ESI in Katowice: Michal ‘CARMAC’ Blicharz, VP of Pro Gaming at ESL

On a cold yet vitalising Friday morning in Katowice Poland, only a few hours before the official opening ceremony, Esports Insider sat down with one of esports’ most relentless and hard working individuals.

Michal ‘CARMAC’ Blicharz is Vice President Pro Gaming at ESL. For the past six years, Carmac has lead the Intel Extreme Masters program and has grown the IEM brand into arguably the world’s most prestigious competition holding the longest standing partnership between two brands in the history of esports.

ESI: Please tell us about your first experience in esports?

Michal “CARMAC” Blicharz

Michal ‘CARMAC’ Blicharz: My first real esports experience was when they showed me the demo for, I don’t remember the order, either Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament. I was completely fascinated by the idea of being in a virtual space. You teleport into a completely different universe with somebody else who’s not in the physical space next to you, playing with you, and you’re both trying figuring it out. That’s the very first, let’s say on a micro-level, esports experience I’ve had. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated.

The next thing that really fascinated me was the ability to explore the depths of the game and every tiny little thing that could possibly give you an advantage. Exploring it in a way where you’re actively looking for that advantage.

“Kids today, they just look at YouTube videos and everything is given to them on a silver platter”

The other thing is you explore the depths of a game, but unknowingly, you’re exploring the depths of yourself. It’s one of the most beautiful things in esports because it’s such a great tool for self expression.

ESI: Do you think that type of discovery and looking at the depths and finding the limits of your skill cap, does that come from your Judo background?

Michal: In Judo, it was different, because I was coached. I was being told what, and how to do things. Obviously, you’re given the tools in Judo, and then you figure out how to combine them to have the best effect that suits you and your particular style and character. In esports, I was developing the tools myself and then figuring out that blend. Nobody had a blueprint and that was what made the ride a little bit more compelling. Not that I dislike Judo or anything, I still practice and it’s a fascinating discipline. I found esports and UT, in particular, a little bit more compelling because it was such a blank slate and you could write anything on it.

ESI: What has driven you all these years?

Michal: I’m a weird blend of competitive perfectionist and I like to entertain people as well.

“I really enjoy creating something that has an effect on other people”

What I love the most is actually a good prank, a really good prank that is based on misinformation. If you create a prank, you create an alternate reality in somebody’s mind. They think that something else is happening than what is actually happening and they are completely bamboozled. That’s what I enjoy the most on that spectrum. I love creating experiences for people, be it … to make a little joke, to draw something on a piece of paper that is enjoyable, to maybe record a video of some kind, or design a stadium.

ESI: Talking about videos, what was it like to record the No Doubt video for your wife’s birthday?

Michal: No Doubt “Don’t Speak” is and inside joke with my wife. I used to troll her by singing it. At the time I lost a bet and as part of losing I received a cap of 25 Euro for getting her a present. I decided to give her one completely for free. I decided to go all out and embarrass myself as much as possible and the guys from the office made, for the amount of effort that we put into that, a fantastic music video.

ESI: I’m surprised not many people know about it. I’ve been showing people around the event all weekend, so you might get that question a lot.

Michal: Thanks for that.

ESI: More than welcome.

Michal: People actually think I’m not wearing underwear in the last shot, but I am. I promise I am.

ESI: Moving quickly on….can you tell us about the relocation to LA ?

Michal: The reason why we went to the US is because I needed to challenge myself in a different environment, in another country before going back home. I wanted to do something good in esports over there and I did. It’s looking good.

ESI: IEM ESL and Intel have been together forever, how did the relationship with Intel start and how do you maintain it?

Michal: Intel has been a partner of ESL since 2001 or something in one capacity or another. The global partnership with Intel started in, I believe, 2008, 2007 with Intel Extreme Masters when Intel decided to sponsor and improve what we were doing and have stayed around ever since.

