The Rainbow Six Siege ESL UK Premiership final on March 11 was by no means the biggest esports event of the year.
Other tournaments in 2018 will have huge audiences, massive prize pools, and names recognisable to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of esports.
But, for a lot of the players taking part in the finals this past weekend, it was their first big break. An opportunity granted by ESL UK to prove that they have what it takes to hang with the biggest teams in the world.
The teams at the Rainbow Six Siege ESL UK Premiership finals were competing for this trophy
It took place at ESL’s Studio 1 in Leicester, an intimate venue in an unassuming location with just a couple of hundred capacity, but with a great atmosphere.
‘We’ve probably done about 20 live events here on about this kind of scale in the past two years since we opened Studio 1,’ Rob Black, COO of ESL UK told Mail Esports.
‘Some have been bigger, like Vainglory down at Building 6 at the O2, and we did Season 3 of the CS:GO Pro League at the O2, and we do EGX too. This is like a mid level event for UK esports.’
But, there are plans to improve what it means to be a ‘mid level event’ for esports in the UK. ESL will be moving live events like this one over to the Haymarket Theatre in Leicester, a recently revamped venue with 901 seats, and the biggest theatre stage in England.
‘Studio 1 looks great but we don’t have much ancillary space,’ said Black. ‘When you’re flying in eight teams to compete it becomes too crowded to have the public here too. At the Haymarket, there’s more seating, it has dressing rooms, loads of spare areas, so we can make everyone feel comfortable.’
Studio 1 wasn’t filled to the brim over the weekend, but the crowd there was passionate, and loud. For some of the players, this was their first time playing on LAN, and their first time playing in front of an audience.
On Sunday’s final day, Horizon Union came out on top of Radix Esports in the third place match, and Team Enyx took home the grand prize after beating 1UPeSport in the final.
Team Enyx were eventual winners, taking home the trophy and a decent sized cash prize
Nathan ‘Proyo’ Roche doesn’t usually play for Enyx, but he was brought into the team at the last minute after one of their players was unable to attend. He was the best fit of the available options, as he has played with some of Enyx’s members in the past.
He’s played at two LAN events for Siege before, making him one of the more experienced players at the tournament in terms of playing in front of a crowd, and with the enemy team staring them down across the stage.
‘What’s good about the audience is when you’re in a 1v1 or 1v2, when you’ve downed the last person, the audience screams so you know what’s happened,’ Proyo told Mail Esports.
‘It’s amazing how much support the fans give, even on Twitter as well. Every time you win a round or you get a nice kill they’re roaring. Even the players across the stage, they’re loud and you can tell they’re passionate.’
For most of the players, gaming isn’t their job. To be a professional is the dream for many, but they know that they have to grind their way there from where they are now.
‘I’m the only one on the team that doesn’t have a day job, but I go to uni,’ Tristan ‘Trxstan’ Savage, of third placed team Horizon Union, told Mail Esports.
Some of the members of Enyx almost made it to the recent $500,000 Rainbow Six Siege Invitational tournament on a different team, and were also close to qualifying for the Challenger League, the step just below the Pro League.
So, it’s only a matter of time before the UK scene for Siege and other esports takes off. Organisations like ESL UK are trying to facilitate that ‘Path to Pro’ process.
‘With ESL we’re able to do that zero to hero thing on a truly global scale,’ said Rob Black. ‘We’ve got those big international products like ESL One, IEM and CS:GO Pro League.
‘There’s a direct feeder from the CS:GO Premiership into Mountain Dew League and into Pro League, so there’s a clea pathway to become one of the top players in the world.
‘We’ve got two guys playing for Misfits in the League of Legends LCS who won the ESL Premiership two years ago, and they played at Worlds last year. The UK has got talent. They just need the platform and opportunity to play on the international stage.’
It was at ESL’s Studio 1 in Leicester, in front of a couple of hundred fans and thousands online
For the Siege players in the UK, that will mean transitioning over to PC, which is where the true top level of competition lies. The UK Xbox Siege scene is thriving, so that’s the platform it’s on for now in the Premiership. However, the prevailing attitude from the players, and even the organisations involved, is that the way forward is on PC.
