IEM Katowice 2022 will be ESL’s tenth outing at the Spodek arena, making it the longest-running arena esports tournament in the world. Over those years, under ESL’s own banner as well as the Intel Extreme Masters, there have been events in StarCraft II, League of Legends, CS:GO, Dota 2, PUBG, Heroes of the Storm, Hearthstone, Quake Champions, Fortnite and Rainbow Six: Siege.
Over this time, and after so many events, countless stories and quirks have accumulated in Poland’s esports heartland, of which this article represents just a few.We are not trying to document the stories you know - that of soO, or xPeke’s backdoor, or even Virtus Pro’s legendary victory on home soil. Instead, this is Katowice’s untold story: the stats, fun facts and anecdotes that show both the growth and impact of IEM upon Esports.
The first point is the most clear: Katowice signalled ESL’s first, but far from last, event in an arena of the Spodek’s size. Arenas are now the norm in esports, meaning that even the debut of an ESL event in a stadium seems modest compared to today. In 2013, the event’s total footprint came to around 1500m². By 2017, that number had grown to 15,000m².
The development of esports in this period is made even more clear by the sheer amount of growth between 2013 and 2014. There was an increase of 400,000 peak viewers online between Katowice’s debut and its second event, with 73,000 people attending the 2014 version in person. By 2017, the attendance of the same event had climbed to a staggering 173,000.
The transition to arenas was only made possible by streaming services improving at breakneck speed in the early 2010s, providing a platform for esports broadcasts to do the same - there were as many people inside the arena in 2014 as there were viewers of IEM’s first streams in 2007. Stadiums opened new possibilities, such as the “sector wave” of StarCraft II fans in 2014 that would never have been possible in the Expo halls of IEM’s early World Championships.
Katowice had grown in attendance, viewership, and production value each year. 2017 was no different - the stream was broadcasted in 19 languages to 46 million unique viewers, a 36% improvement on 2016. As aforementioned, 173,000 people visited the event in person; a number buoyed by the now fully fledged Expo part of the event.
For many, 2018 is memorable for its freezing temperatures. So many people were ill that a local pharmacy offered ESL staff free medicine - and it wasn’t just staff that felt the cold. By 2018 a tradition of fans queuing as early as 3 A.M to enter the event and ensure a good seat for the next day of competition was well established and the cold did not prevent this ritual continuing. “Cold” might, in fact, be underselling it; temperatures had dropped to -20ºC that night. Respite did come in the form of CS:GO commentator Matthew “Sadokist” Trivett, who famously delivered more than 200 cheeseburgers to fans despite only just finishing a long shift on broadcast the day before.
In 2019 two Polish Prime Ministers, including one on duty, visited the event. There were six tournaments in five different games with the return of Major status to the CS:GO event - ESL’s first after three years away - front and centre. An average of 860,000 people tuned in, making it ESL’s most watched broadcast ever. $2,500,000 was distributed in prize money to 600 players from over 60 countries.
When Intel sponsored the first Extreme Masters in 2007, one of the motives was for the tour to become a global event. Since then, IEM has grown beyond any reasonable ambition its founders might have had at that time; it is the flagship brand for ESL’s events, and the filling of huge stadiums has become the norm, in great part, thanks to Katowice.
One year later, full stadiums would be a hope that dwindled. The COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe and at 19:00 on the eve of IEM Katowice 2020’s playoffs, ESL were informed that the public could not enter the Spodek the next day. This was an undeniable blow but esports persevered. With so many of us stuck at home, esports offered an escape; more than one million viewers tuned into IEM Katowice’s CS:GO final, making it the most watched non-Major event in history.
2022 will be IEM’s tenth event in Katowice. It will mark ten years since a Katowice councillor, Michał Jędrzejek, asked Michał “Carmac” Blicharz if it was possible to bring esports to the city. Yet, hosting esports events in Katowice was not a guaranteed success - Intel’s George Woo described gaming as “under the radar” in Poland before Katowice 2013, shown by 80% of ‘God Mode’ tickets being sold to international visitors.
The same, though, cannot be said today. Now, the majority of those premium tickets are sold to Poles. Gaming wasn’t just under the radar in Poland in 2013, it can be argued it was in most other countries, too. The role of events like Katowice in changing that cannot be understated; ESL have now hosted arena events in both Americas, Asia, and Australia but Katowice, their first, will always be special.
And 2022 will be even more special than normal - it signals the return of fans, in ESL’s first stadium event since the pandemic, and the first time a StarCraft II World Champion will be crowned in person in Katowice. The CS:GO edition, too, will be special. Organisations all over the globe have assembled superteams to fight back against the NAVI era, with Katowice acting as their LAN debut.
IEM Katowice is turning ten, but we aren’t done yet. And tickets are still available: