ESL One Birmingham 2019 took place at Arena Birmingham from May 31st to June 2nd, and we sent staff and volunteers along to check it out.
Here’s what they thought, featuring blogs, vlogs and images from British Esports school and college liaison officer Elliot Bond and volunteers Lawrence Phillips, Christopher Ross and Nathan Badger.
‘If this returns again next year, I’ll be there in a heartbeat’ – Lawrence Phillips
Last year I went to ESL One Birmingham as a journalist, this year I went as a visiting fan, and I was not disappointed. At this point ESL has perfectly tuned their ESL One series, and the whole production is incredibly smooth.
Birmingham debuted as an ESL One venue last year and it was a massive hit. Although the UK might not have players in the top fight competitively, Dota 2 has a huge and very passionate player base here, and is a stone throw away from other big Dota countries such as Sweden, Germany and the Netherlands.
Many fans use ESL One Birmingham for meetups, to hang out with their online friends and enjoy the show.
From a fan perspective, ESL One Birmingham was a great experience. Yes, it is very commercialised. A Mercedes-Benz is parked right in front of the stage, their logo is on screen during every single match. Adverts for sponsors are played on loop between every single game; Intel, SAP, DHL, Vodafone, after just 1 day inside the venue you will have memorised every line of every ad. But it’s ultimately a good thing.
These sponsors help ESL run what is a very big show. The stage looked phenomenal, even from the side seating. Feats of skill were shown again in instant replays, with players commended on screen for double or triple kills, and reactive lighting ensured the arena’s atmosphere mimicked the match.
There were also some clever unique touches we haven’t seen at other events, for example all players had an alternative grey and gloomy profile photo on stage for when their hero died, photos which were usually an amusing combination of sadness and confusion.
There was also a good selection of activities at sponsor booths for fans to take part in between games, and a huge haul of swag up for grabs.
The crowd itself was immense, and as a result of great side-content for DHL by SirActionSlacks last year, DHL received a roar from the crowd every time their logo appeared, a sort of internal meme for attendees.
ESL One Birmingham may not have been an official Dota Pro Circuit event but it was close to being a mini-TI given the calibre of teams that attended, and the level of production. ESL have carved out themselves a reputation as the best third-party tournament organisers outside of the DPC, and if they return to Birmingham next year, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.
‘The atmosphere inside the arena was electric’ – Christopher Ross
ESL One returned to Birmingham this year off the back of last year’s Dota 2 Major tournament, the first of its kind in the UK. Although this year’s ESL One Birmingham was only classed as a Minor tournament, it attracted a whole host of top teams from around the globe.
The teams were all competing for a slice of the £250,000+ prize pool as well as valuable DPC (Dota Pro Circuit) points. Current DPC leaders, Team Secret, were favourites to win the tournament but the other 11 teams in attendance certainly weren’t going to give them an easy time. Of them, last year’s International champions, Team OG, and 2017’s International champions, Team Liquid, were expected to provide some fierce competition.
Evil Genuises were also top contenders for 1st place, having placed 3rd at the recent MDL Disneyland Paris Major.
Only 8 teams were able to qualify for the live event, which commenced on Friday 31st May at The Arena in Brimingham. On the morning of the first day, the venue was buzzing with attendants and, despite the queues, everyone appeared to be excited to see their favourite teams duke it out on the big screen.
After briefly queuing and going through bag checks, we entered the venue. Inside, there was the ever-popular merchandise stand, that was appropriately kitted out with a variety of team jerseys and accessories as well as a variety of food and drink options. The ESL ‘graffiti wall’ was also setup to allow attendees to draw and write anything of their choosing to commemorate the event.
Aside from the main event, sponsors provided stands that attendees could take advantage of between games. DHL had a virtual reality game that required you to stack boxes onto shelves – a task that required steady hands and was much harder than it sounds.
Vodafone was giving attendees the opportunity to win a trip to Milan Games Week in conjunction with their ESL 5G Mobile Open tournament. Asphalt 9: Legends was the game of choice and, aside from the 1st place prize, they were also giving mobile phones away every day to randomly-selected contestants. I spent some time on the stand and, thanks to the cameras and live commentary, I briefly felt like an esports star – sadly, my score didn’t reflect this feeling as I barely made it onto the leaderboard!
The main sponsor of ESL One Birmingham was Mercedes Benz and their stand didn’t struggle to keep people entertained between games. It included 4-player Mario Kart, a couple of driving simulation setups and a couple of classic arcade cabinets.
The prime attraction however was their Mercedes Benz CLA class car that allowed attendees to sit in the driving seat and use the steering wheel and pedals to control the game that was being shown on the dashboard screen. The stand also featured a busy Dota 2 setup that allowed attendees to face off against each other in an intense 1v1 format. I’m happy to report that there were plenty of players in attendance who were much better than me!
A further highlight of the event was seeing who was crowned the community-voted Mercedes Benz MVP of the tournament – the recipient of which received a brand new Mercedes Benz car. Team Secret’s Clement ‘Puppey’ Ivanov ended up winning the award and is the 3rd member of his team to win a car in such a fashion.
ESL One Birmingham is the first live Dota 2 event that I’ve attended and it nothing short of brilliant. The atmosphere inside the arena was electric and it was amplified by the incredible production value.
Although there had been worries from the community about this year’s tournament not technically being a major like last year’s, it still featured a star-studded cast of analysts, commentators and presenters alongside some of the best teams in the world.
It’s my hope that the UK can continue to play host to these sorts of large-scale esports events in the future.
‘I would highly recommend this event to anyone interested in esports’ – Nathan Badger
The game themselves ware fantastic, with a new patch dropping a few weeks before, no one quite knew what to expect in them.
The value for money was phenomenal, all the stalls that attended were throwing out freebies and gifts left right and centre. Even MSI were handing out hats and figures of their dragon easily costing more than the price of the ticket.
DHL, being a UK fan favourite, have embraced the crowd and were handing out drop boxes containing high end steaming cards, whilst encouraging the crowd to chant and cheer.
During the game, they had updated the big screens above the players to reflect who is alive, key items and various other animations, making this event ooze charm.
The venue seemed better ventilated this year but that could be down to the glorious weather we finally had. It wasn’t quite filled to capacity but there was still a strong showing, and shows the UK has a large Dota crowd and will hopefully be returning for a third time.
Overall the event was just as good, if not better than last year, though unfortunately the signing sessions were limited to 30 minutes meaning we missed out on quite a few of them. There was clear communication from the organisers on limitations regarding baggage and what you can bring in, though there were only a few female guards meaning women had to wait to be searched for a while.
I would highly recommend this event to anyone interested in esports, and would love for organisers to take notes and improve on a winning formula.