Last week, Craig Robinson attended the Dota 2 Major in Birmingham (eventually won by Virtus.pro), where he got to see behind the scenes, courtesy of ESL, and experience the first ever Dota 2 Major in the UK. Here are his thoughts on the venue and the experience.
The tour: What it was like backstage
We took a behind-the-scenes tour of the Arena Birmingham venue on day one of the Major, so we were able to see the best bits of what the Dota Major had to offer.
First up, the tour of the arena floor. Here, the stage, hosts desk and hundreds of seats (with spectators sat on them) an hour before the scheduled start time.
The stage was beautifully lit with ambient blue, and the overhead lights matched to fill the arena in that dramatic style that looks ever so familiar with esports events.
Moving on, ESL took us backstage to a corridor which housed the ESL management team responsible for the stage management, talent management and so on.
After that, they took us to the basement of the building, where the Facebook stream of the group stages took place. Down there, the stage had been taken down, leaving only several corridors of temporary wooden walls that gave the players their own spaces to practice and play. One empty room I peeked in had six computers, 5 for the players and presumably one for the analyst or coach that may have been spectating their matches.
There was also a lounge area for players to relax and chill out, with some fridges for refreshments.
Heading back up to the main floor, we got to see the production area. There were several booths and rows for PCs and laptops the ESL production crew were using, which facilitated the anti-cheat booth, spectators and other broadcasting elements. Other aspects of the broadcasting team were situated off-site in a broadcasting van.
The half an hour tour ended as we arrived back onto the site's concourse. But we were encouraged to see more of what the venue had to offer on the concourse and in the rafters.
Explore: The concourse
I came across several booths some of the sponsors and teams had set up for fan engagement.
Fnatic had their own stall with several PC booths set up and members of the public playing on them. Charity Special Effect were here, and Paysafe Card were also demoing their product with a local coop game set up. Intel also had their own area for people to explore and PCs to try out, as did Alienware.
In one section of the concourse, ESL was hosting a fan tattoo section, allowing visitors to get their favourite team's logo printed on their face to show their support.
One of the most populated areas was the player signing section. The queue for the Evil Genius signings was long, stretching around the organised zig-zag to queue for the players, towards the open concourse further afield. A mix of people were in the queue early for the same team they all support from across the globe, to get their favourite player's signature before the event went live.
Adore: Speaking to fans and watching the games
After finishing my tour of the concourse, I sat down in one of the fan areas in the upper rafters to speak to some of the fans. Next to me were several students from Malaysia, who are living and studying at university in London. They told me their favourite team at the event was Mineski, as they were the Asian multinational team. Unfortunately for them, paiN Gaming upset them with a 2-0 victory, but this didn't derail the fans' passion and commitment to the team.
Prior to that game starting, the production team put on a little light show, video screen and a pre-hype rave for us.
(Volume warning! And sorry about my shaky hand)
As someone who has admittedly never really played Dota properly, the games I watched weren't that hard to follow. By paying close attention to the match, and being sat in a crowd where people knew what was happening, I quickly picked up how powerful and important certain plays were. Being sat in that position made the experience much more enjoyable.
In the Fnatic vs OG game, I sat next to a guy from London that came alone but was meeting people part of a community connected with a Dota personality. He told me how he had only been playing Dota for several months but had been watching Dota 2 online for a long time. As a super casual fan, he told me he came for the experience, the social aspect, and the atmosphere of live esports as it was his first esport event.
Although my chat with this fan was my final few minutes at the Dota2 event, I got the impression the crowd had the time of their lives throughout the weekend, not just the day I was there. It was a great occasion and ESL done us proud.
I dont think I've ever been prouder of my home nation than I have been these last few days.
You rocked Birmingham!
— Redeye (@PaulChaloner) May 27, 2018
Looking back on the ESI Birmingham esports business conference I covered the day before, ESL UK’s James Dean told us that the ESL HQ was not overly impressed by the original idea of a UK Major.
Perhaps now they can look back on us with much more enthusiasm.
Thanks to ESL UK for providing us with a press pass and access to the Dota 2 Major in Birmingham (image credit: ESL Dota 2 Twitter)