Author: John Gaudiosi

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‘Rick and Morty’ cast, creators get silly (and a little tipsy) at Comic-Con

After an inordinately long wait for season 3, new episodes of Rick and Morty[1] are finally back on Adult Swim. The creators of the hit animated series, Justin Roiland, Dan Harmon, and Ryan Ridley, were at San Diego Comic-Con[2] along with cast members Sarah Chalke (who plays Beth Smith) and Spencer Grammer (who plays Summer Smith) to discuss the evolution of the series. There was also a pop-up Rick and Morty Rickmobile at the pop culture convention, which featured an outdoor evening airing of the first two episodes of season 3 on the JumboTron at PetCo Park across the street from the San Diego Convention Center[3].

“There’s a lot of you. You’re kind of scary. Just one of you could stab someone with a pencil.”

For those wondering why it took so long for season 3, Harmon and Roiland said they simply didn’t want to disappoint fans.

“We’re afraid of letting you down,” Harmon joked during the Comic Con panel. “There’s a lot of you. You’re kind of scary. Just one of you could stab someone with a pencil.”

Harmon and Roiland were asked which characters they’d focus on if Adult Swim ordered a Rick and Morty spin-off. They started with Birdperson and Tammy, before moving to Squanchy, who they said would star in a show with Breaking Bad undertones with the cat retaining his humor. The creators also loved the possibility of a Rick and Morty spin-off in another dimension – with different characters.

Life imitated art at SDCC, as Roiland announced that McDonald’s is sending a bottle of its elusive Szechuan Sauce to the Rick and Morty office. For those who don’t watch the show, Rick’s a big fan of that sauce.

Rick and Morty Season 3 Hulk

Digital Trends caught up with the cast and creators of the animated series after their Comic-Con panel. Check out the hilarity that ensued as they riff on our questions. It’s worth noting they spent an extra 30 minutes in the video press line answering every crazy question the media could throw at them, reveling in the success (and general love) that Comic-Con attendees have for their creation.

Season 3 is in full swing[4] on Adult Swim, and the first two seasons are available online to catch up on the multi-dimensional comedy featuring the adventures of genius scientist Rick and his 14-year-old grandson Morty.

References

  1. ^ Rick and Morty (www.adultswim.com)
  2. ^ San Diego Comic-Con (www.digitaltrends.com)
  3. ^ San Diego Convention Center (www.comic-con.org)
  4. ^ Season 3 is in full swing (www.digitaltrends.com)
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Atari’s latest release isn’t a console or a game — it’s a ridiculously high-tech hat

Atari is on a roll lately. The company made a splash at E3 last month with the announcement of its new Ataribox[1] connected console, and now the classic brand is entering the wearables market with perhaps its oddest product yet: Atari Speakerhats, powered by Audiowear[2] technology.

The first three baseball cap styles will debut at San Diego Comic Con[3] this week, and special edition Blade Runner 2049 Atari Speakerhats will be available in conjunction with the much-anticipated sequel’s release this fall, along with other wearables.

Michael Artz, COO of the new Atari Connect division of the iconic brand, told Digital Trends that a variety of these hats will launch later this year. The ones debuting at Comic Con include a New Era-style baseball cap with the name “Atari” on the front, available in blue and black, as well as a black-on-black verision featuring the company’s “Mt. Fuji” symbol.

“…a cool and badass hat that will look like it belongs in the 2049 world”

“In addition to the Blade Runner limited edition we’re doing, which is a cool and badass hat that will look like it belongs in the 2049 world, we have a bunch of others we’re involved with,” Artz said. “We’ll have hats based on some classic Atari franchises.”

The Audiowear Speakerhat[4] is designed to be ultra-thin and lightweight, with all the fancy tech seamlessly integrated into the form factor of a cap, an Audioware representative told Digital Trends. Under the hood you’ll find a set of proprietary high-fidelity stereo speakers, a microphone, and a rechargeable lithium ion battery to keep it all running.

