Esports has been a huge part of my life ever since I discovered it. Playing games competitively was an escape from the many trials and tribulations I’ve been through over the past four years. For the entirety of the game, the only outcome that mattered was the win.
My journey started with Call of Duty, which was a game I had already been playing for many years and had an ability in. Counter-Strike, however, was different. Everything was new to me. I’ve seen myself climb from the bottom of the ranks to the top. All the learning it took to reach that point fuelled my competitive drive even more.
Pivotal in that climb was the amount of time spent watching professional players and tournaments. Although, in spite of my four-year love affair I’d never been to an event, that was until ESL One Cologne 2017. I’m writing this journal to convince anyone with even a remote interest in esports why they should attend an event. There’s a lot of waffle but I hope that there are a number of points I expand on that budding fans might be wondering about, most of all I hope you enjoy the read.
Day 1 – Thursday
Where it all began
Our travel day started with an early four o’clock start. My friend Lewis and I had to catch a two-hour train to Manchester Airport and then an hour and a half flight to Cologne. We’d brought an abundance of things to pass the time but we mostly spent hours talking about how excited we were.
For Europeans thinking of attending an event the travel was fairly cheap, our return flights were around £60 which I think is a fair price. If you don’t have the money for a hotel I’ve heard good things about the likes of Airbnb so it’s possible you could find cheap places to stay.
Both Lewis and I have decent jobs, and student loan, so we decided to pay more for one of the best hotels in Cologne the Radisson Blu. As the taxi pulled into the hotel we saw three vans marked with ESL stickers which we thought was a bit weird.
Wide open in the shape of an ‘o’
The taxi pulled to a halt. After getting our bags we took in our surroundings, the hotel looked like our hometown’s famed aquarium The Deep, but more importantly, THERE WAS COLDZERA HAVING A CIGARETTE. AND THERE WAS THREAT LEAVING THE HOTEL. AND THERE WAS MIXWELL AND HAZED. I tried not to stare too much. I made my way into the lobby cool, calm, collected, on the outside at least. Well, that explains all the ESL vans, I thought.
The entrance to the hotel made me feel even more out of place. It was one of those rotating ones. I might be 19 years old but I look twelve. All these businessmen and people that I looked up to probably thought, “what the heck is that kid doing here?” I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. I caught glimpses of Na’Vi and North but I kept my eyes focused on reception and managed to keep my jaw from touching the floor.
After checking in we headed straight to our room so we could get changed and come back down for a better, more discreet look. Once the elevator doors closed and we were safe, I looked at Lewis, he just stared back. His mouth wide open in the shape of an ‘o’.
I knew we were likely to see players walking around Cologne or the arena but I didn’t expect that sort of emotion to come over me. The only way I can think of describing it is that I didn’t really believe they were real until seeing them. Watching through a tiny screen for years is the only way I’d ever known these people. Being in their presence filled my body with excitement, I was finally seeing those responsible for so many moments and memories.
Rounding out the day
After unpacking we needed to head into town to buy some breakfast. The breakfast at the hotel was an extra twenty-five euro per person per day. You know, I do well for myself but not that bloody well. We ended up in Penny Supermarket which we didn’t realize until after we left was the equivalent of Nettos to us Brits. Our purchases included a fake version of the chocolate Lynx, a two-liter bottle of lemonade for forty cents, about thirty cereal bars oh and some chocolate covered waffles.
We got back to the hotel at about six o clock but ended up dropping dead from all the traveling, meaning that was it for day one.
Day 2 – Friday – Quarterfinal Day
I wanted to ask for a picture but didn’t
Being a Ninjas in Pyjamas fan myself and with Lewis rooting for Cloud9, the quarterfinal we most wanted to see was between NiP and C9. Since the first series also seemed a bit of a thriller with G2 playing Na’Vi we decided to go early so we could get good seats for the second game.
Once we’d washed, dressed and munched on a few waffles we were good to go. We got into the lift to reception. GuardiaN was in the lift. Not going to lie, I played it cool, had to brush past him to get into space and did so without my inner fanboy setting off.
