Esports News UK attended the 2018 EU Masters grand finals earlier this month.
Aside from being a League of Legends spectacle, it was also the very first esports event held at the revamped Leicester Haymarket theatre. Here's what Tom Beer thought of the venue - and its potential for future esports events.
When I first walk into the Haymarket Theatre for the EU Masters, I am greeted by Nidalee, Garen and Lulu (which is odd, considering they're fictitious, until I realise they are of course cosplayers in fantastic outfits).
Aside from the great cosplay, the theatre itself is in a great location. It's about a two-minute walk from the centre of town and has great transport links, with bus stops and taxi ranks right outside.
Rather importantly for esports fans with the munchies, it's built above an express supermarket, which is well-placed after a long day of watching League.
The foyer area is small but functional with bars and seating areas.
I'm lucky enough to receive a backstage tour of the theatre with Heather Dower, ESL UK's Marketing and Communications Manager. We venture behind the crowd-facing areas into the warren of corridors and open spaces behind the scenes. Directly behind the stage sits the production area, with a wall of screens where the stream was controlled and replays were created.
I'm touring the theatre just before Origen's semi-final match and so everything is eerily silent - it's the calm before the storm. I walk through a door marked "stage" and see the light from the auditorium pour into the dark area I was previously standing in, at the very threshold of the stage.
"The excited crowd inside the 900-capacity venue made an incredible noise and atmosphere"
There are lots of ESL production staff here, wearing black shirts and buzzing around in work mode. They are hopefully pleased at how the event has gone thus far, but no doubt eager to make sure they get to the end with the same level of success.
The venue is used to having staging, sets, costumes and lorry loads of material needed to put on a show. EU Masters was another event the theatre could handle smoothly.
Down a flight of stairs and around a corner, the narrow corridor opens into a wide space where all the players and team warm-up areas are partitioned off into office-like cubicles. I get to see inside one with the expected rank of computers whirring, and empty chairs left facing each other, with some snacks on the desk. The size of the venue and these separate areas allows teams to communicate privately.
The changing rooms are also impressive. While I don't have the chance to see inside any, the signs on the outside saying "Garen" or "Nidalee" did make me smile. Though of course being a support main I would have vastly preferred a Morgana, but that's neither here nor there.
There's a door marked 'Catering' that, unfortunately, isn't a part of the tour and the casters are behind another impassible barrier busy preparing between games. For a caster perspective on the show, check out Foxdrop's insightful vlog here:
Take a seat: What's it like from a fan's viewpoint?
From a fan's point of view, I'm impressed by the auditorium. The crowd is packed in and passionate, and the intimate nature of the 900-capacity venue means the excited crowd is incredibly loud.
When players make epic plays or teams march towards victory, the fans are so loud I almost can’t hear the casters!
I'm sitting in the top tier of seats in the front row, and from here I can see the players' wrist-flicks and keyboard-mashing.
The massive screen is great, and really makes it feel so much more exciting being able to see the game in that much detail.
I don't think there would be a seat in the place where you would get anything less than a great view of the action.
The great view from the seats was also highlighted by several attendees and members of ESL on social media:
— Rob Black (@Rob_Morg_Black) April 29, 2018
— Emily Cooke (@emilycookex) April 29, 2018
The seats are really comfy too, I've been in theatres before where my lower back really starts to hurt after a while, but I was sat in these for hours on both Saturday and Sunday evening and I was perfectly comfy.
The whole experience reminds me of watching an international rugby match from a pub, with a dedicated group of fans making an incredible noise and atmosphere. I was at the Wembley SSE Arena for the 2015 Worlds Quarterfinals between AHQ and SKT, and I was sat quite a long way back in the 12,500 capacity stadium.
It was great to be there live but I felt quite detached from the action, and thought I may as well have saved myself a trip, got some friends over and watched in on a big TV (you're on your own there - Dom!) Haymarket Theatre felt like I was watching it with my friends in a closer group.
I'm really excited that we now have a purpose-built venue for esports and I would love to go and see more events at the theatre.
Esports deserves to be shown in the best light possible to attract new fans. With venues like the Leicester Haymarket Theatre, and the superb production it allowed, I don't think that will be a problem.
— ESL LoL (@ESLLoL) April 29, 2018
The Rioter's perspective: A quick word from Quickshot
Experienced League of Legends caster Trevor "Quickshot" Henry (right) told Esports News UK's Tom Beer (left): “I think the backstage area definitely shows its age which is true of most older venues. But Haymarket was recently renovated within the last two years, and the front of house and the venue seating in the auditorium are awesome.
"I think because it’s a little bit more like a stage theatre setup, it’s so intimate. I’ve only heard exciting things about the live experience for fans."