If you were around London's Piccadilly last weekend, you would have seen hundreds of people queuing to get into the prestigious BAFTA members club. They weren't in line for an exclusive movie screening, however; they were there to see the Blizzard StarCraft II World Championship Series UK finals.
This was the first opportunity for the UK's best players to come together and play in front of a crowd of eSports fans at an event of this magnitude. The event was sold out within hours of tickets going on sale, so great was the interest.
With demand exceeding supply more than three times over, this few tickets might seem like poor planning, but up until now eSports events in the UK have been notoriously under-attended. The growth of the StarCraft II scene has put an end to that, with the UK World Championship Series drawing an enormous crowd and over 27,000 live stream viewers at its peak. The event also trended on Twitter in the UK and Canada.
The biggest draw for the event might have been StarCraft II casters Dan "Artosis" Stemkoski and Nick "Tasteless" Plott, known by the collective moniker Tastosis. Both are Americans, currently living in Korea and commentating on the most competitive StarCraft II league in the world, the Global StarCraft II League, or GSL. Many thousands tune in regularly to catch their shenanigans and gain their StarCraft II insight.
The event hosted exciting up-and-coming UK talent alongside internationally famous players Benjamin "DeMusliM" Baker and Samayan "BlinG" Kay, giving attendees the chance to meet some of Europe's most elite players. For an opportunity like that, fans arrived more than three hours before the event began--both those with tickets, wanting to secure the best seats, and those without, hoping to claim any spares.
Though all this star power might seem the whole reason the event was so well attended, it belies the real story. The less obvious theme of the weekend was community. Many of these players and fans have known each other for some time online but never met in person.
When Nick "Ziktomini" Copello, the eventual winner, was asked about his match the next day against 16-year-old Paul "JonnyREcco" Whyte, he joked he was sharing a room with him so he was going to spend the night psyching him out. An event like this lets the whole community get together and share something it is passionate about.
This phenomenon is not isolated in the UK, with the British BarCraft movement popping up in various locations around the country over the last year--another instance of people gathering to spend time together, drink, and enjoy their favourite players battling it out. These kinds of events show the strength of the community. They show how many people want to get together and talk about the latest balance changes, or how they can't believe their favourite player has just been knocked out of the GSL.
The passion of the fans and players is evident. At the BAFTA-hosted finals, the cheering was so loud the commentators had to pause several times, as they could not be heard over the roar of the crowd. Spectators spent the weekend on the edge of their seats as they watched their favourite players walking a tightrope on which one tiny mistake can mean game over, their hearts pounding with each click of the mouse or tap of the keyboard.
The tournament had some upsets with BlinG, one of the favourites, getting knocked out in the lower bracket, round two, by Simba, a relatively unknown player. Those outside the UK scene may have felt that DeMusliM losing to JonnyREcco was an upset, too, but those watching saw the skill and potential in this young player leading to a well-deserved victory.
The top three finished with Ziktomini in first place, DeMusliM in second, and JonnyREcco in third. You can watch videos of all the matches on Battle.net's official site.
As the weekend wound down, there was a definite buzz among the spectators as they left on a high. Paul "ReDeYe" Chaloner, the MC for the event, remarked he had been waiting more than 10 years for an event in the UK with fans this passionate and knowledgeable about eSports.
Aside from the renown and money, the top three players won a trip to the European World Championship Finals, at which they will face off against other national champions for a shot at more fame, more money (there is a prize pool of $60,000), and even greater bragging rights.
Be sure to follow the players as they go toe-to-toe with the other European champs in mid-September.