The hat can also connect to any Bluetooth-enabled device (smartphone, tablet, personal computer, etc.) to play music or other audio, initiate or accept phone calls, receive voice commands, and more. Audiowear’s Social Synchronous Broadcast technology will allow multiple Speakerhat users to simultaneously listen to a single audio stream in perfect sync, which Artz said provides a fundamentally new social audio experience. “Gamers can hear the same thing at the same time and also communicate and hear each other through the hats,” Artz added.

atari speakerhat atar hat speakers

But of course, there’s still some work to be done. Audiowear says the hats are a work-in-progress, and the company plans to continuously improve the design and engineering until the technology is completely invisible.

While no official release date has been revealed yet, Atari is offering fans a chance to win one of the hats (link[5]) and participate in the beta testing phase.

Artz said Comic Con[6] was chosen for the global debut of these Speakerhats because the Atari brand is loved by so many creators of pop culture, including TV producers, filmmakers, and musicians.

“We’re constantly getting approached to have our brand and games involved in projects,” Artz said. “The Atari brand has a great nostalgic value for people who’ve grown up with it. Everyone has a favorite Atari story of opening a console under the Christmas tree or friends getting together to play games in the family room. Today we have the hipsters in SoHo wearing the faded Atari t-shirt. We’ve transcended the gaming-only positioning and aim to be a friendlier digital lifestyle brand.”

This is all just part of the company’s larger comeback plan.

This is all just part of the company’s larger comeback plan. In addition to the Speakerhats, there’s the At Games[7] collection of Atari Flashback plug-and-play consoles with up-rezzed versions of Atari 2600 and 5200 games packed in. A new collection featuring Activision classics is heading to retail this fall. Atari classic games from Centipede to the more recent Rollercoaster Tycoon are making their mark on mobile devices.

“And then spinning off that is a very robust licensing campaign with everything from t-shirts and hats to plastic centipedes and classic posters,” Artz explained. “That carries a tremendous chunk of the business forward because there’s a lot of love for the franchises and the brand.”

There’s also movement in Hollywood for Atari’s library of over 200 games. Media Fusion is developing “Game On,” a reality game show challenging contestants to navigate life-sized sets based on classic Atari Games in South Africa. They’re also turning “Codebreakers” into a TV series with Discovery in Europe.

atari speakerhat atar hat back

“We have a number of projects in development with producers looking to turn Missile Command or Centipede into movies or TV shows,” Artz said. “We’re also talking to a number of different partners about new games and new things we can do in that space, where we might do a co-branded iteration of our classic games. Some of those deals are not announced yet.”

And the last piece of the business is the hardware.

“Going back 45 years, Atari was not just a game and software developer but also a hardware manufacturer with arcade games, consoles and computers,” Artz explained. “That’s been left behind for a long time. The decision was made to reinvigorate that and get back into hardware. The Ataribox project we teased prior to E3 got a tremendous amount of attention, and when people start seeing more of that they’ll be very excited.”

Artz also said that Atari isn’t going to compete directly with the established giants of the video game business like Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft.

“The hardware philosophy I’m building is this ‘connected lifestyle’ concept,” he explained. “We don’t need to be the bleeding-edge hardware guys. With the Ataribox, we’ll play a bit more casual in keeping with the types of franchises we have. It’s more about being accessible and presenting products that have that fun element to them.”

Atari is also developing additional wearables, as well as some connected home products that will link to the upcoming Ataribox[8] and other entertainment devices. So don’t be surprised if you start seeing a lot more stuff from Atari rolling out over the next year, as the once-giant video game company reinvents itself with new IOT devices and wearables alongside connected consoles, fashion, and merchandise.

References

  1. ^ Ataribox (www.digitaltrends.com)
  2. ^ Audiowear (audiowear.com)
  3. ^ San Diego Comic Con (www.digitaltrends.com)
  4. ^ Audiowear Speakerhat (atarilife.com)
  5. ^ link (www.digitaltrends.com)
  6. ^ Comic Con (www.comic-con.org)
  7. ^ At Games (atgames.us)
  8. ^ Ataribox (www.digitaltrends.com)
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For James Cameron, exploring ‘The ‘World of Avatar’ was a literal dream come true

After making over three billion at the box office, James Cameron’s Oscar-winning Avatar movie created a global fan base.

One of those fans was Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, who called Cameron to ask if he’d be interested in bringing Pandora to life at Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park in Orlando, FL. After several more conversations, including one with Walt Disney Imagineering, the director[1] decided to partner with Disney to make Pandora – a world he first imagined when he was 19 years old – a reality.

