Katowice was once only known for being Poland’s heartland of coal mining and associated heavy industry. Now it is known as the eSports capital of Europe. So how did it become the place that hip young people wanted to visit? Decades of industrial exploitation did not make it a desired destination. However, the Intel Extreme Masters being held in the city allowed Katowice to start a new chapter in its story. As a result, it is a significant landmark in global electronic sports and a go-to, aspirational place for millions of fans.

This did not happen by accident. In 2010 the city’s authorities devised a plan to end their reliance on heavy industry. Instead, they agreed to build a future based on technological creativity. At the time, eSports was still very niche and hardly known outside a tiny circle of enthusiasts. It certainly was not regarded as a sport, and there was no industry or buzz around it. The city took a punt, however, and believed that there was potential in this embryonic industry. So, they approached the organizers and encouraged them to bring the IEM to Katowice. As a result, the Extreme Masters tournament arrived in Poland in 2013 due to its collaboration with ESL and Intel.

That first year, Katowice hosted a few of the matches. The IEM arrived in the city in 2014 when the world finals event moved from Germany to its new home at the Spodek Arena. In previous years the event took place at trade fairs like Gamescom or Cebit, but now it was a stand-alone attraction. It no longer relied on the trade fairs to bring participants and viewers to the event. It was standing on its own feet. The IEM in 2014 became the first eSports tournament that functioned as a unique attraction.

On reflection, it does not appear to have been a risky strategy, and it is easy to think ‘of course, it was always going to work.’ However, the success of the IEM was down to planning, synchronicity, and a good old dose of right place, right time. As gambling options for Polish citizens have become more restricted in recent years, this has not been the case for placing a bet on eSports. Wagering on the IEM is relatively unhindered compared to playing games and slots at Polish online casinos. eSports have given Polish gamblers an alternative outlet.

The prize pools for money in eSports have become enormous. It is not just the IEM that draws a massive interest. The 2018 International Dota 2 finals saw the winning team OG take home a prize purse of $11.2 million; the total pool was $25.5 million. The same year the IEM attracted an audience of 40 million fans worldwide. For the audience, Katowice is the place associated with their favorite eSports tournament. Rather like, for sports fans, Wimbledon is tennis.

The first event in 2013 saw 50,000 guests attend the event. In 2017 this was 173,000. The 2018 action was broadcast in ten languages via nineteen digital platforms. A once industrial heartland has become a global eSports center. The event brings tourist money to the city with average spending per attendee at PLN 628, including accommodation. For those who come in on day tickets, the average tourist spend is still PLN 141.

The last live IEM took place in February 2022 after a hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Twenty-four teams traveled to Poland to take part. This was the first time since 2019 that fans had been able to attend in person since 2019. The early stages of the tournament took place over a LAN connection, but the final stages were in front of a live audience at the Spodek Arena. To claim the title, faze Clan triumphed 3-0 over their rivals, G2.

When Birmingham hosts the Commonwealth Games later this summer, an eSports Championship will take place in the city in tandem. Over 5,000 athletes are expected to compete. This can only help raise the profile of eSports as it breaks through to the mainstream. Katowice might see even larger viewing figures and revenue as a result.


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