The History of UK Dota 2 Esports – early tournaments, teams, memories and more

ESL One Birmingham 2024 stage photo

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In this special series of in-depth articles, Esports News UK, in collaboration with the betting partner GGBET UK, delves into the stories, moments, and personalities that have left a lasting impression on the past, present, and future of the UK esports scene.
In this article, with ESL One Birmingham taking place for the first time in five years, Wade White looks at the history of the UK Dota scene – the tournaments, the teams, the talent and more – and celebrates the community that make this game special.

Early UK Dota Tournaments

Dota of course began as a fan-made mod for Warcraft 3 and The Frozen Throne expansion way back in 2003, but it wasn’t until the late 2000s that it began to spawn what would become Valve’s Dota 2 and Riot’s League of Legends (a game we’ll cover in a separate article).

One of the first recorded LAN events for Dota 2 in the UK was hosted by Epic.LAN at Epic.Ten in February 2013. Six teams attended the event, with French team Imaginary Gaming winning over the UK’s Team Enigma, with Reason Gaming coming in at third place.

Whilst both Imaginary Gaming and Team Enigma are not around today, Reason Gaming are still going strong in Counter-Strike 2.

The French squad of Imaginary Gaming included the player VladTepes who played at the first International event in 2011 that showcased Dota 2 to the world.

Epic.LAN ran its second Dota 2 tournament in July of the same year at Epic.11. This time it was an all UK Grand Finals, with TmF Gaming taking on Don’t Axe Me, and TmF Gaming winning the second UK Dota Epic.LAN event. Thanks to Tom ‘Gumpster’ Gumbleton, Epic.LAN’s league ops manager, for his knowledge as always.

EpicLAN
Epic.LAN was home to several early Dota LAN tournaments

In the same year, Insomnia Gaming Festival also ran its own Dota 2 tournament with a £2,500 prize pool. This started with a UK Online Qualifier hosted by ukdota.net, which is sadly no longer active, where the winning team received tickets to Insomnia 49.

Reason Gaming won this tournament, securing their spot at Insomnia 49. They went on to get second at the event, losing out to French team Against All Authority. The Reason Gaming team at the time consisted of 1cHiGo, Antaby, DreadKnight, Infernokoi and Mute242, all of which who no longer compete today.

With 2013 being the official release year of Dota 2, it saw many companies and conventions all over the world looking to get involved. For the UK, that was the hackathon convention Campus Party that held their 2013 convention in London at the 02 Arena. The prize pool was set for £3,750 with first place taking home £2,200.

In London again in 2013, an amateur Dota 2 tournament took place at HMV’s GamerBase LAN area at the London Trocadero in Picadilly Circus, called the DotaTalk UK LAN Cup. It was sponsored by SteelSeries, Spire Corp and DFX Powerball with prizes for the top three teams being equipment provided by those sponsors. The Trocadero arcade area shut down many years ago. A Reddit post reminisces on it, with one user recalling Dota fiends playing in Gamerbase

Ireland also had its own dedicated offline events LAN which began in 2014. It was run by ESL Faceit Group’s Director of Game Ecosystems for Dota 2, Shane Clark, whom Esports News UK recently interviewed at ESL One Birmingham 2024.

IreLAN originally started as a way to ‘just get extremely drunk and play Dota’, with big-name talent involved such as ODPixel, Sheever and PyrionFlax.

Shane said: “Back then I just wanted to make something for people who like playing Dota. When I was working on IreLAN, it was more about having a fun time.  We had tier one talent, Sheever, ODPixel, great observers and play-by-play casters, all of the top names at IreLAN. 

“We all slept in the same hotel room together and I slept on the floor, there were five of us in a bed! I paid for the hotel. My dad built the stage with me!” 

Even Shane’s mum was recorded casting a game of Dota below.

ukdota.net hosted a number of their own in-house leagues and tournaments throughout the years, offering both cash prizes and gaming peripherals such as headsets, mice and keyboards provided by tournament sponsors.

Both Epic.LAN and Insomnia continued to run their own Dota 2 tournaments throughout the years, with support from different sponsors and partners. ukdota.net also continued to host online qualifiers for UK teams to attend Insomnia.

Caster Gareth told Esports News UK: “If I can remember correctly, CS caster Machine and I both worked at Epic 12, and that was our first foray, our first stepping stone from grassroots to a small/medium event, then we went on to do bigger things with ESL and PGL and other big tournament organisers.

