Events
Fan Expo Canada 2014
Intel Extreme Masters

By Jarita Lee - September 4th, 2014

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I was ready to write-off Fan Expo 2014 as “been there, done that” this year, and was subsequently shown by the StarCraft Gods that I was dead wrong. Earlier this July, it was announced that the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Season 9 finals would be held at Fan Expo, and magically I was excited again. With a $25,000 total prize pool and 4,000 WCS points at stake, I knew that the Toronto eSports crowd was going to be out in full force for this event.

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Aerial shot of the IEM crowd

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Spawn more chairs!

Not enough chairs!

As with most StarCraft 2 tournaments, the lack of chairs is just an accepted fact of life at this point. However, I have to admit that a very generous amount of space was given to Intel and ESL to set up their product booths and the mainstage for the tournament. The stage design and production of the event was beautiful, and minus a stage rush/altercation by an unruly Fan Expo attendee, they pulled off a flawless tournament that was stacked with exciting StarCraft games.

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Casters Kaelaris and Apollo.

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Attendees checking out the Intel booth

Hometown Hope

Unfortunately I was unable to attend on the days that Canadian StarCraft favourites HuK and Scarlett were playing; but trust me, I was praying that they would make it to the Sunday games. Alas, the StarCraft Gods would not grant me my wish. HuK was unfortunately sent to the lower brackets and eliminated by Leenock, unable to relive the epic-ness that was his NASL glory from a few years back. As for Scarlett, placed into the hyper-difficult group D, she was able to take a game off Life but was ultimately eliminated by Flash (spoiler alert: not a bad way to go out).

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Flash waiting to see who he will face in the finals

The Finals

While attending IEM on Sunday, I realized that it was the first time I was watching a tournament where the event was not being held solely for StarCraft. It was weird to hear random comments of people walking by that were either puzzled or judgemental as to why we were watching people play a videogame. I thought it was rather ironic considering we were at Fan Expo, an entire event built around popular culture. “Wow, they’re watching two people play a videogame in a booth”, one passerby deftly observed. “Are they in soundproof boxes? Why are people cheering?”. Valid question, but we’re cheering because it is just so damned exciting to watch two people play a videogame in a booth.

On the flip side, there were others that didn’t realize there would be a StarCraft tournament at Fan Expo, or that professional StarCraft playing even exists. “Wow, look how fast their fingers move”, “I wonder if anyone has lost a game because of carpal tunnel?”. A group of friends with their kids were navigating their way through the crowds when one of them exclaimed “STARCRAFT!”. He then excitedly explained to his friends something about StarCraft – it wasn’t in English but the guy was excited as hell. As always, the Canadian eSports crowd at IEM was loud and enthusiastic – but of course very polite about it. Canadian StarCraft fans will cheer for anything and anyone, as long as you show up.

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Zest in his booth getting ready for the finals

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Standing room only

However, there could only be one winner of IEM Season 9, and it is only fitting that it was living eSports legend, Flash. When he was up 3 games to 1 against his teammate Zest in the final best of 7, the pressure was on for him to deliver. Zest put up a good fight, but Flash made it look all too easy, taking the series in 5 games to finally win his first major StarCraft 2 tournament after switching from Brood War.

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Flash wins it!

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Winner’s circle.

I think it was a fantastic idea for IEM to take advantage of a high profile event like Fan Expo to feature a StarCraft tournament, considering the ongoing murmurs of its declining popularity (which I personally think are exaggerated). As shown by my eavesdropping on strangers, there are still many people who don’t “get” professional gaming, which means that it is not even close to reaching its potential for growth and popularity. IEM Season 9 also gives Toronto a special place in eSports history to be associated with such an important win, and hopefully is the beginning of his ascension to StarCraft 2 dominance. Here’s hoping that IEM starts a tradition and returns to Toronto for Fan Expo 2015 – I could use a reason to keep attending!

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Big cheques.

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An ESL tradition.

Gallery

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Click the pic to see more pics from around the Intel Booth at Fan Expo.

Other articles from Fan Expo Canada 2014 can be found by clicking this link.

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