ESL One Birmingham has been announced as the first ESL One event and Dota 2 Major to be held in the UK. The event, taking place at Arena Birmingham on 25-27 May 2018, will see twelve world-class teams doing battle for their share of both a $1m prize pool and 1,500 qualifying points for The Invitational 8.
Six of the twelve teams will be invited to take part, while the other six teams will win their slots through online qualifiers taking place in North America, South America, Europe, CIS, Southeast Asia and China.
“This is a dream come true for the ESL UK team and a fantastic win for the UK scene” said James Dean, managing director at ESL UK, in a press release. “Dota 2 was the very first tournament we ran just after starting up in 2012. We are honoured to have this opportunity and hope to make the Dota 2 community extremely proud. We look forward to being an integral part of the success of this event, and to the potential of having ESL One back in Birmingham next year.”
It’s a long way from ESL UK’s first Dota event, an invitational held at Epic.LAN 12 in Kettering, hosted by Alex ‘Machine’ Richardson, and casted by Ted ‘Pyrion Flax’ Forsyth and Gareth "Gareth" Bateson.
Forsyth laughs at the reminder. "I didn’t know it was the first one you guys had done, I just thought you didn’t know what you were doing!"
"I got to meet a bunch of people on the UK scene at these smaller events, because the scene was so small that we knew all the players, and we played together, hung out together – I’m really looking forward to another UK Dota event to bring people together. I meet UK fans around the world while casting events, and there’s so much UK [casting] talent too. If I look at Counter-Strike: Global Offensive half the bloody talent pool is British. Sometimes I’m on a panel and there are three Brits. It’s time we show the world what we can do at home."
Talking to MCV, Dean said that the event is a huge opportunity for UK esports, a chance to come back from the public perception that British esports isn’t where it should be. This is, Dean enthuses, an inspirational event that shows not only what Birmingham is capable of in esports, but also what UK players should be aspiring to.
"I think we showed a lot of promise in the early 2000’s," Dean says. "But the U.K has been lagging behind a little bit. I think communities are being disenfranchised, there’s been lack of consistency, and I think there’s always been this perception of a fragmented player base between PC and console as well."
"I think there’s the general British scepticism, which has affected the growth of the U.K scene, and that’s something that we saw a lot of when we set up the ESL UK office a few years back. The UK does actually present a good viewership and in fact the UK is the second largest country that actually bothers to travel to big European events. Locally, we haven’t been able to prove the might of that esports community for some time."
Dean points to several big events for the UK scene, and says that while there are several one-off events, including several sold out League of Legends events taking place at Wembley, the London focus of these events and several other factors saw the momentum fizzle out, despite good coverage in the press. "When everything is London focused, that doesn’t build a UK community, just a London community." Dean says.
"The plan is that, if ESL One Birmingham is a success, we have a consistent schedule, and there’s the whole idea of it coming back next year if it’s a success."
Rob Black, ESL’s UK’s COO, was instrumental in growing the UK’s Call of Duty PC scene in its early days, as one of the creators of popular competitive mod Promod. He says that there’s something missing in the UK, although the exact cause is harder to spot. "I think the main hope behind the event is that it acts as a call to action for the UK scene to try and get people thinking about how they can get the best out of UK esports, but also to get Dota players in the UK to look at ESL One Birmingham as a place they can genuinely work towards."
Dean mentions that Birmingham was "super engaged" about the prospect of hosting a Dota Major in their city. "As soon as we spoke to the NEC group, they were invested," Dean says. "It wasn’t just about potential revenue for them, it was about the significance of the Dota major, and what a win that would be for them. They consider it alongside their big achievements for the city already: ‘we won the athletics. We won the Commonwealth games. We won a Dota 2 major. So, that’s a massive help when you have that engagement from a city level of just identifying the importance of such an event."
"Everyone wants to get into esports, but I’m not sure anyone in London would be as proactive as Birmingham have been for this opportunity," Dean adds.
Birmingham has a lot of other pros going for it, too. As the UK’s second biggest city, it also boasts an international airport with regular flights to Asia. Hotels are cheaper, and while Dean sidesteps the question of Brexit elegantly, he admits that while we are in the EU, it’s easy for them to get everything they need technically to make ESL One Birmingham shine.
"Oh, and our office is only 40 minutes away, which is great," Dean laughs.
“It’s tremendous news for the city to be playing host to such a prestigious international
esports event,” said Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, in ESL UK’s press release. “Birmingham is renowned for major sporting events such as the World Indoor Athletics Championships and
Commonwealth Games, so we very much look forward to welcoming the Dota 2 community.
as the second largest city in the UK, Birmingham has a huge amount to offer and hosting the
UK’s first Dota 2 Major adds to the city’s fascinating history.”
"I’ve wanted Dota here forever," adds Forsyth. "I think from a U.K. community standpoint, it’s an opportunity. Let’s bring it home , that sort of thing. But it’s not about bringing it home, because it’s never been home. I’m so excited for my friends and family to finally see what I do for a living, up close. This is it."