Competitive gaming, eSports, is seen as a very recent thing. It isn’t, it started way back in 1972.
The game back then was Spacewar and the winner received a year’s subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.
Things have changed a lot since then, but it wasn’t until in the mid-1990s, with the advent of internet and LAN gaming that Intel started to take an interest in eSports. Then in 2006 Intel started the first season of the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM), now seen as one of the premier international eSports competitions.
“When the Extreme Masters was formed, at the time it was one of many global tournaments,” says Michal ‘Carmac’ Blicharz, Managing Director at Electronic Sports League (ESL).
“It was arguably not the most glamorous one, but things have changed to a degree which could not have been predicted by the greatest optimists back then.”
Now in its ninth season, IEM runs five regional competitions before the World Championships at a standalone event held in Katowice, Poland, in March. It has become so big that ESL now holds its own Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) finals there.
“The most striking statistic, that puts the progress into perspective, is that when we first started we had 10,000 watching one ESL match on a good day. In 2013 we had that many people watching the final in person in a sports arena, with over two million viewing online. The numbers are astonishing,” Blicharz added.
As well as supporting the event itself, Intel also sponsors its own CS:GO squad; Team Dignitas. Unfortunately for them they have had mixed fortunes of late. They headed into the recent Dreamhack Winter in Sweden, the largest LAN gaming event in the world, looking strong but lost out to Natus Vincere. Their fortunes did pick up though as they took third place at the recent MLG X Games.
However, in the same way that football has a January transfer window, where the best players often move on to new teams, so has been the case with Team Dignitas. The new team, captained by Henrik ‘FeTisH’ Christensen, along with Philip ‘aizy’ Aistrup, is primed and ready to qualify for IEM with the aim of reclaiming their place as the best CS:GO team in the world.
“FeTisH is really motivated and wants to prove he’s one of the best Danish players of all time, which I think he is; that’s why I picked him up in the first place,” says Michael ‘ODEE’ O’Dell, Manager of Team Dignitas.
“We want to qualify for ESL One, we want to be there at Katowice. And there’s a great rivalry going on now, with some of the team now at Team SoloMid, so it’s going to be really exciting.”
New to the lineup include Nicolaj ‘Nico’ Jensen, who was part of the original CS:GO squad, Jacob ‘Pimp’ Winneche, and Markus ‘Kjaerbye’ Kjaerbye, a young player who is one of the best upcoming talents in Denmark.
Dynamically, with FeTisH as the experienced call maker, the new players are set to bring innovative plays and strategies.
“It’s a fresh new line up, we’re really excited about the team and they want to show people what they can do,” O’Dell added.