Fans of Dota 2 must have had a fun weekend, as ESL Birmingham 2018 wrapped up on Sunday. The surprises started even before the tournament began, however. Just days before ESL Birmingham, the Ukrainian team (and leader at the CIS Qualifiers), Natus Vincere, suddenly dropped out of the competition. Their rivals and runner-ups, Team Empire, from Russia, also declined to take their place, citing technical reasons. The second runners-up, Team Spirit (clever pun, right?) managed to secure UK visas for its members just in a nick of time, allowing for a full 12 team roster in Birmingham over the weekend. This event also signalled a newfound importance of e-sports, gaining live coverage from BBC 3.
The tournament format consisted of two stages. The group stage, which took place on May 23rd - 24th behind closed doors, consisted of three GSL groups divided into 4 teams each. This stage served to eliminate the bottom 2 teams for each group. Survivors would then qualify for the quarterfinals. The top three teams were required to play an additional match to determine the semi-final qualifiers.
Team Spirit’s dream chance to attend the tournament quickly turned into a nightmare, as they lost their first match to Virtus.Pro, hailing from Russia. They quickly recovered, however, by defeating Evil Geniuses 2 - nil only to get eliminated by Malaysia's Fnatic in a dramatic 2/1 decider match.
The second stage, the playoffs, took place between the 25th and the 27th of May. People who think League of Legends is “the easy game” know that this is where the best teams have a chance to sign. Dota, which has been described by veteran gamers as not so much having a “steep learning curve”, but a literal “learning cliff”. The single-elimination format puts the best the game has to offer on stage for a live audience in the Arena Birmingham Stadium. Unlike in the group stage’s Bo1 matches, all games in this category were Bo3, while the Grand Finals consisted of Bo5.
Fnatic, which won a second consecutive victory against OG in the quarterfinal, saw a dramatic turn in fortunes, getting knocked off course by OpTic Gaming in the semis, and losing their chance at 3rd place with a close defeat by Pain Gaming.
OpTic Gaming turned out to be no match for Virtus.pro at the Grand Final, however. From the first match, the Russian team’s dominance was so complete that they were destroying their opponents faster than the announcers could call it. They went on to obliterate OpTic two more times in a row, earning the title of victors at Birmingham 2018.
Virtus.pro had been a favourite from the get-go. They had already offered a very strong performance throughout the season and had won the previous two tournaments in Hamburg and Katowice in a row. Let's see if they will continue to solidify their dominance.