The first of ESL’s season of Dota tournaments begins next month with ESL One Frankfurt taking over the Commerzbank-Arena.
A total of $1m is on the line across at least three events this year, with two more to be announced shortly, and the first $250,000 up for grabs on the weekend of June 20-21.
In anticipation of the tournament, which will feature seven of the ten teams recently invited to Valve’s prestigious The International 5 this August, we talked to Senior Manager at ESL James Lampkin about the ongoing operation to get Frankfurt ready.
The Commerzbank-Arena stadium, which seats around 44,000 spectators, saw use last year as ESL narrowly pipped Riot to be the first organisers to hold an eSports tournament in a FIFA World Cup stadium. With the success of last year’s event it’s little surprise the tournament is returning.
"Each venue is pretty unique in the set of challenges they give you," Lampkin told eSports Pro. "So by returning to Commerzbank Arena again we’ve had that experience last year and saw the things that we really liked and other things that we wanted to change and that’s what we’re able to execute this year.
"We’ve made some big changes in the way the whole venue is laid out and sorted out what the viewer and attendee experience is going to be and we’re able to do that because of last year."
The challenge of creating a world-class eSports event isn’t just down to the production values of the broadcast, though that is the way the vast majority will experience it. The atmopshere in the venue is just as important for creating an event that viewers actually want to attend, but long waits between games can hamper a live experience.
"We’re going to have a lot going on for people who attend live," Lampkin said. "We really want ESL One Frankfurt to be like a festival experience. So on top of meeting players, we’re going to have a lot of sort of carnival-type experiences, so, for instance we’re hiring a balloon guy who can make custom sculptures from balloons.
"We’re bringing in a whole bunch of festival-like features to add a lot of value like that. We haven’t announced them yet but it’ll be things like mechanical bull-riding, archery, things that maybe if you’ve had enough of watching Dota for a bit, or you want to stretch your legs, we want it to be as if you’re walking around a fair, looking at attractions and things."
There is a worry for third-party organisers, especially in the wake of the TI5 invitations announcement last week, that top flight teams may begin hedging their tactics in the run-up to The Big One. With over $10m in prize money already and still three months left until the event, having invited teams face one another could lead to some conservative play, hoping not to give away any aces in holes. But Lampkin doesn’t seem fazed by the looming prospect of The International.
"I think teams always think tactically with how they play, but our experience is that good Dota is good Dota," Lampkin said. "Because of the new patch we think that most teams aren’t going to have fully figured out everything they want to try for The International until closer to the main event. So we think these matches are going to be quite unique. Our format at Frankfurt for once they get through seeding matches is pretty heads-up. It’s single elimination so holding back with this amount of prize money on the line, for a lot of teams I don’t think they’ll risk it because stakes are still so high."
There is also speculation after Valve’s surprise announcement of the Dota Majors – three annual tournaments to join The International throughout the year as Valve-sponsored events – that ESL would represent Europe’s interests.
"Absolutely," Lampkin says resolutely. "We reached out to Valve as soon as we heard about the Majors and I think every tournament organiser did, but I think with our experience of doing really large, mega events in stadiums and that, I think that’s the sort of experience that players and fans are looking for in a Major. So with our previous experience of doing that in Counter-Strike too we’re pretty sure we can bring an even better level of production to fans. So we’re talking with them but it’s still early stages yet."