With a prize pool of more than half a million dollars, the backing of big PC brands and 1m+ viewers expected, the latest Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) is about to get underway. Here are five things you need to know about the eSports tournament.
IEM Season 10 is set to be the biggest yet
IEM is a series of competitive gaming tournaments organised by ESL, which regularly take place in different locations around the world.
The eSports competitions have been sponsored by Intel since 2006, and the latest one (season 10) takes place in Katowice's Spodek arena complex in Poland this weekend.
Last year, more than 100,000 people flocked to the event and 1.6 million peak concurrent viewers watched it taking place live online. With the eSports market expected to grow 43 per cent to $463 million in 2016, it's likely the tournament will pull in even more spectators this weekend.
Intel has unveiled new eSports gaming PCs
To celebrate the latest IEM, which runs from Friday March 4th to Sunday March 6th this weekend (including some behind closed doors matches on the 2nd and 3rd), Intel has unveiled two limited edition Intel Extreme Masters gaming PCs.
The IEM Champion features an Intel Core i7 K-series CPU, 16GB of HyperX DRAM and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290X graphics card, while the IEM Challenger sports an Intel Core i5 K-series processor, 8GB DRAM from HyperX and either an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960 or AMD Radeon R9 285 graphics card.
Both systems include a GIGABYTE motherboard, a 1TB hard drive and a 120GB Intel SSD.
Each PC purchase will increase the tournament's current $500,000 prize pool, and will come with a bundle of games worth $165, including Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Warface, Just Cause 3 and World of Warships.
The UK retail partners selling the machines are Scan Computers and PC Specialist. You can check out the Scan IEM systems here, which are priced at £1,169.99 for the Challenger and £1,499.99 for the Champion, and view all the retail partners here.
"We’re closing out a decade of Intel Extreme Masters competition, and these limited edition PCs are a bastion of performance and excellence,” said George Woo, Intel brand partnerships and sponsorships marketing manager.
Over 30 PC brands will have a presence at the expo
In terms of the event's expo area, several well-known companies from the PC industry will be exhibiting at the show.
Zowie will be showing off gaming monitors, plus the Fnatic CSGO and League of Legends teams will be signing autographs for fans at the booth.
HyperX will be presenting its new headset - the Cloud Revolver - which will be for sale at a discount price, while pro players and YouTubers will be at the stand. Meanwhile, Gigabyte is set to show off its latest motherboards and graphics cards. Those three exhibitors will also be hosting gaming tournaments including the likes of CSGO, League of Legends and Hearthstone.
Of course, Intel will have its own stand at the show, where attendees will be able to take part in Unreal Tournament and iRacing competitions to win Intel processors, plus an IEM Fan Zone will feature signing sessions each day.
Other exhibitors at IEM include MSI, ASUS, Alienware, Twitch, HP, Razer, SteelSeries, Roccat, Red Bull, Blizzard and Acer. Plus, ESL will have its own shop where attendees can buy eSports apparel. There will also be a cosplay contest at IEM, with PC prizes up for grabs.
Top-tier talent will make it one hell of a show
IEM attracts some of the best eSports teams and players in the world. This year at Katowice, teams such as the current League of Legends world champions SKT Telecom T1 will travel from Korea, while London's own Fnatic and Europe's Origen will also take part in the League of Legends tournament, among North American organisation Team Solo Mid (TSM) and others.
In the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) tournament, teams include Team EnvyUs, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Mousesports and more.
A separate all-female CSGO tournament will feature eight teams including Exertus, Millenium, CLG Red and Team Acer.
Some of the best Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm and StarCraft II players will also participate in the event. Check out the full player and team line-up here.
It's not just the players that will be gracing the stage, either. Some of the best analysts, presenters and commentators are set to host the show, including British veteran eSports broadcasters Paul "ReDeYe" Chaloner and Leigh "Deman" Smith, as well as League of Legends presenter Eefje "Sjokz" Depoortere, Trevor "Quickshot" Henry and more.
eSports is working on its diversity problem
Intel has teamed up with ESL to announce AnyKey - an initiative focused on supporting diversity in and around the competitive gaming industry.
There will also be a CSGO tournament for women at IEM on the weekend: Intel Challenge Katowice.
"The organisation’s core goal is to create more opportunities and inclusive spaces, whilst supporting underrepresented members of competitive communities, such as women, LGBTQ participants, and people of colour," the pair said in a statement.
Headed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor T.L. Taylor, the research team will establish discussion opportunities such as the 'Women in Esports' panel and industry workshop, field audience studies and produce white papers.
The development team, headed by Morgan Romine, former director of eSports at Red 5 Studios and co-founder of Ubisoft’s Frag Dolls, will take these findings and develop strategies to tackle identified problem zones.
This weekend's event in Poland will also debut the first AnyKey lounge, 'a welcoming space for conversation, information exchange and networking', where the AnyKey Code of Conduct will be presented for the first time.
PCR will be reporting from IEM this weekend. Follow PCR editor @Dom_Sacco on Twitter for the latest updates.