After six years of development, Pandora: The World of Avatar has officially opened as a new 12-acre section inside Disney’s Animal Kingdom, part of the Walt Disney World Resort. The Valley of Mo’ara is home to two new rides, a quick-service restaurant called the Satu’li Canteen, a bar called the Pongu Pongu Lounge (set behind an old RDA amp suit), and adjacent to the Windtraders gift shop. But the majority of the new area is dedicated to walkways, bridges and paths through lush alien foliage blended with living Earth plants, cascading waterfalls, and mountains that seem to float in the air.

It even managed to blow away Cameron, who visited the park for the official grand opening with several cast members from the first film, including Sigourney Weaver, Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Stephen Lang. Cameron was still walking around the park long after the early 8AM opening ceremony, showing his wife every nook and cranny of the world’s colorful foliage, and beautiful waterways.

An imaginary world made real

“This is a surreal day for me,” Cameron said on stage during the opening. “I think back to when I was 19 years old, and I had a dream of a bioluminescent forest, and I sketched it and painted it. I remembered it years later when I was writing the script for Avatar. And now years later that dream has literally become a reality.”

(Credit: Disney)

Flight of Passage, the most advanced ride Walt Disney Imagineering has ever created, serves as the park’s centerpiece. It’s a flight simulator that links you with an Avatar riding atop a powerful Banshee (just like Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully did in the movie). Using 3D glasses, motion simulation technology baked into a motorcycle-style seat, 4D effects like water, wind and aromas, and a massive screen that fully envelopes your field of view, you’re tricked into believing you’re soaring through the skies of Pandora and surfing through waves while avoiding monsters, before taking a brief break inside a bioluminescent cave. All the while, you can feel the heartbeat of your Banshee through your legs.

“I never got to see the movie the first time because I’d seen every part of the movie 10,000 times,” Cameron said. “When I walk through here and I go on the Flight of Passage ride, it’s like seeing it all for the first time.”

Now, anyone can visit Pandora in all of its majesty.

Flight of the Passage has a queue line that stretches for five hours, which is the expected wait time during the early months of the park’s opening. Most the line will be used to help tell the story of Avatar, so even those few who haven’t watched the movie will understand what’s going on. Even fans might need to catchup, as the park’s timeline is set two decades after the events of the movie.

“The Na’Vi and humans in the first film are in conflict, but we are a full generation past any film that James Cameron will make in the Avatar franchise,” Stefan Hellwig, executive creative director at Walt Disney Imagineering, told Digital Trends. “What that does is allows our storytelling to have the Na’Vi invite humans to Pandora. We are now working together to restore the planet to its former glory after all of the destruction that the RDA brought. So that opens up a whole new series of places that we can visit, flying over the floating mountains in Flight of Passage and going into the bioluminescent forest in Na’Vi River Journey.”

Shifting time forward also means the introduction of new organizations and characters, like the Alpha Centauri Expeditions (ACE) travel company, which transports humans to Pandora, 4.4 light years from Earth. There’s also ex-patriots, humans who have left Earth forever, and have found new lives on Pandora. And there’s the Pandora Conservation Initiative, which is working with the Na’Vi to restore the planet. This being Disney World, there are cast members in character from all factions.

The theme of visiting a distant planet comes to life in many ways. There’s a deep pre-show element in the queue for Flight of Passage that has you walk through Na’Vi caves with paintings on the rocks, into a former RDA laboratory that comes complete with a full-sized Na’Vi inside a water tube (just like the scene in the movie). Scientists walk you through the process of linking to an Avatar inside an anteroom, which scans your body to rid any bugs clinging to you before actually link to your Avatar.

“If you’ve never seen the movie Avatar, we need to tell our guests that story,” Hellwig said. “What is a Banshee? What is an Avatar? How can humans link to Avatars? How can Avatars fly on the back of Banshees?We do that in a very purposeful way through that queue so by the time you finally sit in your link chair and link to your avatar you understand you are experiencing this story first-person.”

