It was back in 2006 that the first season of a prestigious new gaming competition was launched with the aim of setting new standards in e-sports. Intel Friday Night Games visited five cities: Moscow, Paris, Stockholm, Hamburg and Leipzig. The tournaments included two of the most popular games at that time, Counter-Strike 1.6 and Warcraft III. The season was concluded at the CeBIT fair in Hanover, which hosted the Intel Extreme Masters World Championship for the next six years.
The first champions in the history of IEM were Yoan “ToD” Merlo in Warcraft III and the Polish Pentagram G-Shock Gaming team, who defeated the Danish team from H2k gaming in the final match. The event was extremely successful and paved the way for the emotional engagement we see among the fans who watch, as well as among the participants as well as the audience. But it was only the beginning of a great series that over the years has become the most prestigious phenomenon of this type in the whole world of e-sports.
The e-sports boom
After the extremely successful first season of Intel Extreme Masters, it was time for further development. In the following year, the IEM made three stops: Los Angeles, Jönköping and again Hanover. A World of Warcraft tournament—the most popular computer game in the world at that time—was also organized for the first time. The IEM World Championship in 2007 was also the first one to be won by a Korean. By winning, Warcraft III gamer Park “Lyn” June initiated the era of Asian domination on the international e-sports scene.
The next two IEM seasons gradually increased the scale of the series. In the 2008–2009 series there were as many as nine Intel Extreme Masters events on three continents, including, for the first time, Canada, China and South Korea. In the fourth season, the list of official sports was complemented by the second most popular individual game after Warcraft III — Quake Live. It was dominated by Shane “Rapha” Hendrixsen who is considered to be the greatest Quake player in the history of IEM. The American gamer won at three regular stops and earned the title of world champion twice: in 2010 and 2011. In the fourth season, in the Chinese city of Chengdu, there was also a special DotA tournament, making DotA the fifth game supported by Intel Extreme Masters.
The beginning of a new era
When Blizzard’s latest game—StarCraft 2—premiered in 2010, e-sports in the West stepped up a notch. The process of professionalisation of electronic sports also accelerated rapidly thanks to the birth of the Twitch.tv streaming platform, through which all subsequent events of the Intel Extreme Masters series have been available to view and which has broken all previous ratings records. The global nature of IEM was maintained: it continued to be held on three continents and had an impact on e-sports fans around the world.
One of the most memorable moments in the history of IEM was the promotion of a Polish team, Frag eXecutors, to the grand finale of the World Championship’s fifth season. The “golden five” won the extremely fierce semi-finals against the Swedish SK Gaming team led by the legendary GeT_RiGhT. The Polish gamers could not restrain their joy after a difficult victory, and their tears of happiness are still remembered not only by fans from Poland but also by viewers from around the world.
The sixth season of Intel Extreme Masters, held in 2011/2012, was the last to include Counter-Strike 1.6. The community understood that this was the right time to say goodbye to the old game and keep up with the times. Instead, the list of games was complemented by League of Legends. This gigantic development could not go unnoticed by fans of the Riot Games product, and streams of this game later became the ones that enjoyed the greatest popularity.
During the seventh season of IEM, a stop in Katowice, Poland was announced. Some Polish e-sports fans were sceptical about the prospect of a gigantic championship in Katowice’s Spodek arena , but there was no reason to be concerned. IEM Katowice was a huge success. The event once again proved that electronic sports are something much more serious than it might seem to many people. The competition in Katowice went down in history thanks to a memorable move of one of the players. Enrique “xPeke” Cedeño Martínez finished the game against SK Gaming acting on his own, a highlight that remains the most popular recording in the history of e-sports in the West to this day. More than 7 million users have since watched that moment on YouTube.
As the head of ESL, Ralf Reichert confirmed that Poland had become the country with the second largest interest in electronic sports after Korea. These words are borne out by the numbers alone. The Katowice competition in the IEM series broke ratings records and Polish transmissions have been watched by such a large audience that foreign visitors can barely believe the popularity of e-sports in Poland.
The greatest revolution took place during the eighth season of Intel Extreme Masters. This is when the World Championship were held for the first time not at CeBIT in Hanover, but in Katowice. In the 2013/2014 series, the competition included two games: StarCraft 2 and League of Legends — titles that have enjoyed a growing popularity in all parts of the world. The IEM World Championship in Katowice was a historical moment. The event broke all ratings records and Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin won a round sum of $100,000 in the StarCraft 2 championship. It is still the largest single prize paid to an individual player in the history of the series. After this victory, the Korean was named “the hundred thousand dollar man”. The League of Legends competition was also won by his fellow Korean gamers. This meant that the gold medals in the series’ finals went exclusively to Koreans for the second time in a row.
Record After record
In the ninth season, another Blizzard game was added the list of games — Hearthstone. The stop in the Chinese city of Shenzhen was a place of triumph for Jason “Amaz” Chan — a player from Hong Kong who is well known to all fans of card games. That season was full of magical moments. When Lee “Flash” Young Ho—known in Korea as “the god of e-sports”—gained a victory at the Toronto stop, his fans predicted that he would return to the big leagues. In San Jose, the third title went to Kim “herO” Joon Ho, who competed in StarCraft 2, and a similar result was achieved in Cologne by the Gambit Gaming team that—despite numerous personnel changes—managed to stay at the forefront of the scene. herO is still the only individual player to win three gold medals in the IEM series. The IEM World Championship returned to Katowice for a second year in a row, and was the first event of the series in which fans themselves were able to increase the prize pool for the League of Legends and StarCraft 2 Championships. The top honours were taken by the American group Team SoloMid, who put an end to the Asian winning streak in phenomenal style, and by Joo “Zest” Sung Wook.
Intel Extreme Masters Katowice 2015 was without a doubt the biggest event in the history of e-sports. At its peak, over a million people watched the stream only on Twitch alone, and the Katowice Spodek and International Convention Center were visited by over 100,000 people, including many visitors from abroad who wanted to experience for themselves the electrifying atmosphere in Poland. The 2015 event was also significant for including the first championship at this level in CS:GO for female teams. Intel, understanding the growing interest and importance of women in the world of e-sports, is devoting a lot more attention to female gamers, as will be clear in the organisation of the second Intel Challenge Katowice in 2016.
The jubilee season
The prestigious Intel Extreme Masters continues to grow. The tenth jubilee IEM season also included Heroes of the Storm. Fans of Counter-Strike also had a reason to rejoice because finally, after four years, they could see the top scorers in action again. The introduction of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to the main stage of IEM was a great and exciting event that confirmed the growing role of Valve games throughout the world.
During the IEM San Jose event, a unique demonstration match was attended by billionaire Mark Cuban and Intel CEO Brian Krzanich. The aim of the match, which also included professional League of Legends players on both sides, was to raise funds for charity. Over $38,000 was given to the CyberSmile Foundation.
The IEM series has paid the best e-sportsmen in the world over $4,600,000 in prizes since it began ten years ago. That money has changed the lives of many players. Leading contestants, who climbed to the very top of the e-sports community thanks to their excellent performances in the Intel Extreme Masters, are now international stars with fan clubs consisting of many thousands of people. In total, including the ongoing tenth IEM season, the series will hold 56 events with the status of stop or World Championship. These numbers make Intel Extreme Masters the longest running and most active series of professional e-sports competitions in the world.
With many years of support from Intel and other sponsors, as well as the enormous trust of professional players and viewers, IEM is currently the most recognized brand in the world of e-sports.