2018 is a massive year for the UK when it comes to esports.
The UK just hosted its first ever Dota 2 Major, ESL One Birmingham, and later in the year we’ll have a CS:GO Major for the first time too. The Rocket League World Championships will be held here, and the FIFA eWorld Cup is coming to the UK as well.
Plenty is happening in London, which makes sense as the capital is the biggest city in the UK by some margin. But another, perhaps unlikely, region is looking to become the home of UK esports, and the Midlands are making an excellent case.
The UK’s first ever Dota 2 Major, ESL One Birmingham, was held at Arena Birmingham recently
ESL UK Managing Director James Dean actually went to university in Birmingham, so it’s been a thrill for him to return to the city with as big an event as a Dota 2 Major.
It hasn’t been an easy ride though. When ESL One Birmingham was first announced, there were some questions raised over the region online by fans. However, Dean told Mail Esports that the most negativity he received was from within ESL itself.
‘There was just this general perception that this was not a good idea,’ he said. ‘There was no clear evidence of any success of Dota specifically as an event in the UK, despite us having really good stats on a travelling audience.’
At previous ESL events such as in Frankfurt and Hamburg, UK attendees made up the second largest proportion of the audience after local German fans.
‘Initially the resistance was towards the UK, but then I said we wanted it in Birmingham and they went “surely London?” But I persuaded HQ with the fact it is very accessible.
‘It’s a lot harder to get to London as someone from the north, and the cost of not only travel but hotels and food is much cheaper in Birmingham. Really, we know it doesn’t matter geographically where esports is held, it’s an international thing. You just have to make sure there’s a community.’
Virtus.pro won yet another Dota 2 tournament at ESL One Birmingham, taking home $500,000
And the UK really proved its appetite for Dota 2 and esports by selling out all three arena days of the tournament.
Even the Dota 2 professionals were impressed. ESL One Birmingham champions Virtus.pro took home $500,000 for their win this weekend. One of their players, Roman ‘RAMZES666’ Kushnarev, spoke to Mail Esports after their crushing 3-0 victory over OpTic.
‘The crowd was amazing,’ said RAMZES666. ‘We didn’t expect so many people. I was surprised by how much support we had in England.
Local and national government officials have been getting involved too. West Midlands Mayor Andy Street made comments for the initial press release, and James Dean says ‘it wasn’t long until Margot James [Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries] picked up on it too.’
A panel titled ‘UK esports, a land of opportunity’ took place at Esports Insider Birmingham this week at Arena Birmingham, in the midst of the ESL One Birmingham Dota 2 Major.
Roy Meredith, senior business development manager at the West Midlands Growth Company, provided some interesting stats about the region and what makes it so appealing to the esports industry.
There were some concerns about hosting the ESL One Dota 2 Major in Birmingham, but it ended up being the fastest selling ESL Dota 2 event in history. The organisers had to rearrange the arena in order to fit more people in.
Meredith said he ‘wasnt surprised, and I shouldn’t be. All the figures I’ve got and everything I’ve preached to people and evangelised about this region says it should be [a great place for esports].’
He continued by saying ‘Birmingham is the youngest core city in terms of population in the whole of Europe. 40% of its population is under the age of 25… According to a Stack Overflow report published in December 2017, we have more software developers and software architects than anywhere else in the UK outside London. We have more tech companies in the West Midlands than any other region in the UK outside London.’
Meredith says he’s fed up of saying ‘outside London,’ so followed up with a stat saying Birmingham has the fastest growing economy in the UK, including the capital.
‘The average disposable income on an average salary in London at the moment is £75 per calendar month after living expenses. In Birmingham it’s £1,030.’
With all the young people in the region, combined with the fact they have money to spend, means that Birmingham and the wider Midlands region is a perfect place to host esports tournaments.
ESL UK already has its roots in the region, having hosted tournaments in Leicester for a number of years at its own venue, and recently moving larger tournaments like the League of Legends EU Masters to the Haymarket Theatre.
Now it has sold out an even bigger venue at Arena Birmingham for three days, opening the door to more events in the future.
‘Our pledge in the press release for ESL One Birmingham was that if the community makes this a success, we would bring it back,’ said Dean. ‘So I don’t think we have a choice now!’
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