Plan to stay all day, and all night

Hellwig said this world is the result of a true collaboration between WDI and Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment. “We’ve brought this world to fruition together,” he said. “This project is not about Avatar the movie, this is about the world of Pandora. All of the elements that make up Pandora, the flora, the fauna, the experiences that the Na’Vi have, the spirituality of the indigenous people the Na’Vi, riding on the back of a banshee, going into the bioluminescent forest.”

(Credit: Disney)

The second ride inside this land is the Na’Vi River Journey, a four-and-a-half-minute boat ride through a bioluminescent river. It’s here that many of the creatures from the film come alive through the magic of 3D animation and projection screens. The highlight of the ride is a fully functional, life-sized, and lifelike Na’Vi Shaman, who sings and chants as your boat slowly floats by.

The highlight of the ride is a life-sized and lifelike Na’Vi Shaman, who sings and chants.

“The animatronic figure that we have in Na’Vi River Journey is the state-of-the-art animatronic figure,” Hellwig explained. “Walt Disney himself has a huge history and legacy around animated figures. This is by far our most sophisticated animatronic figure.”

Pandora, itself, offers two very different experiences. During the day the world is beautiful to take in, and likely very hot given the Florida sun. But once the night comes, the Pandoran fauna glows in the dark. Everything from the pavement to the trees and plants come alive in neon colors. It’s a refreshing change, along with the cooler night air, that ushers in nighttime shows involving drums, singing, and chanting.

“Anyone can now visit Pandora in all of its majesty, and they can learn about the Na’Vi culture and their values,” Cameron said. “They have a spiritual connection with their world, and that makes this park the perfect place to connect this world with our own.”

For those who still want to see the on-screen action, Cameron has promised Fox four sequels coming in December 2020, 2021, 2024, and 2025.

References

  1. ^ the director (www.digitaltrends.com)
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Derek Waters: How a cocktail of YouTube, Hulu, and booze made ‘Drunk History’ a hit

Drunk History wouldn’t be the Comedy Central hit it is today without YouTube, which allowed creator Derek Waters to launch the concept, and Hulu, which introduced the television series to millions of cord cutters.

“Anytime you have an idea you should make it and show people what you’re talking about before you pitch it.”

Season 4 of the show, which blends real history with celebrities drinking the alcohol of their choice, is out on DVD March 14 from Paramount Home Media Distribution. The 11 episodes cover everything from Alexander Hamilton’s feud with Aaron Burr, to Boston’s Great Molasses Flood, to the story of a lady pirate who head-butted strangers. Guest stars include Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day), Rachel Bilson (The O.C.), Kat Dennings (2 Broke Girls), Ben Folds, Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters), Ed Helms (The Office), Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation), Ronda Rousey (UFC Fighter) and Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton).

Waters, who is currently working on Season 5, talks about why technology makes for exciting times for comedians, and offers some drinking advice, in this exclusive interview.

What have you seen digital outlets like YouTube open up to get new show ideas out there outside of the old-fashioned television pilot season?

When Drunk History started in 2007, people were just starting to put ads on videos, and I purposely never put any ads on our videos because I thought all these celebrities like Michael Cera and Jack Black are being so sweet to be in it, I don’t want to be making money off of it. I just want this idea to continue. But where I’m getting at is now, there’s so many ads and so many things, but the best part about it is people are still doing what I think YouTube’s whole purpose is: making stuff that you believe in and not running on a paid Internet service like Hulu.

Derek Waters with Michael Cera in Drunk History Volume 1.[1]

Hulu is great, but I feel like YouTube still has underground people making their own stuff and anyone in the world being able to see it. Anytime you have an idea you should make it and show people what you’re talking about before you pitch it. YouTube now more than ever allows that to happen. There’s a place out there for that. But I’ve never made a penny off YouTube, so that’s just me being honest.

What role do you feel that Hulu has played in helping the show gain popularity over the years in addition to Comedy Central?

Well, I am not the bearer of bad news, I’m the bearer of real news of the time period that we’re in, which is people aren’t watching TV on TV. They’re watching it on their computers. And because of Hulu, more people know about it. That’s just the truth of our generation right now where people are getting their content on their computers or on their Apple TVs.

More: Lin-Manuel Miranda to put a tipsy spin on Hamilton/Burr duel for ‘Drunk History’[2]

With our show on Comedy Central, it also makes cable networks find the best stuff because they know the majority of people are going to the Hulus and the online stuff. So, TV shows just have to step it up so people keep watching them on TV. But at worst, they watch it on Hulu or Amazon. Everybody wins if it’s a good show and people watch it.