‘ESL mentioned to us the other night that there’s more than likely going to be another season, and it could transition to PC,’ said Proyo.
The main problem is that there’s just not a big enough PC Siege scene right now in the UK, with not enough teams to fill up a full Premiership line up. One solution would be to get existing Xbox players to make the switch.
‘I’d switch over to PC now,’ said Trxstan. ‘But it’s hard to get in with people because there you’re a no-name. Who’s going to give you a go? But 100% the UK guys are good enough to compete. Me and Jokerr [Jay Oliver] had never played a PC game in our lives, we went over to PC and were instantly Diamond.’
The two of them are trying to set up a PC team, and are attempting to convince the rest of the Horizon Union players to join them, with Trxstan even saying that he’s fallen out of love with the Xbox version.
For Proyo, he’s mainly a PC player these days too.
‘When I came back from my first LAN last April, I got a PC straight away, and I’ve only been back on Xbox once since then.’
For someone completely out of practice, and who had barely had any practice time with the team before the finals, Proyo and Enyx performed extremely well. He was even playing a role in the team he doesn’t usually play.
They got dominated in the first map against 1UP, but after that they came out all guns blazing and won the match 3-1.
Nathan ‘Proyo’ Roche (far right) was brought in last minute to help Team Enyx to their victory
‘We were trying to do things we don’t normally do, because they heavily counter-stratted us last night,’ said Proyo. ‘We were trying to rush or do something a bit different, and it was catching us off guard on Clubhouse, and you could tell, as we went 4-0 down.’
In front of a crowd, in a high pressure situation, with money on the line. Enyx didn’t crack.
‘We were just like, it doesn’t matter now, it’s done, we all made mistakes, let’s concentrate on the next map and take it round by round. Stop trying to rush things.’
According to reports from other players, 1UP were up until 3am the previous night watching VODs of Enyx games and figuring out strategies. Proyo was up late too, but had quite a different night.
‘I was downstairs, I had a pint in the bar with the lads from the other teams,’ he said. ‘I just wanted to relax instead of overdoing it. If you spend five hours after the game to try and figure out what’s happening tomorrow, you’re done in. You’re stressed and your mind’s cluttered.
‘Maybe it got to them [1UP], I don’t know. They’re a solid team though, it could’ve gone either way. All the maps were really close, back and forth. We just got the job done.’
In fact, a lot of the matches over the weekend were very close, with the exception of the semi final match between Enyx and Horizon Union.
‘I don’t think anything went wrong in that match to be honest,’ said Trxstan, ‘they’ve just had so much more prep than us. They’ve been a team for over a year, won Major League twice, they’ve got great chemistry. We’re still trying to build that.’
Trxstan admits that there’s a gap in skill between them and Enyx as the top team in the UK.
‘Sometimes you come up against a team and your strats don’t work. We beat a lot of good teams on Clubhouse, but we had never played Enyx, and we got smashed.’
Tristan ‘Trxstan’ Savage (left, middle) led Horizon Union to third place against Radix Esports
Trxstan also gave me some insight as to why a lot of the matches this weekend were so close.
‘We agreed with Radix not to use some of the dodgy stuff that’s in the game at the moment,’ he said. ‘Like Blitz… Yesterday they only picked Blitz because 1UP did, and it just made the games really tight because it’s so hard to win a defense against him.’
Blitz is an operator in Rainbow Six Siege with high mobility and a bulletproof shield which can output a blinding flash.
‘The only game that wasn’t tight was Coastline, and if you look at that they weren’t really doing any Blitz stuff. We did the same thing with Enyx yesterday, like a gentleman’s agreement. It’s better to just have the gunfights.’
For the players at the ESL Premiership finals yesterday, going pro is the dream. But they also appreciate what they have right now, even if they’re not playing for millions of dollars in front of thousands of fans.
Getting new players onto the first rung of the ladder is the first step to a thriving UK esports industry.
‘If you like playing games competitively, the best thing you’ll ever do is come to a LAN and experience all the support from the organisations,’ said Proyo. ‘It’s amazing what ESL are doing for the UK scene.’
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