I know, clickbaity title is clickbaity, but now that I made you want to comment how Katowice 2023 was actually friggin’ awesome, hear me out first and let me tell the tale of our journey to one of the biggest SC2 events of the year, Intel Extreme Masters Katowice.
I don’t intend this to be a “whine post”, but if something’s not right, I want to point it out. At the end of the article, there’ll also be some redeeming factors. And I’d like to stress that even with all the mess surrounding the IEM Katowice SC2 event, I still loved our trip there, and am considering visiting it again. But I really hope that at least SOME of the issues I bring up here will be sorted out.
Now, without further ado, let’s start!
Entrances & Exits
The first problem arises right at the entrance – there’s like 4 of them, and it’s not at all indicated clearly where one should go. To complicate things further, 2 of us had actual tickets, while the 3rd person didn’t, because they sold out sooner than we could buy it. We visited 2 gates where the staff didn’t speak English, and all they could suggest was to try the other gates. At the 3rd gate we were finally told that ticket owners can go in there, while the 3rd person should walk around the building and there’ll be a gate somewhere for free admittance. This turned out to be a 5 minute walk and some standing in line. Why place different entrances at the opposite sides of this huge building? No one knows.
As we found out, catering was placed behind the building, outside. Which isn’t a very clever approach as it’s pretty darn cold in February in Poland, and there was PLENTY space inside for this kind of thing. Anyway, right at the exit, there’s the smoking area, so everyone that goes out to eat gets to enjoy all the fumes in the world. On top of that, you can’t come back in on the exit you got out from, no, you gotta walk around and get inside at a different door. Because reasons. It’s literally just a door 30 meters away. But someone, somewhere, decided that this will improve security or something. I really don’t get it.
Like I said, one of us didn’t have a ticket, because they sold out extremely fast. But we weren’t worried, since the site explained over and over that there’ll be free admittance, and we should be just fine. This was the seating visualized on ESL’s official site for IEM:
Looking good, right? Well, guess what, in reality, this “free access” region was 1, that is, ONE line of seats between premium and regular. There were some free seats on the first day, which was a Friday, but later on? Not a chance. Especially since most folks just left their coats on the chairs and thus “rented” the seats for the day. Not cool.
There was also a complete lack of seating available in general, anywhere in the venue. People were sitting on the floor, on stairs, anywhere. Would it have killed to place a few dozen benches? It’s really not a welcoming place for an event that lasts for 3 days, with 8+ hours of matches during each. Even if there WERE more free seats available at the stage, you can’t spend all your day in there. The catering section outside the building had like 3 benches with tables, but like I said, it was freezing outside. The inside part, where they sold refreshments, had maybe 4 of those tiny, circular desks, without chairs. And that’s about it. I’m not kidding. So if you go to IEM Katowice, be prepared to stand and walk, a lot.
At this point it’s worth explicitly mentioning the most puzzling issue: without exaggeration, around 70-80% of staff didn’t speak English. At all. This is an international event. It’s clearly stated on its website that the event’s official language is English. Yet most people we approached with a question dealt with us with a brief “No English” shrug. This includes security, stores, catering, everything.
And I’d forgive if this was some underground event in its infancy, but this was IEM Katowice, a flagship event, that’s been going on since 2013, so they had plenty of time to figure this shit out.
And if you can’t get English speaking chefs, at the very least have the decency to put up English labels on your food trucks. But nope, NONE of the trucks had any English on them. I tried asking one of them “What flavors do you have?”, and all I got was “Sorry, my English isn’t good”. Alright then, give me that one.
Fun fact: this “kurtosz kolacz” is actually “kürtőskalács“, a traditional Transylvanian treat from the Székelys.
There were some beverages sold inside the buildings, but for whatever clever reason the event mandated all of them to remove the caps from any drinks upon purchase.
What kind of sense does that make? From this point on, you can’t put your drink ever away, it’s just gonna spill all over the place.
The other puzzling thing is that they served free refreshments for the premium ticket owners inside the stage area. They already had them in these tiny, 300-500 ml plastic bottles, which they then poured into 200 ml plastic glasses. Every. Single. Time. We tried asking them to use our previous glass, but they refused, “no no no, we’re giving you a new one”. Geez, way to go, above and beyond.
Stop. The. Fucking. Plastic. Pollution. I don’t care what kind of event it is, there’s absolutely no reason, ever, to make me use 10 plastic glasses a day.
So IEM hosts both SC2 and CS:GO. But CS:GO is in the other huge arena called Spodek. Those who want to watch that, go to Spodek. They have PLENTY space for CS:GO. The StarCraft arena is much smaller in MCK, and as we already established, there’s minuscule seating available.
But all is well, one might say, since there’s this “lounge” area next to it, for those who want to just chill and watch the games, without seeing the stage, right? Well guess what, that longue area aired CS:GO all the time. With Polish commentary. Seriously? So outside the stage area and its ONE line of free seats (which was full of coat rentals anyway), there was no way for you to actually follow the matches.
Our friend with no ticket often ended up watching the matches on his phone via Twitch. While being in the place where the matches actually take place. Isn’t that just absolutely, completely ridiculous?
