember which one. I might have followed up on this but back in Europe there were no such TV shows available and it never occurred to me that they might have been on the internet :).

  2. I remember way back when we were told PC gaming was dead and consoles would soon rule the world…

    • I think there will always be a call for PCs in gaming, Robert. The high-end ones still represent the cutting edge of tech and certain types of games like World of Warcraft style MMOs really need a keyboard. At least if you are me :).

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