“I’m an Epic.LAN winner [as a player] as well! There were like six teams at this tournament, so I went from caster to LAN winner to caster on the big stages. It’s sad seeing them and Insomnia dropping Dota. I remember i49 where they had a decent amount of Dota teams, about 34 teams.”

Insomnia announced that Dota 2 was not going to be returning for i60’s BYOC tournament line up due to interest in the game dropping. This was followed a year later with Epic24 being the last 5v5 Dota 2 event hosted by Epic.LAN, with Epic25 instead running a 2v2 event.

University body National Students Esports (NSE) has has supported the Dota 2 scene on and off. 40+ university teams participated during the NSE Spring 2022 season, of which the grand finals were played in front of a live audience at Insomnia 68.

“With the early events, like i53 in Coventry during the Multiplay days, it was really cool. It was one of the first times the players were on a stage, and there was a live crowd and there were multiple different games going on. Now we have ESL One Birmingham, with amazing crowds, and I hope that continues to be a yearly thing.”

ODPixel

The University College London team, UCL Instant Reflex, took on the University of Warwick team, Warwick Ducks, with UCL coming out on top with a 3-0 win. After this, NSE pulled back its support for Dota 2, with 2023 not having a live final and Dota 2 being removed from NSE tournaments for their 2024 seasons.

Another I-series memory comes from UK caster ODPixel, who we interviewed at ESL One Birmingham 2024 on the weekend.

He said: “With the early ones, like i53 in Coventry during the Multiplay days, it was really cool. It was one of the first times the players were on a stage, and there was a live crowd and there were multiple different games going on.

“I was casting and I remember a dad came up with his kid, and he said he had no idea what was going on, but he really enjoyed the casting. He didn’t know what was going on, he didn’t know the game but I thought it was really cool.

“But then more recently, every time we come to Birmingham. All the ESL One Birmingham’s have been amazing, the crowds have been amazing. I really hope this continues to be a yearly thing, it showed signs of that when they did 2018 and 2019, obviously there was a break but now we’re back this year. It’s been a really good success, the viewers love it, the fans here love it, I’m sure ESL are very happy with how it’s been going, and I hope we come back every year.”

ESL’s legacy in UK Dota

esl one birmingham dota 2 major 1

ESL has had an impact on UK esports as a whole, not just Dota, with a fully dedicated ESL UK division at one point. ESL has done a lot for the community with dedicated online events, supporting offline UK events such as Insomnia, running its own events and bringing the first big Dota 2 event to the UK.

ESL One Birmingham 2018 (pictured above) took place at Arena Birmingham, and featured 12 teams from all over the world, with the event also being part of the Dota Pro Circuit. UK talent was on full display here with Machine, Redye, Pyrion Flax and ODPixel all playing a role at the event.

The event returned again in 2019 to Arena Birmingham, with 12 teams once again. But it was not part of the Dota Pro Circuit due to Valve restructuring the points and Minors and Majors system. There were still a number of UK talent involved with the event including Redeye, PyrionFlax and TeaGuvnor. ESL One Birmingham 2019 also set viewership records.

There was an announcement for the event to return again in 2020, but was cancelled due to the global pandemic.

Following the success of ESL One Birmingham, ESL announced in 2019 that the ESL Premiership had added a Dota 2 focused series named the ESL Premiership Dota 2 Skirmish. The first event took place in Winter 2019, and involved teams being randomised each week for the qualifiers, with the top 10 players competing in a best of five Grand Finals. The winning team involved the aforementioned TeaGuvnor (as team captain), and UK player Adzantick, the latter of which continues to compete today in Europe under Rest Farmers.

“[ESL UK] had originally fought for ESL One to be in Birmingham, it was a labour of love for sure. It was so hard to land, everyone at ESL Germany was saying it won’t work, we were adamant. Even Valve was apparently sceptical, especially for a major, but we showed ’em!”

James Dean, former ESL UK MD

The following year, Dota 2 got full ESL Premiership status with six teams competing for a prize pool of £10,500. The winning team consisted of the likes of Adzantick, SymetricaL and captain TeaGuvnor. The tournament took place during Spring of 2020 and as such everything from Qualifiers to Grand Finals was played online.

The next ESL Premiership took place online again in Autumn of 2020, this time with eight teams involved and a prize pool of £13,000. It saw two UK organisations getting involved with Dota – LDN UTD and Into The Breach. Adzantick and captain TeaGuvnor went on to win this event too, with their team Pumpkin Spice Latte, making Adzantick the only player to win every ESL Premiership for Dota 2.

