Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Rio 2023: eSports Are Alive & Well

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CGMagazine was lucky enough to be invited down to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by Intel to check out the Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) Rio 2023. The tournament featured Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), with teams from all over the world competing for a spot at IEM Rio 2023. Having been in town for the quarter and semi-finals, we can safely say that eSports are alive and well, especially in Brazil. 

The IEM Rio 2023 games play like this: Each match-up consists of three rounds. Each round has 30 two minute matches. Best of 30 wins. Usually, this means first to 16, but the winning team needs a two-point spread, so we saw rounds up to the best of 25. 

Now, I game. I even play games found in eSports, like Fortnite and Call of Duty. I have limited experience with CS:GO, but I caught on quickly. Here’s the thing, though, you don’t need to know about eSports to dive in head first, especially with the fans in Rio by your side.

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Intel Brazil’s Marketing Director Carlos Augusto Buarque says that part of the beauty of bringing eSports to Rio is how passionate they are about the game. When asked why the Intel Extreme Masters came to Rio he said, “Because you saw the passion from Brazil for eSports. We really love eSports, Counter Strike specifically is very popular here.” Having sat at the Jeunesse Arena with crowds screaming, drums beating, and players starting to sweat, I can safely say, I get the appeal of eSports now. Brazil made a fan out of me. 

“Sitting in the crowd at IEM Rio 2023, I saw so many similarities to some of our favourite sports.”

Many people—mainly those who don’t game—don’t understand eSports. They don’t recognize the time and skill required to become the best of the best. Sitting in the crowd at IEM Rio 2023, I saw so many similarities to some of our favourite sports. The fans were all wearing their team jerseys. Faces were painted. Signs were being waved. Much like soccer (football if you’re in Brazil), an entire section is dedicated to drums, dancing, and chants, with some of the most enthusiastic fans leading them. 

I also likened the tournament to wrestling, especially the WWE, which I grew up with. Each team made a grand entrance, being announced and cheered for as they made their way to the stage. Only fans clearly had favourites, like Team Vitality and Furia, and that meant they had enemies too. Teams like Cloud9 and Heroic were booed as they entered the area, much like our favourite heels in wrestling. Being a softy myself, I couldn’t help but feel bad for them, but once I have my own favourite team, I think I might be on that bandwagon too.

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Six teams competed in the two days at IEM Rio 2023. First up on Friday, April 21, for the quarter-finals was Team Vitality from France VS. BIG from Germany, followed by Heroic from Denmark VS. Furia, Brazil’s own team. Vitality was clearly the crowd favourite to win, and win they did. Heading into the home team’s match, the crowd was on fire. I couldn’t help but cheer with them for Furia against Heroic. Their excitement was infectious. Everywhere you looked, you could see Furia jerseys and banners, and the cheers and drumming from the crowd could be heard outside the arena back in the Intel tent.

Unfortunately, the hype wasn’t enough to bring Furia into the semi-finals, and Heroic took the win. Heading into day two, you could tell that locals were still licking their wounds, but that wouldn’t last for long. There was more CS:GO to play. IEM Rio 2023 headed into its last day before the big finale, and even though Brazil’s three teams didn’t make it, they definitely still had their favourites.

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Saturday started the semi-finals with Team Vitality VS USA’s Cloud9. Vitality was the favourite again. With Cloud9 taking the win in the first round, round two was Vitality’s chance to stay in the game. It was a close one, with the lead moving back and forth repeatedly during the round. These kinds of competitions are what make eSports so exciting and even a little addictive. I couldn’t help but be on the edge of my seat the entire time, and I didn’t have any skin in the game. Vitality eventually went on to win round two and eventually took the semi-final win overall. Team Vitality is in the finals.

The second match-up of the day was NAVI (Natus Vincere) from Ukraine and Heroic. Something about Heroic just doesn’t sit right with the Brazilian crowd, as they were sitting in NAVI’s corner this time around. Round one would have the entire arena biting their nails. The IEM Rio 2023 semi-finals were, again, facing tie after tie between NAVI and Heroic, eventually pushing them to a first to 25 instead of the usual 16. Heroic took the first win, and into round two we went. If NAVI won, it would head into a third round, but if Heroic won, it would be game over, and they would face Team Vitality on April 23 in the IEM Rio 2023 finals. 

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Round two looked like it was going to be a quick kill, with Heroic beating out NAVI. However, sitting at 2 to 14 for Heroic, NAVI pulled it together. The comeback was on. Three, four, five, NAVI won round after round, catching up to Heroic quickly. The crowd went wild with every kill to Heroic. They couldn’t have the team that beat out their home team, Furia, win! But the crowds’ cheers weren’t enough, and NAVI lost 16 to 9, sending Heroic into the finals tomorrow.

Esports in Brazil and all across the world bring thousands of people together to cheer on their favourite teams playing their favourite video games. These players are skilled and work hard to become the best of the best. Watching them play for just a few minutes will put their laser focus and quick reflexes on full display. People may not consider eSports a physical sport, but it takes just as much time, practice and dedication to get to the level that the Intel Extreme Masters demands.

“Esports in Brazil and all across the world bring thousands of people together to cheer on their favourite teams…”

Buarque believes that even though the pandemic hit these massive gatherings hard, they are coming back stronger for it. “Obviously, we had two years of the pandemic that limited all these encounters that we have. When we had Intel Extreme Masters Rio last year, right after the pandemic ended, it was a huge success because we had this long-lasting time waiting for it. So it was really impactful.” He added, “But there is room to grow. For example, we could have more championships like that in Brazil from other games like Valorant, League of Legends, whatever. There are a multitude of games, different players, a lot of room to grow.”

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What a ride. The fans that fill the Jeunesse Arena will be back in these seats, cheering for Team Vitality or Heroic to win IEM Rio 2023 on April 23. Tomorrow will bring a special event, the Showmatch, with players from all over Brazil matched against players around the world.

This is a special treat for fans, since they will be competing in Counter Strike 2, with some retired players making appearances. Nothing but bragging rights are on the line. After that, the final between Team Vitality and Heroic will take place, with the best of 5 being crowned the winner and awarded the $250 000 prize. Clearly, Brazil wants Vitality to win, but can their hype help their team beat our Heroic?

After two days at IEM Rio 2023, thanks to Intel and Intel Brazil, I can officially say I’m an eSports fan. Now I just need to pick my own favourite team.

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