Jon Stewart helped pave the way with The Daily Show to use humor as a way that a lot of kids actually consume the news today. Do you have any sense of what role Drunk History has played in educating kids or possibly getting people interested in real history?

It’s hard for me to say it without sounding arrogant, but I humbly say that why we all can remember our favorite teachers is because it didn’t feel like they were teaching.

Comedy Central

I feel like it’s secretly always been a history show that happens to be on a cable network. History is so important but it’s usually told in such a boring way. When you’re a kid, you’re like, “Who gives a shit about what happened a hundred years ago? All I care about is what’s happening at the party this weekend.” But this show kind of opens that door, like, “Oh, they’re like me. They’re having fun and blah, blah, blah. Oh shit, I just learned something.”

More: 5 shows you need to stream this weekend[3]

I hope it paves the way of being, like, “Oh, that made me laugh. I want to go look at that history book and see if that was actually true.” It gets people interested in what’s happened in the past.

And speaking of getting people interested, how has the popularity of this show over the years opened up actors coming to you and wanting to get involved?

Tremendously, every actor that’s on that show is someone that I’ve always wanted to work with. It’s been like such a Make-A-Wish Foundation for me of people that I’ve wanted to work with. It’s taken on its own thing. I’m just so blessed and lucky to be part of something that I used to be in control of, but now it’s its own thing that people that I would have never imagined wanting to do the show coming in saying they want to do it. For me, it’s been amazing to meet all different types of people.

Given that alcohol is involved, how much improvisation ends up being a part of these stories that we watch on the show?

“As a doctor of how drunk someone should be telling a story, it tends to be whiskey.”

Well, nothing’s written. The whole thing is they have to tell the story, but they can add in side things. I never had to audition them to see how well they burped. That just happens. So I would say it’s 60% the story that they’re assigned and 40% improv and telling that in their own words, which a lot of people like. That’s why I like it because it’s not somebody preaching to you. It’s somebody talking to you.

Over these four seasons, how have you mastered what alcohol is best for Drunk History storytelling?

Everyone is different, but alcohol is always the same. So I always say whatever you’ve never had a bad experience with. But as a doctor of how drunk someone should be telling a story, it tends to be whiskey. Whiskey kind of gives you confidence, keeps you awake, while wine makes you tired and beer makes you talk about things that don’t matter. Whiskey makes you think you’re very smart.

With so much history out there, how do you decide which stories to tell in any given season?

Comedy Central

The easiest way of answering that is the stories are picked for one of two reasons. One, I learned that and I’m like, “Why weren’t we taught that in school?” Or two, a specific person that we’ve all heard about but finding a story that, you’re like, “How didn’t I not know that Harriet Tubman was a spy. I know she freed slaves, but I didn’t know she was a spy.” Just stuff that for whatever reason — race, sex, whatever — was not put in the history books. So trying to find those stories that make me go, “Everyone, more people need to know about this. I don’t know why this didn’t make it to our books.”

One of the highlights from season four was Hamilton who’s also obviously having a moment with a little Broadway show as well.

Is that right?

Who’s another president who deserves to be featured in that type of way on your show?

Oh. Another president that deserves to have a musical or another president that we feature?

Or both, or to be featured on your show.

That’s hard. They all have a story. I don’t know how to answer that without being, like, “Oh, why didn’t you say that guy?” Yeah, I don’t think I’ll win with any answer, but every president has a story.

What’s the challenge as you’ve had success from season to season of trying to top what you did. For instance, as you look at season five and you look back at what you just did with season four?

drunk history creator derek waters interview lisa bonet as mary ellen pleasant
Comedy Central
drunk history creator derek waters interview drunkhistory henry winkler as zenas fisk wilber
Comedy Central

drunk history creator derek waters interview jasonritter edited
Comedy Central
drunk history creator derek waters interview new jersey s greg kinnear as thaddeus lowe stephen merchant president lincoln
Comedy Central

It’s the same thing when this was online and people were talking about, “You should make this a TV show.” And my constant thing, I’m a comedy snob, and I’m like, “How is that not gonna get old?” And really, how to one-up it is the stories, because the premise is going to stay the same. There may be added jokes, but at the end of the day it’s always a drunk narrator telling a story with famous people moving their lips. So how you one-up it is the story that makes you go, “Holy shit! That’s a great story!” So the stories have to be better every year.