It’s worth mentioning that TeaGuvnor wears multiple hats, from former player to coach and broadcast talent. He coached Chaos Esports Club at the Chongqing Major, ESL One Katowice, DreamLeague Season 11: The Stockholm Major, MDL Disneyland Paris Major and The International in 2019 before focusing on talent work.

James Dean, former ESL UK managing director, told Esports News UK about ESL UK’s involvement: “It’s so nice to see ESL One Birmingham back after covid since it was cancelled. [ESL UK] had originally fought for ESL One to be in Birmingham, it was a labour of love for sure. It was so hard to land, everyone at ESL Germany was saying it won’t work, we were adamant. Even Valve was apparently sceptical, especially for a major, but we showed ’em!

“I didn’t see as much collaboration from the city this time, but I don’t think it detracted from the event. It also brought back very fond memories of t he first ESL UK Dota 2 event we held at Epic.LAN those many years ago. It all started with Dota 2 [for us in the UK]. We were sponsored by Sapphire and AOC – we got great viewership for the time too.”

The Dota 2 teams of the UK

There have been a number of organisations from the UK that have got involved with the Dota scene over the years, with and without players based entirely within the UK.

Reason Gaming were one of the early UK organisations to get involved with Dota by picking up one of their former players from their Heroes of Newearth team that had moved on to Dota. The team was eventually filled with entirely UK players. The org found moderate success within the UK, getting top three at multiple Insomnia events and being invited to the Electronic Sports World Cup 2013 in Paris. Reason Gaming disbanded their Dota 2 team in 2014.

Team Infused were another UK organisation that picked up a team of European talent and then moved into focusing on UK players. They found great success in the UK, winning multiple different Insomnia events, usually beating Reason Gaming on the path to the trophy. Team Infused left the Dota scene in late 2014.

Dwayne ‘The John’ Rockson, usually just shortened to The Rock, were a UK-based team who found a lot of success in 2014, winning multiple Insomnia and Epic.LAN events, both offline and online. The team were never an official organisation, and after the end of the online league UK Dota 2 Challenge, disbanded.

Fnatic are of course a London-headquartered organisation that have been around in almost every esport for two decades now. They had multiple players from all over the world such as Serbia, Denmark, Malaysia, Philippines, the United States, Germany, Sweden and South Korea. The team qualified for multiple Internationals – 2014-2022, with the highest placing at the event being fourth in 2016. Fnatic left competitive Dota 2 behind in February 2023.

Dignitas should also be mentioned, given founder ODEE is based in the UK. They played at the top-tier The International and had the likes of Sneyking (who now plays for Falcons), as well as Aui and Fogged.

Dignitas initially acquired a Dota roster in late 2011, but after mixed results, disbanded their Dota division in 2013 to focus on League of Legends instead.

Tundra and Into the Breach are two UK-based organisations that have made an impact in Dota 2 in recent years

Following the result of ESL Premiership 2020 Autumn, UK team Into The Breach continued their stint within the Dota scene, even signing multiple UK players throughout the years such as Adzantick and TANNER after the ESL Premiership ended.

They played through The International 2021 Western Europe Qualifier but failed to make it, finishing in seventh place. They attempted again next year during the 2022 Western Europe Qualifier, where the team had changed but still included a new UK Player – Ari. They again failed to qualify, finishing in fourth. ITB ceased their operations in Dota 2 in September 2023.

Last but not least, Tundra Esports are a London-headquarted organisation, and are probably the most successful UK organisation in Dota, with Tundra winning The International in 2022. They first got into Dota by signing an already established squad that were playing under the name mudgolem in 2021, and qualified for The International 2022 through the Dota Pro Circuit.

The organisation are still around in Dota, with many of the former roster moving onto other teams. They placed third at ESL One Birmingham 2024, being the only UK owned team at the event.

Outside of traditional esports organisations, the UK has also competed in international events. For example, the Great Britain Dota 2 women’s team won a silver medal at the 2021 Global Esports Games, and the UK Home Nations won various medals at the inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championships in Birmingham in 2022, with England’s Dota team coached by that man again: TeaGuvnor. There’s also the chance for UK talent to make an impact in Saudi’s first Esports World Cup later this year.

Stay tuned for a separate article powered by GGBET UK later this week, looking at the top UK players in Dota 2 history. More content:

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