IEM Rio: The emergence of a major – and a region

Photo credit: ESL Gaming

The IEM Rio Major 2022 is no ordinary Counter-Strike: Global Offensive event, or even an ordinary Major. For the Brazilian community, it means overcoming a turbulent time in the country.

A CS:GO Major was slated to take place in the famous coastal city of Rio de Janeiro in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic broke out just months before it was scheduled to start. The event was first postponed and then canceled after the pandemic took a devastating toll on Brazil, which many Brazilians attribute to imprudent policy decisions by President Jair Messias Bolsonaro.

Now, just hours after voters removed Bolsonaro from office in a contentious election after four equally contentious years, and calls of congratulations are pouring in from countries seeking warmer ties with a more dovish Brazil, the IEM Rio Major points to an auspicious time for towards Brazilian esports.

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The turn of the scene was hardly foreseeable. Optimism hit a low point when ESL and Valve canceled Brazil’s first-ever CS:GO Major – considered by some to be long overdue – shortly after its announcement.

Ironically, however, it was the pandemic-driven popularity boom of games and esports that ultimately laid the groundwork for what was to come. The anticipation of the event’s return and the growth in esports audience presented an unmissable opportunity for ESL and their parents.

“In May 2022, we re-announced the Brazilian CS:GO Major as the ‘Intel Extreme Masters Rio 2022 Major’ and that we would be coming to Rio de Janeiro in late October-early November 2022,” said Shaun Clark, Senior Director of Game Ecosystems. CS:GO at ESL FACEIT Group. “This was met with one of the best received announcements in CS:GO as one of the most anticipated tournaments was back on the map. Expected so much that it sold out again within an hour.”

“This then led us to our next challenge of how to evolve the tournament to accommodate as many fans as possible. This was the creation of the expansion plan we released in early September 2022, which saw additional tickets added to each part of the tournament, including our Fan Fest with Gaules [the biggest esports streamer in Brazil].”

With opportunity came challenges. It was a tremendous effort to make and expand the event, Clark said; Over 300 employees, including the same core team that runs IEM mainstays like Katowice and Cologne, have come to Rio to ensure Brazil’s first Major comes to life.

IEM Rio: The emergence of a major – and a regionThe IEM Rio Major 22 will be held at the Riocentro Arena and the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Photo credit: ESL Gaming

Brazil has quickly become a centerpiece of the global esports machine as its fan base consistently places organizations and players at the top of the world in terms of engagement and popularity. The most notorious examples are LOUD, which was the most talked about eSports organization on Twitter in 2022, and Gaules, which consistently tops Twitter with its eSports live streams.

These facts support ESL’s increasingly ambitious efforts in the Brazilian market. “E-sports and gaming in Brazil is on a significant rise and has been for a long time,” added Clark. “The community there is one of the most passionate fanbases in esports, not just CS:GO. We are very excited about the future of ESL FACEIT Group, Esports and Gaming in South America.”

Commercially, the Rio Major is already a success – for both the ESL and Brazil. In addition to ticket sales and increased jersey sales, esports players across Brazil have secured valuable sponsorship deals. A clear example is the partnership between Imperial and Audi, created specifically for the tournament. Esports Insider is aware of at least one other Rio-related partnership/activity on the horizon.

Eli McCarrel, senior director of global brand partnerships at ESL FACEIT Group, told Esports Insider that Rio Major and the broader South American region offer commercial opportunities. “South America is an exciting and important market for our brand partners, and they look forward to bringing some incredible experiences to the passionate CS:GO community in Brazil at the Intel Extreme Masters Rio Major 2022.”

“This is a big step to create more opportunities for our fans in South America. We look forward to growing in this market and delivering more incredible experiences to our brand partners and the esports and gaming community. We look forward to working with more brands that share the same passion in Brazil and South America in the future.”

The Rio Major comes against the backdrop of the election, which saw far-right Bolsonaro replaced by more moderate-left Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Brazilian fans have always been notoriously enthusiastic, passionate and loud, although the impact of the result is difficult to separate – Lula is much more popular with young voters, many of whom will be in the Rio Major.

As a period of instability comes to an end after a contentious election cycle and the Rio Major opens with rollicking chants, visible emotions and visible storylines, interest groups and investors will pay increasing attention to the growth of Brazilian esports. For the ESL FACEIT Group this is a matter of course. “We want to do more in the region,” Clark concluded. “We will do more in the region.”

Victor Frascarelli, journalist

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Victor Frascarelli is a Brazilian esports business journalist focused on the Latin American market. Victor, who was previously with The Esports Observer for two years, enjoys everything competitive, from League of Legends to soccer to chess to CS:GO.