What are your thoughts on the opportunities we’re seeing out there with the Netflix’s of the world opening up for comedians like Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle?

It’s kind of the dream we all had as kids when we were making movies in our backyard. But now it’s not just our neighborhood kids that can watch it on the VCR, now the world can watch it. Louis C.K. kind of started this deal with FX allowing the artist his own vision. More people started to see that the old saying of “be yourself” is true. And now more people are trusting people, “Oh I should just let them do their vision.” Netflix and all the other digital places are embracing that. I wish I was 12 and this was just about to start.

“It’s exciting and encouraging to people watching what’s happening.”

So it’s a really cool time. It’s a scary time, but I say scary because everything’s moving in a transitional way. It’s exciting and encouraging to people watching what’s happening. They go like, “Oh yeah, I should make the thing that I find funny or what I think is good.” And not try to sell a show that’s compared to another show.

Like just focus on original content and stop remaking fucking movies too much, or remaking everything. So I feel like this digital stuff is going, like, “Stop doing that. Let’s embrace and make new stuff.” And television is doing so much better right now than movies. Movies are getting a little lazy with the remakes.

But it just made me think, it would be cool to remake Punky Brewster. I was like, “Who’s remaking TV shows? Oh, I don’t even want to put that out into the world.” Let’s not even think about people remaking TV shows.

Comedy Central

You said whiskey was the go-to drink from the storytelling perspective. Have you advice on what the best alcohol would be from a viewing perspective to get the best Drunk History experience?

Yeah, if you drink it’s like 3D. I don’t know, you know it’s hard, I love this show, but I never want to say something that makes it sound like I’m glorifying alcohol. So I would say that the best thing to drink while you’re watching it is something that you enjoy, and you don’t have to drive anywhere, and you’ve never had a bad experience with. Ah fuck it, I’ll say wine, cause wine always makes people feel smart, and tired. Which I don’t want Drunk History to make you feel tired. But yeah, something smooth, not Zima. Not Zima.

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Inside IEM Katowice: How a small Polish city became an e-sports goliath

For the second straight weekend, Katowice, Poland is ground zero for the world of e-sports. Following the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) League of Legends championship last weekend, the top pros from Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and StarCraft II have now taken over this quaint little city.

Over 113,000 people visited IEM inside Spodek arena and the IEM Expo at the adjacent International Congress Center last year when the event was held over one weekend. George Woo, worldwide event marketing manager at Intel, expects over 125,000 attendees this year when everything is tallied. The entire population of Katowice was just under 300,000 as of 2015.

But with IEM Katowice being what many in the industry consider the Super Bowl of e-sports—given it’s the culmination of the eleventh season of the global tournament—it’s the livestreams that beam out to the world across platforms like Twitch[1], ESL.tv[2], and the Intel Extreme Masters website[3] that have really put this city on the map. Last year’s event was watched by over 34 million gaming fans, and Woo believes this year’s event will easily top 40 million.

And as it turns out, I had a small part in IEM Katowice’s birth.

iem katowice fist pump ESL

When I originally pitched PCWorld about an article of how Katowice became the epicenter of e-sports, I had no idea that I was actually involved in the answer. I’ve written for many outlets over the past 25-plus years covering the games industry. And one of those outlets was Forbes. Back in 2012, the ESPNs and Mashables of the world were completely oblivious to e-sports. Editors routinely turned down pitches because e-sports was “just a fad” or not a real “business.” Forbes happened to have an open policy on covering all aspects of gaming, which allowed me to post stories and interviews with the leading movers and shakers in this fast-growing industry.

One such interview back in February 2012 was with Michal Blicharz[5], the managing director of pro gaming at ESL. That interview was read by a councilman from Katowice, who noticed that Blicharz was Polish, looked him up on Facebook, and reached out. It turned out they had friends in common. Fast forward to a couple months later and they were signing letters of intent between Intel, ESL, and the city at the Katowice president’s office.