I was really shocked how small the main stage displays are. If I had to guess, maybe 100″ in size. There were 3 of these, on the left, in the middle, and on the right. It was alright I guess, but the middle was too high, giving you neck pain after a short while, while the other 2 on the sides were too low, so you most likely couldn’t see them if there was any taller person in front of you. But that was the least of our worries.
Here comes the insult to injury: there WAS actually a huge, huge display on the stage – on the right side. It was maybe 150-170″ big? And guess what: it aired Intel ads ALL DAY. And nothing else. It really blew my mind. But it’s okay, it’s just the StarCraft 2 World Championship, why would we show SC2 on the biggest display in the building, if we can also display Intel ads on it? Right?
But wait, it gets better. They went above and beyond, and put another stage right next to the SC2 stage. With a lot of sound equipment. And they decided nothing would complement SC2 better than having hip-hop and other concerts during the matches. And how about constant loud Polish shouting in between those concerts by the most eccentric hosts? It was unbelievable, really. Everyone was looking at those gigs like “WTAF were they thinking?”. Sometimes we couldn’t even hear the commentary or even the closing interviews, because of the constant garbage Polish rapping. OMG even just remembering these pisses me off 😀
All venues require proper ventilation, otherwise people would choke, obviously. That’s fine. What’s not fine is when those vents blow the cold air straight into your face, depending on where you sit. Sometimes it was so bad that we had to change seats, because it was giving us a literal headache. It’s not ESL’s fault, of course, it’s more on MCK, but they should sort this out, because it really is horrible as of now.
Signing sessions were always exactly 1 hour long, which, if you think of it, isn’t very much. With just a couple dozen people in line, it reduces your time with the players and casters to maybe a minute, or even less. That’s the time you have to greet them, get their signature, maybe take a picture together, thank them, then say goodbye. In under a minute.
If it wasn’t bad enough, many of the visitors decided to chat for several minutes. I mean, I get it, everyone wants to meet their heroes, but you also have to consider the other 20 people behind you. There was no supervision from the staff about this, they didn’t rush anyone. And the casters/players obviously aren’t gonna tell their fans to fuck off. That’s just not how it works. It’s the staff’s responsibility to ensure the line moves in a timely fashion.
The funny thing is that I talked to one of the Polish guests, who told me he’s been visiting this event for like 6 years in a row now, and this is the first year they made these sessions this lenient. Well, I gotta say, this change certaintly wasn’t for the better.
So because of this, at one point we, and many others behind us, ran out of time, and security closed the line right in front of us. At that point I’ve been waiting for 20-25 minutes already, and then I was told I ain’t gonna meet Pig, Feardragon, and ZombieGrub.
No fucking way. So when no one was watching, I just slipped through under the cordon. And that fucking guy was still just talking and talking and talking to Pig. Eventually he knocked it off, and I was finally able to get at least the signatures, but the next round of signers were already coming, so no time for a photo, right? Well not quite, Pig was cool enough to get the whole lovely bunch together outside the signing desks, and we made a real quick group photo. If it wasn’t for Pig’s professionalism, it would’ve been a ruined day for me for sure.
Long story short: people, signing sessions aren’t for chatting! They’re called signing sessions, not chatting sessions. We all want to meet them, let us. Staff, do your job, and if someone’s hogging the celebs, please, by all means, feel free to tell them to hurry the fuck up.
So now that I covered all the things that seriously annoyed me, let’s talk about the good things.
We traveled around 600 km by car, and it was smooth sailing, most of the Polish motorways are free, and the max speed is 140 km/h, so it’s time to go pedal to the metal!
Approaching the venue within the city was also fairly easy. Katowice International Conference Centre, or probably better known as MCK, has a big parking lot right in the front, with automated admittance, and card payments, all is well.
Even though the placement of the food trucks was questionable to say the least, the food itself was pretty darn good. At one point we ordered pizza, and it turned out to be close to Neapolitan, which is the best form of pizza (change my mind haha). It’s pretty impressive to have an actual pizza oven in a truck.
Players & Casters
It goes without saying, but all the players and casters I’ve met were super nice. I can only imagine how tiring it must be to put up with all the annoying fans between matches, but they just dealt with it extremely well, really, big hugs to them all for being so awesome. You guys rock, this community is the best in the gaming world.
I thought a lot about this during IEM, and it’s really weird, because in some ways, I often know the casters even more than the players. Players often come and go, but the casters almost always stay with us. And the SC2 casters are doing a fantastic job, and I really couldn’t wish for a better crew. Stay awesome, guys!
I’m a gamer for life, so obviously, I played StarCraft shortly after its release. I have it in a nice limited box with Brood War. Same goes for SC2. It’s an awesome game, but I’m not a competitive type for sure, so I mostly only played the campaigns.
Watching SC2, on the other hand, is the bee’s knees. I’ve been watching IEM and GSL for 5 or 6 years now. It’s my go to programme during my home workouts, especially. I don’t know what it is, but I just love doing my pull ups and stuff while watching some good SC2 action.
I love the game, and I love all these players and casters. I’m happy to be part of this community in one way or another, and I wish SC2 another incredible 10 years. Love you all.