Intel Extreme Masters 2014: One Place Where PCs Still Rule

The Intel Extreme Masters 2014 isn't just a gaming tournament. It's also a chance to see people and PCs pushed to their limits by relentless and brutal competition. Take a look for yourself.

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Where PCs still rule

Gaming is one place where PCs still rule, and we bore witness to their supremacy at the Intel Extreme Masters gaming tournament. The largest independent eSports event in the U.S. took over the SAP Center in San Jose, California, on December 6 and 7.

Almost 13 thousand people paid good money to watch professional gamers compete in League of Legends and Star Craft II. Another estimated 4 million people tuned in to the livestream on Twitch.

Sponsorship from Intel and other PC-centric companies isn't out of sheer kindness. The PC gaming and enthusiast crowd is being increasingly seen as an important revenue stream—one where people will pay a cool grand for a hot CPU.

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Credit: Gordon Mah Ung
The ultimate purse will be $200,000

Part of ESL’s worldwide series, teams compete across the world with a championship culminating in Katowice, Poland next March. It won't be peanuts they win either: The purse for the ESL World Championship will be $200,000. The purse in San Jose this last weekend was $20,000.

For League of Legends, opposing teams sit on the same stage, and the crowd is allowed—in fact, encouraged—to cheer their team. Let’s just say this is no tennis or golf match. Because of the noise factor, players wear headsets to muffle outside noise and communicate using VoIP.

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Credit: Gordon Mah Ung
No BYOD allowed here

As this is a professional match, gamers use machines setup by the ESL, and their ability to install any extra hardware or software is strictly monitored. The tournament machines for the League of Legends match were built using Intel Core i7 4790K “Devil’s Canyon” CPUs, Nvidia graphics cards and Intel 730-series SSDs.

Pro gamers once stuck to CRTs for the response time, but LCDs have replaced those dinosaurs. For the Intel Extreme Masters match, players used Benq flat panels that had 120Hz refresh rates. The only hardware players are allowed to introduce are keyboards, mice and headsets.

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Credit: Gordon Mah Ung
A Cinderella story: Unicorns of Love

European team Unicorns of Love were the Cinderella story at this year’s tournament. Unicorns of Love defeated Lyon Gaming and Team SoloMid. Both of those brackets were uncontested, with Unicorns of Love defeating opposing teams 2-0. That led many to wonder whether Unicorns of Love would upset the heavily favored American team, Cloud 9.

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Credit: Gordon Mah Ung
Cloud 9 Hyper X road to victory

Cloud 9 Hyper X was favored to win the final match going into the series. This American team takes part of its name from its main sponsor: Kingston Hyper X. Cloud 9 has won two previous North American League Championships Series tournaments. To get to Sunday, Cloud 9 defeated paiN Gaming in a 2-0 match, but it had a harder time defeating Alliance. Cloud 9 would eventually triumph 2-1 for the right to move on to the final bracket on Sunday.

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That's what we call an online Game Face

A player for Unicorns of Love shows the intensity of the League of Legends game with American Cloud 9. The final bracket was a best-of-five match, but despite a stellar showing against two previous teams, Cloud 9 would ultimately blank the European team 3-0.

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Credit: Gordon Mah Ung
Football fans aren't the only ones with costumes

Plenty of spectators wore costumes while they cheered on their favorite teams. This fan was dressed as Miss Fortune the Bounty Hunter, a character from League of Legends. Damage is 50-101 and she has a magic resistance rating of 30, in case you’re wondering.

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Credit: Gordon Mah Ung
Oh no you didn't!

Actually he did. If you’ve never been to a professional eSports event, the fans aren’t that different from those at an athletic sporting event. Emotions run both low and high as fans' teams win or lose. Even those who aren't fans of a team in a bracket can still appreciate a spell being cast in a particularly bold way, just as any football fan would appreciate a Peyton Manning no-huddle drive down field.

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Credit: Gordon Mah Ung
Hello, can you hear me in there?

While League of Legends competitors play on a stage with full exposure to crowd noise and within five feet of their adversaries, Star Craft II was played in sealed booths onstage.

The reason? One argument is the concentration an intense Star Craft II battle can take. The other argument is to prevent players from picking up information from the crowd to use to their advantage. Because RTS games shroud the enemy in fog until discovered, any tactical advantage could easily be lost.

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Credit: Gordon Mah Ung
If only you could get this into your living room

Besides the chance to watch professional gamers duke it out, the crowd was also treated to a floor filled with PC games to try out. Here, a lucky gamer takes a racing simulator for a spin from inside a race car.

It's not a real car, of course: It's a shell with a gaming steering wheel clamped to it. Still, it would look pretty nice in my living room.

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Credit: Gordon Mah Ung
I'll take two please

Doesn't everyone have a gaming PC with three Nvidia GeForce GTX 980 cards and a Haswell-E, so they can play Tomb Raider on a three-way monitor setup? Probably not, so this person got to experience a surround SLI experience.

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With the blast shield down, I can't see anything

PC game fans also got to experience the Oculus Rift DK2 at the Intel Extreme Masters 2014 event. After Facebook purchased Oculus earlier this year, PC gamers have had high hopes for the virtual reality goggles and the immersive experience they offer, which has to be experienced to be appreciated.

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And all you got was this lousy t-shirt

You can't leave without a souvenir! The SAP Center normally hosts the San Jose Sharks hockey team. For the Intel Extreme Masters, teal Sharks gear was replaced with eSports-theme shirts.