Last week I was given the incredible opportunity by TeamLiquid.net to fly out to Katowice, Poland and attend IEM. My job was to cover the Heroes of the Storm tournament and get some interviews to bring back home. Big stuff. Prior to IEM, my experience at events was limited to only MLG Orlando in 2011 – yeah, the one where HuK was the first foreigner to beat a Korean in an SC2 final – when a buddy and I drove down to compete in a Call of Duty tournament. Going to IEM was very different.
It was my first time overseas in Europe and my first time on a plane. That is an adventure worthy of a post itself, but I will spare readers my fears about the plane exploding over the Atlantic. Instead, my goal here is to present a bit of a “walkthrough” of IEM – to share my own narrative and provide a guide for others attending events to get the most out of their experience.
Before you head to an event, you need to start preparing at home. I’m not talking about packing, I’m talking about making connections. It’s always better to share events with others. The more people you talk to and hang out with, the better your experience is going to be. If you’re lucky enough to have an open dialogue with people who are going – pro players, casters, community members, etc. – via Skype, Twitter, Discord, or even from their stream, I highly recommend dropping them a message before you go. Tell them you’ll be at the event and you’d like to meet up with them at some point. Their responses might surprise you.
I met a couple of people at the event through a Discord server for popular Heroes of the Storm streamer, caster, and analyst KendricSwissh. They ended up becoming fairly close friends throughout the weekend, and I had a lot of fun watching the tournament together with them. As fellow reporters for the German site Stormkings.de, they were able to compare notes with me and introduce me to players they had met. I was also able to talk to several pro players on mYinsanity and Team Liquid through connections I had made beforehand just watching streams and talking to the players in chat. In fact, I briefly hung out with them at the hotel bar the last night of the event!
Getting Into the Venue
IEM grew immensely in size and production value since last year. I was told by a Blizzard Community Manager that they had approximately 10,000 people overall attend the event last year and this year they were expecting up to 15,000, a full 50% increase! If you couldn’t secure a ticket to the event online, you had the chance to stand in line and eventually get into the venue. This is known as “queuing”. No one could have known this outside of the organization, so consider this warning: beware of queuing.
Queuing seemed like a decent idea for many people who lived nearby in Poland, but wait times for the queue ended up being astronomically larger than anticipated due to the increase in viewership. The line to get in snaked its way all the way around the building and around the block; I remember pointing it out and asking why they would wait in line like that. I talked to one person who had stood outside in freezing temperatures for five and a half hours before he was able to get in, effectively missing most of the Heroes tournament he was looking forward to watching.
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In any case, whether you chose to buy a ticket or wait in line, it’s important to get there early. Getting into the arena early allows you to grab a comfortable seat and take pictures of the empty stage. You can check out booths while they’re getting set up and chat with some of the people running them before they get overwhelmed. There’s also a real chance of casually running into a pro player or caster. My fellow reporters and I were there every morning just as they opened the doors, and I think that was definitely a good choice.
Exploring the Spodek
IEM was held in the heart of Katowice at an event center called the Spodek, Polish for the word “saucer”. Every morning our group entered through the front of the Exhibition Center next door to the main arena. The Exhibition Center housed the free-to-play area, all of the media interview rooms, an auditorium, and a large exhibition hall where all the sponsor booths were located. Across a small outside area littered with various food trucks selling delicious fried foods, the titanic Spodek Arena sat in anticipation of heart-pounding gaming action.
It’s a large venue overall, so large that you have to accept that you won’t get to watch all of the games. Even at smaller events, this is still the case. There’s a lot of different stuff to do at live events, and you should attempt to indulge in the full experience. Visit sponsor booths, participate in giveaways, and watch other games! Interact with people!
@SolidJakeGG Jaina cant be played because she’s Here! pic.twitter.com/dHHoEcxriO
— Kitara (@KitaraHots) March 5, 2016
I spent most of my time watching Heroes of the Storm and meeting people at both the Expo Stage and the MOBA stage, but I did pop into the Auditorium to watch a few games of StarCraft 2 – go Snute! – and CS:GO in the Spodek Arena. I also took some time to visit some of the sponsors. Unfortunately, I didn’t speak any Polish, so it was difficult for me to do much more than observe. Nonetheless, I found some really cool booths, my favorite being a retro gamer’s booth with classic games like StarCraft: Brood War, Wolfenstein, and Mortal Kombat. Nostalgia from them hit pretty deep. In a way, it reminded me of how I got to this point in the first place.
Meeting Famous People
Probably the biggest thing that people struggle with at events is meeting famous people. It’s natural to feel shaky about meeting your favorite player or a caster you idolize, but you have to remember that they’re people too. You have to treat them like they’re human.
Don’t be afraid to talk to them! I happened to run into the beautiful Nysira offstage, who was having some jitters about her performance as stage host. I gave her some support and told her she was doing great and not to worry, and just like that, a connection was formed. Don’t just ask people to sign autographs, try to have a real conversation with them. Make sure to communicate with them after that too; drop them a tweet from time to time!
@Esports_John thanks☺️ much better then yesterday! Right? Haha
— Nysira (@Nysira) March 6, 2016
Sometimes it’s difficult to meet up with players. Many times it’s pure happenstance running into them, but there’s a secret to making that easier: get in touch with the managers. Contacting and meeting managers is a really strong route for getting in touch with the players themselves. Players are focused on playing at their best in the tournament and probably meet hundreds of people they don’t know each day, so it’s practically impossible for them to remember who you are. Managers, on the other hand, are typically very open to talking about the team and usually acquiescing if you ask to meet the players or do an interview. For fellow reporters, this tip is worth its weight in gold.
Also, go to after parties! They’re typically kept under wraps, but if you maintain contact with some of the people in the scene, it’s easy to get an invite. It’s another great chance to get to know some of the other community members as well as meet some famous people in a casual atmosphere. Just remember the first rule: treat them like they’re human!
Everyone who is interested in eSports, even just a casual viewer, should make an attempt to go to an event like IEM or DreamHack. I had a great live experience, and you can too. Live the event in full definition and don’t let yourself miss out on opportunities. Having a media pass and prior connections helped me meet a lot of people more easily, but even the average gamer can make the most of their trip by just following some of these tips.
Care to share some of your own live event experiences? What do you think the best part of going was? What tips would you give someone who wanted to attend an offline event?