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Sydney hosts the Intel Extreme Masters 2019 esports competition

07 May 2019

For the third time running, from 3rd-5th May, Qudos Bank Arena in Sydney’s Olympic park hosted the ESL Intel Extreme Masters Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament. 

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a six-year-old first-person shooter with a legacy that goes back nearly twenty years to the original fan-made Half-Life game mod. CS:GO is favoured as a competition platform as it is robust, well supported by the developers at Value, and runs well on even the most rudimentary PCs.

Unfortunately, A/NZ CS:GO teams Greyhound and Chiefs missed out from the playoffs having been eliminated. The 2019 trophy went to the United States' Team Liquid after a tense final against Sweden’s Fnatic.

This year, for the first time the Overwatch Contenders Australia was also held over the weekend, adding Blizzard’s more modern team shooter to the mix. Sydney Drop Bears, Order, Blank Esports and Melbourne Mavericks battled it out for a share in the US$100,000 prize pool. It was Order who came out victorious and will go on to represent Australian in the Overwatch Pacific Showdown in China later this month.

With single-day tickets ranging from AU$45-AU$139 and three-day passes from AU$149 to a whopping $1,299 for the elite pass, there’s a fair amount of money changing hands, especially considering there were a fair few thousand fans in attendance. Most fans, however, will be watching the matches streamed to their homes around the world. 

As a forty-eight-year-old gamer, I remain unconvinced regarding esports. If anything, stepping back for a moment, it’s a sign of gaming becoming, as with movies, multi-generational. When it comes to gaming, one size no longer fits all. Maybe, esports just isn’t my bag.

I’ve been attending the Australian event for three years - a lifetime in technology - and yet, the event doesn’t seem to have expanded or altered since 2016. In saying that, early indications coming from the organisers say that the tournament had an average of 7,500 visitors per day. Online viewership is coming in at 250K (excluding China). 

Competition aside, hats-off to the tournament’s lead sponsor, Intel, who really are putting their money where their mouth is in promoting PC gaming in such a positive way. For a generation of kids growing up on the instant gratification of YouTube, console gaming is an easy option. 

Intel has harnessed the buzz of PC-based ESL esports championships to promote PC as THE gaming platform. At the IEM, the Intel Showcase gave fans a taster of what Intel-based PC gaming is all about. Loads of machines were running Counter-Strike: GO joined by multiplayer battle royale upstarts Fortnite and PUBG. There was also a huge VR presence, with gamers able to battle it out with the likes of Beat Saber

The big takeaway for me was that, whilst there were plenty of big box PCs, most of the gaming experiences available were being powered by laptops, and even Intel-based NUCs. This observation was confirmed by Intel during an exclusive press event where they showcase a number of laptops from their vendor-partners equipped with 9th Gen Intel CPU’s virtually identical in spec to their desktop counterparts. 

Whilst CPU clock speeds have stalled somewhat over the last few years, Intel have been advancing in leaps and bounds, improving energy efficiencies and increasing the core count. The increase cores does little to help the gamer- with most games only taking advantage of one to four cores. However,  video editing and image manipulation application are getting a proper shot in the arm from Intel’s 8-core 16-thread offerings. 

What’s really amazing, is that Intel’s 9th gen mobile processors are now capable of running just as fast as their desktop counterparts. Their flagship mobile CPU, the Intel Core i9-9980 come in both the standard 9880H version and the unlocked 9980HK variant, overclockable by vendors incorporating a suitable advanced cooling system in their laptops. All the 9th gen mobile CPUs, from the humble i5-9300H to the i7-9980HK support Intel’s ultra-fast Optane memory.

As well as Intel’s massive sponsorship presence at the event, a number of local PC system builders, case modders and PC peripheral vendors were also present. Attendees could pick up anything from a new, state of the art PC to a mouse mat. Even with retailers and vendors spread across two large rooms, it still seems a bit of a missed opportunity, a far cry from the banging music, excitement and madness of PAX and the EB Expo.

Regardless of your thoughts on esports, ESL and Intel put on a very slick show, worthy of a premier sporting event. The fans loved it, injecting their own Aussie character into proceeding packed with chants. Not sure if there were any shoeys this year, a disgusting fan favourite in past years. If there were, I’m glad I missed it- nobody should drink beer from their shoe. As iconic as CS:GO is, the addition of Overwatch this year gives me hope for some variety for the tournament in the future.  

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