It's likely that you have never heard of Katowice - and you'd be forgiven for not having so. It's a small, quiet town in the South West of Poland with a total population of about 300,000 and no particularly famous tourist attractions, save for a number of historical sites, structures and musuems related to the World Wars.
However, once a year tens of thousands of people flock to the city to celebrate their love for the most unlikely of things - professional competitive gaming, otherwise known as esports.
What's so special about Katowice?
Since 2014, the Spodek Arena in Katowice has hosted some of the largest esports events in the world - the most recent being the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Katowice (consisting of a tournament for StarCraft II & Counter Strike: Global Offensive run jointly by Intel and ESL) and ESL One Katowice (consisting of a tournament for Dota2 run by ESL). These two events ran on back-to-back weekends and brought in an estimated 169,000 live spectators between them, from all over the world.
Events such as IEM and ESL One usually rotate through different cities with only a handful of them being permanent locations for the annual tournament circuit. Earlier this week, Katowice City Council voted in favour of an act to continue promoting and co-organising IEM Katowice events. More importantly they agreed to set aside approximately $3.38m to promote the event over the next five years in an effort to retain IEM Katowice.
How does aligning with esports benefit Katowice?
You might be wondering why the council would double down on their commitment to esports and to IEM specifically. The answer is, the economic benefit that comes with an influx of excited esports fans that number more than half of the city's population!
I attended IEM Katowice in 2017 and was surprised to find that almost every hotel in a two mile radius of the Spodek Arena was fully booked, shops & restaurants were packed full of people and bars & clubs were more lively than I thought possible for such a small city. Everywhere I turned I saw esports fans fully kitted out in their favourite team's merchandise, waving flags and holding bags containing what was most likely their newest souvenir. The economic benefit of hosting an IEM event, especially to a small city Katowice is almost too obvious.
Addtionally, it was reported that Katowice earned an estimated €22m in advertising value (to find out more follow this link).
Why does this matter?
This act further cements Katowice's already strong association with esports which is now akin to London's affinity to Tennis (Wimbledon) or Monaco's affinity to Formula One. Esports is a rapidly growing sector and other cities, both big and small, will begin to see (if they don't already) the benefit it can bring to their local economies. As the sector grows and begins to enter the mainstream, I believe other cities will have conversations about how to align themselves and get involved with hosting esports events. In some respect it is already happening, for example Activision Blizzard's Overwatch League includes teams such as the Shanghai Dragons, Philadelphia Fusion and London Spitfire competing against each other with plans for such named cities to host events in future seasons of the league. Debating the future of league structures and what model to adopt is already a hot topic in the industry so watch this space if you want to know more.
As a closing thought, people have asked me which city I think will be 'the next Katowice' and honestly it's impossible to say. There are many other aspects to consider when bringing a new and somewhat disruptive sector into an economy (infrastructure, technological capabilities, culture - just to name a few) and not all cities are suitable candidates. That said, it wouldn't hurt if it was somewhere warm and exotic...with nice sandy beaches...and palm trees.
The Katowice, Poland city council has voted in favor of an act that declares the city’s willingness to “co-organize and promote” the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) World Championship. IEM Katowice, a multigame event operated by ESL , began in 2014. It has since grown into one of the largest third-party tournaments of the year. Last year, between IEM Katowice and ESL One the previous week, the city hosted 169K live spectators. Katowice’s current deal with ESL ends after the event in 2019. In an effort to retain the Intel Extreme Masters tournament, the city has allocated 12.5M PLN ($3.38M USD) for IEM Katowice promotion over the next five years. Of that fund, 2.4M PLN ($649K) will go towards the 2019 event.