The whole way down he was talking to the Na’Vi manager in what I presume was Russian. My eyes were laser-locked on the back of his head. I wanted to ask for a picture so bad but in the middle of a packed lift didn’t seem like the right place. I decided once we got out at the bottom I’d pluck up the courage, that was until some old guy blocked me with his suitcase the size of a cow. GuardiaN was now a good few meters away and I wasn’t prepared to shout. Some might say I bottled it. However, my claim to fame for the day was that I shared a lift with him so I guess that’s still something right?
We got to the arena an hour before game one was due to start and the first thing that hits you is how much bigger it is in person. Looking through a 24” monitor, it’s hard to appreciate the height that esports is in right now. The main reason why I wanted to go was for the atmosphere. Being in the same place as 13,000 other people who love this game as much as you do was an amazing feeling.
I was sporting the white NiP jersey from 2014 and a few seats across from us were a couple of guys who were also out supporting the Ninjas’. For me, it felt kind of natural to start jumping up and down in my seat in support as it’s what I do at home behind the monitor. They looked across at me for reassurance to get involved with the cheering and I gave him a look that said you go for it son. By the end of game two we were fist bumping and yelling together, it’s a shame at the end we had our head in hands. At least Lewis was happy Cloud9 won but I didn’t really care about that.
That’s one point I love to stress about esports fans, in general, is that everyone I have met was friendly and willing to get involved. Traditional sports have lost their way slightly in that many fans go simply to fight or hate on the other team whereas our fans cheer for amazing plays no matter what jersey they’re wearing.
We didn’t watch the next two series as we knew they would be whitewashes and decided to head into Cologne’s city center.
The city of Cologne
For those of you considering making the trip to ESL One if it’s in Cologne next year, you’ll be pleased to know the city has enough to offer to satisfy you in-between being at the arena. There is a multitude of shops to explore ranging from Primark to Louis Vuitton. We were mostly interested in the trainer shops since both me and Lewis have a fetish for a fresh pair of sneaks. It seems Germany is big on the ‘Hypebeast’ trend at the moment with plenty of shops stocking the likes of exclusive Adidas shoes and the clothes to match. The river and cathedral are also very picturesque if you love a good photo.
The transport system in Cologne is amazing with trams, buses and taxis on hand to take you where ever you need, you could even hire a bike for something to do if you have the time. On a side note, the tap water was so nice. For those of you who have ever had the displeasure of being in Hull or England in general, the water is extremely hard, the complete opposite of the soft smooth water there. It’s not a reason to go to Germany but I couldn’t get over how nice it was.
A date with destiny
On the night, we decided to head down to the bar for a drink and maybe get the chance to meet some players. After sitting down I clocked the NiP players sat drinking cocktails a few tables away from us. I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t get a photo with them but first I needed a drink to calm my nerves. “Two JD and cokes please,” I asked the bartender, I didn’t even ask Lewis what he wanted, that was far back in my mind. The guy poured the drink in a savvy way but I noticed the drink equated to about two parts Jack Daniels, one part ice and one part coke. So it was strong. It was funny watching Lewis’s reaction since he never really drinks much, it definitely put me at ease.
I felt as if I was going to meet the Queen or something but quickly shook the nerves after I’d downed half my drink. I walked over, JD in hand, and asked for a photo politely as I could. Even though they weren’t busy this is supposed to be their downtime. All of GeT_RiGhT, f0rest and Heaton had no hesitation which made me feel better about disturbing them.
One thing I would say about all of the pros I spoke to was that they all try to make you feel comfortable. Especially for younger fans it must be quite daunting to go up to someone you idolize so I found it super comforting that they made the effort to speak with you rather than just stand-up, photo, done. So I would say just go for it if you see them unless it looks like an obviously bad time to ask. Anyways, I did it and I was glad because I know I would have regretted it if I didn’t.
To finalize our second day we were just going to head back up to the room and have a few drinks of our own and most likely stare at the picture for around three hours. I asked the bartender for the bill. Twenty-five euros… for two drinks. I sucked it up and paid with a smile on my face to seem like a baller but deep down I died a little inside.
The last part of the journal will be out within the coming days so keep on the lookout.