This partnership has been ongoing on for 12 years now and, by a decade, breaking the record at Intel for a global marketing program duration. They have never had, “a campaign” that is even half this long. It’s unprecedented at Intel to see something go on for this long. You can’t really argue with the results though, can you?

At this point, with some people at Intel, all we need is a look and a wink and we both know what’s happening and what we’re doing. It’s a relationship built on trust. Obviously, you can’t work hand in hand with somebody for so long without trust. They trusted us in coming to Katowice for the first time when nobody had done an event dedicated to esports in a venue of this size.

“We held hands together and jumped off a cliff”

It turned out, we could fly, but it could have been a very different story. It took a lot of bravery on their behalf to trust us. On our end, we’ve accommodated Intel as much as possible. We, let’s call it, pushed the way you do content marketing for brands.

People don’t know how much Intel have really done for esports. They’ve been around since starting with the first CPLs. On that note, the budget line item at Intel that is in use for the Intel Extreme Masters is the same line item that used to be CPL’s. If you look at Intel’s involvement in esports, it’s practically from the start and they don’t get enough credit for it.

Look at what they’ve managed to build with us, as a brand and a technology company … Obviously, consider my position of where I’m speaking from, but

“I see Intel, brand-wise, as an industry leader in esports”

ESI: Where do you see all of this going in the next couple of years?

Michal: It’s tough to predict because esports moves along with technology and software platforms. I do believe however that it’s going to broaden in scope, with multiple types of esports. Just like in the beginning, there was just wrestling and running in the ancient times, and now it’s riding bikes, driving cars and flying planes. I think esports is going to branch out in to multiple directions. The VR branch, AR branch, mobile branch, and so on and so forth.

I feel like the next big leap will come with the next big genre. It seems like battle-royale might be it. The initial signs have been extremely positive.

There’s also going to be a battle between the two ideas of open competition preferred by companies like Valve, and a closed ecosystem preferred by companies like Riot. There’s a diversity of thought about this at Blizzard, as far as I know but It will be interesting to see how those approaches clash and to see which one is more viable than the other.

 “People are trying new things in esports. 20 million dollar franchises as an example”

ESI: What did you think when they first announced the $20 million franchise slots?

Michal:  They attempted something very intrepid, Christopher Columbus style, “I’m just gonna sail west and see what happens”, Well, he found America. We’ll see if they find a continent or if something else happens.

There’s no blueprint for esports. Maybe what Valve is doing is the best way, maybe what they are doing is the best way, maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle, or maybe there is another solution altogether. The thing is, we have so many interesting tools and options in esports that we haven’t explored yet. We haven’t reached the limits of the growth of esports. It’s a fascinating time because it’s all developing and it’s all taking shape. It’s kind of like the Big Bang of esports really.

ESI: With all that in mind, what is on top of the Carmac wish list?

Michal: It’s to be able to see new people emerge and break all of our ideas about how their game can be played and completely redefine the standards of excellence. That would be my one wish because it will make esports so fascinating to watch!

The Global Esports Forum 

The day before this interview, CARMAC delivered a deep dive session during the Global Esports Forum on Enabling Talent Growth via Esports Economies. After drawing parallels between Michael Jordan and Faker he brought up his main point of:

“Create a star that inspires other stars”

He then asked the room how they would go about it but quickly moved on to explain that training, sports science and knowledge sharing should be the main areas of focus.

“You are only as good as your practice partners”

“Increasing salary constantly and maxing out players practise time on top of a full time schedule doesn’t necessarily make them better” he added. “Sports science, better accommodation and amenities do. But don’t overdo it. No need for 5 cooks if you have one already.”

He ended his deep dive by explaining that the more connexions between players brings about faster metagame changes, fresh ideas and better training. That training doesn’t scale, sports science doesn’t scale but knowledge sharing scales infinitely.

“Invest into skill diversity”

If you liked this piece, then our interview from IEM Katowice with Hicham Chahine, CEO of NiP, might be another you’ll enjoy. You can read this here