IEM Chicago 2019: Raising The Bar
United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks went through a transformation this past weekend for Intel Extreme Masters Chicago. The center arena which is typically flush with court boards or ice set up an extravagant production full of gaming PCs and monitors in preparation for the best CS:GO teams to take the stage.
For months, the best of the best have been participating in qualifying matches in order to secure their placement in the semi-final. Eight teams made their way to Chicago to play for their chance to not only win the grand prize of $125,000 USD but also be crowned champion.
Each of the highly esteemed teams had their respective following within the community. Though, it was Team Liquid that had the arena rallying behind them. Comprised of EliGE, Stewie2K, Nitr0, Twistzz, and NAF, Team Liquid had a strong following within the centre. The team’s Captain American jersey was worn by many. No matter where you looked while walking the concourse, Team Liquid was being represented. Being billed as a North America vs. Europe event, Chicago and US fans came to the event with thunderous applause for Team Liquid.
For good reason too. Team Liquid has been having a great season thus far. After beating Team Vitality 2-0, the only thing standing in their way was a best of five match against ENCE, the Finnish team. EliGE and Twistzz were both on the top of their game, while Stewie2K seemed to be uncharacteristically off from the dominating position. That didn't slow Team Liquid down though. They barely gave ENCE an inch during the first two matches. Although it wasn't the cleanest of matches, Liquid did manage to beat ENCE 3-0 overall after a nail-biting game 3.
This was my first opportunity to witness a high-production, high-attendance esports event. While the esports community within Toronto and the GTA are massive, accessible venues constrain the Canadian slice of the industry from excelling in comparison to IEM Chicago. The amount of care and attention to detail that ESL and Intel injected into their tournament is a spectacle that I one day hope will be replicated in Ontario.
Although Team Liquid is mostly comprised of American talent, NAF and Twistzz brought the Canadian spirit. Throughout the finals, chants of “U.S.A!, U.S.A!” echoed through the halls of the United Centre. Though, at one point, the commentator desk encouraged attendees to show Canada some love. Casters Pimp, SPUNJ, Stunna, riled up the crowd and got a warm-hearted “Canada, Canada!” chant started. I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t say there was an incredible amount of patriotic pride sitting in the stadium, and seeing two of the best Canadian CS:GO players supported by this chant.
Canada and North America is a breeding ground for incredible esports talent—in every game. As the esports industry continues to take flight, having successful tournaments to leverage these players is inherently important. IEM Chicago 2019 definitely isn’t ESL and Intel’s first rodeo. Now, dead smack in the middle of Season XIV, ESL and Intel clearly know what they’re doing and are able to elevate the entire experience.
Holding the tournament in an respected venue like the United Centre, it gives esports and the industry more credibility to those that are not in tune with what the industry represents. As soon as you walk in, you must pass the atrium which holds the statue of former Bulls star, Michael Jordan. Beyond that lies many activities that encourage attendees to explore new opportunities outside of solely watching the game.
During an intimate panel held during tournament, Vice President Pro Gaming at ESL Michaels Blicharz talked about this in-depth. Blicharz said:
“We need to still explore and figure out how to make it interesting. We don’t want to ask people to sit on their butts for seven hours and only stare at the screen...We’re doing things, constantly experimenting with things such as new activities. We have [the Wingman] tournament here for amateur Counter-Strike players with actual cash prize money on the line. I have to say that the popularity of that activity surpassed our expectations..”
Not only did IEM Chicago provide the Wingman tournament for amateur players and fans, but the tournament also provided partnered activations for attendees. Acer’s Predator line was in attendance and provided an opportunity for guests to get their hands on the latest Predator headsets and gaming peripherals. VR booths were set up so you could take a swing at playing Beat Sabre. After announcing their partnership with Dreamhack, AT&T was also present, invigorating the experience.
Each attendee was given a AT&T branded bracelet. These bracelets were synced up to the main stage. Every time a bomb was planted, the bracelets would flash red as the clock began counting down. This seemingly inconsequential bonus went a long way when you looked at the sea of attendees in their seats. As the countdown clock began waves of red light illuminated the arena. When the bomb went off, bright white light would emit from every bracelet. This was also paired with the incredibly large LED screen that overlooked the arena. The production level was immaculate and should be looked at as an industry standard.
Overall, my weekend at IEM was a memorable one. Seeing how well oiled the machine was, with many working cogs moving in unison to put on a spectacle is something I hope we may see more of in Canada. 2019 marked the second year IEM was held in Chicago, with one year remaining on the initial three-year deal. If ESL is listening, I know Toronto would welcome you with open arms in 2021!
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