“Katowice is an old industrial city that was built around the coal mines in the region, but today it’s building an image as a place that’s open to modern technology and youth culture,” Blicharz said. “A global gaming event held in Katowice’s main sports venue fit into the that image very well. The city had the vision to recognize a great opportunity and has benefited tremendously on an economic and PR level. In 2014 the Katowice city council voted a bill to support IEM until 2019.”

iem katowice starcraft ESL

StarCraft 2 match at IEM Katowice.

That vision helped all parties involved. Before Intel and ESL ran the first event in Katowice in 2013, the largest event they had sold tickets to was about 1,000 people. No one in the western world had filled out a venue of 11,000 people. 

“Personally, I thought at the time that having 3,000 people there would be a massive success, and even then the place wouldn’t even be half full,” Blicharz said. “This is why we had a free entry model with tickets that let you skip the queues and provide other benefits. The turnout surpassed everything I’ve ever imagined—one hour before the start of the show on stage, all seats in the house were completely full, and some two to three thousand people were still queueing outside in the freezing cold (about 22 degrees Fahrenheit).”

Woo admits that Intel wouldn’t be able to afford the type of huge event IEM has become today just five years ago.

“We had some luck on our side,” Woo said. “The stadium was there, but gaming was under the radar in Poland and we didn’t know if people would show up.”

iem katowice overview 4 ESL

People showed up.

Attendance increased from 50,000 in 2013 to 104,000 in 2015 and 113,000 in 2016, thanks in part to the expansion to the convention center next to the arena.

“Being the first there allowed us to tap into this huge community in central Eastern Europe and people were willing to travel from all parts of Europe to Poland,” Woo said. “It grew organically.”

It grew so much that this year the event has been spread over two weekends. Blicharz said the event ran out of space to accommodate all the e-sports fans last year.

“This was the only thing we could do short of building another venue next to the Spodek arena and the International Congress Center,” Blicharz said. “It has allowed us to extend the tournaments for fans of each respective game without congesting the schedule in the stadium.  No one had done anything like this, to my knowledge, so the whole industry will be much wiser after the double event is over.  It definitely feels like the right thing to do right now.”

iem katowice overview 5 ESL

Today IEM in Katowice is the largest e-sports-themed expo in the world. There are 20 booths packed inside the convention center filled with sponsors and games. Additional areas inside the arena offer previews of new virtual-reality platforms like Intel’s Project Alloy[6] and games like Arizona Sunshine, The Unspoken, and Lone Echo. The event also showcases other e-sports tournaments, including CrossFire and Heroes of the Storm on smaller stages, along with an all-female pro CS:GO tournament.

Blicharz said it takes 1,845 work days’ worth of effort in under two weeks to make sure the event runs smoothly. And that’s just the core event crew, not including external staff that was hired to build the stage, security, catering staff and several other agencies. 

“This is going to be a herculean effort by the company. It’s the largest amount of work ESL’s ever done for one event,” Blicharz said.

iem katowice champion ESL

For the first time, fans with access to VR headsets will get a sense of being there because Sliver.tv[7] is broadcasting the event in virtual reality. That ties into the overall push by Intel to use IEM to introduce fans to what could be the future of competitive gaming: virtual reality e-sports.

It’s interesting to think that a small city that wasn’t known outside of Poland just five years ago is now synonymous with huge companies like Intel and ESL. And it’s on the cusp of what’s next in e-sports, showcasing VR technology to its attendees.

Woo said those fans who show up in Poland are among the most passionate in all of e-sports—right up there with the Brazilians.

“IEM Katowice has a World Cup type of buzz and feel,” Woo said. “The partnership with the city and those venues allow us to deliver a world class event.”

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References

  1. ^ Twitch (www.twitch.tv)
  2. ^ ESL.tv (tv.eslgaming.com)
  3. ^ Intel Extreme Masters website (live.intelextrememasters.com)
  4. ^ [ Further reading: These 20 absorbing PC games will eat days of your life ] (www.pcworld.com)
  5. ^ Michal Blicharz (www.forbes.com)
  6. ^ Intel’s Project Alloy (www.pcworld.com)
  7. ^ Sliver.tv (www.sliver.tv)
  8. ^ Facebook (www.facebook.com)
  9. ^ Twitter (twitter.com)