As the Winter Olympic Games PyeongChang 2018 approach, the stage is set for one of the most significant esports tournaments in recent memory.
To push through the qualifying rounds leading up to Intel Extreme Masters PyeongChang, Sebastian “eGGz” Latorre played the best StarCraft II of his young life.
The 18-year-old Colombian credits his improved performance to a recent tweak to his pregame ritual: meditation. In the anxious minutes leading up to his matches, he turned on his Spotify classical playlist, drew a deep breath and concentrated on the word “one,” murmuring it to himself.
“I used to get a really high heart rate before big matches,” said Latorre. “But lately I become so focused on the game that I forget everything else.”
That focus is leading Latorre and 18 of world’s best esports athletes to compete for $150,000 in prize money at the 2018 Intel Extreme Masters PyeongChang in South Korea. The purse is a big draw, but these StarCraft II players are reaching for something bigger: making esports into a global phenomenon.
Once Intel became a worldwide partner with the Olympic Games, top esports athletes got their chance to draw a truly worldwide audience. On Feb. 5-7, leading up to PyeongChang 2018, Latorre and others will compete in Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft II tournament. Intel will host a separate exhibition featuring Ubisoft’s action-sports title Steep Road to the Olympics, which is the official licensed game of the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
“The International Olympic Committee’s involvement in the tournament has been incredibly positive for the global recognition of esports,” said Shaun “Apollo” Clark, a broadcaster for ESL, the esport production company organizing the event. “This is a moment that will stand out in esports history.”
Athletes Take Esports Global
This historic event reminded Clark of another pivotal moment in esports history. In 2013, Danny “Shiphtur” Le became the first professional gamer to receive a P-1A visa — a travel permit granted to internationally recognized athletes. Now having Intel Extreme Masters linked to PyeongChang 2018 raises the stature of esports to a whole new level.
According to esports commentators, there is no better game than StarCraft II for the historic moment. More than any other group, StarCraft players embody the athleticism of esports.
“The endurance, the work effort and the talent involved in playing StarCraft II makes it the hardest esport in the world to be a professional at,” said Geoff Robinson, an esports personality and former StarCraft II player.
Much like professional poker, where players perform complex calculations to anticipate an opponent’s hand, StarCraft players must make decisions based on snippets of information and sheer instinct. StarCraft II players have blisteringly nimble fingers, with top players capable of entering up to five commands per second.
“StarCraft has so many incredible factors to it,” said Robinson. “Players make decisions faster than anyone else in esports.”
Road to PyeongChang 2018
In the spirit of the Olympic Winter Games, the Intel Extreme Masters tournament brings together top StarCraft II players from over 48 nations. In November and December 2017, nearly 500 players competed in online qualifiers in nine regions. While the major StarCraft regions of Europe, South Korea and North America were sufficiently represented, the tournament also reserved spots for up-and-coming esports hotspots, including Africa, China and South America.
“In designing the tournament, we looked to emulate the Olympic Games with international representation. We wanted the event to have a feeling of togetherness,” said Clark.
The regional qualifiers brought together fans across continents as the field of 500 narrowed to 18 players. In the South American qualifiers, Latorre bested the Brazilian champion and local favorite Diego “Kelazhur” Schwimer, catching him off guard with a blitzkrieg of insect-like Zergling infantry. But Latorre stumbled in the next game, then lost the match. He had to mount a comeback from the loser’s bracket.
Meanwhile at the China qualifier in Beijing, the child prodigy Li “TIME” Peinan rallied to defeat the Chinese legend Cao “Jim” Jinhui and advance to the finals.
The finals will be held in studio in PyeongChang and the action will be streamed via the Olympic Channel, official rights-holding broadcasters and Twitch.
With so many great athletes from every part of the world, Clark is anticipating an historic showdown for all the world to see.
“When two StarCraft giants face off to play a game of mental warfare and electric speed, it’s classic esports,” said Clark.
As for Latorre, he’s trying not to think about the magnitude of the moment. When he isn’t practicing for eight hours a day, he likes to unwind to the sounds of classical composer Chopin. On weekends, he takes long walks and visit parks around Bogota with friends.
“I have a big responsibility to represent the South American StarCraft scene and do well,” Latorre said. “I’m a bit nervous, but I’m feeling really confident.”
Editor’s note: After three days of competition, Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, the only female competitor to qualify for the tournament, secured the victory as the IEM PyeongChang champion, edging out one of the world’s best players, Kim “sOs” Yoo Jin, in an upset victory.
Learn more about Intel esports activities at PyeongChang 2018.