Last Saturday, on 1st September, I visited the capital of Serbia, Belgrade, which was hosting the Esports Balkan League (EBL) Season 3 finals. The car ride from my starting point in Slovenia took six hours, but in the end, the excellent show that the organizing team from Fortuna Esports had prepared made the long hours behind the wheel worth it.
It all kicked off with a fan meet up at 14:00 where fans got the opportunity to meet and greet with star players and casters. Over 1,300 attendees had gathered at the venue, waiting for the doors to open at 16:00. Courtesy of the organizers, I had received an all access pass that allowed me to enter the arena ahead of the crowd. I was surprised by the high level of production that was put into this event. The arena looked great even without people, but I couldn’t wait to see it alive and bustling with fans.
The doors finally opened for visitors at 16:00 and people started entering the arena, filling it to the last seat. Each attendee received a free Twisted Fate PulseFire skin (worth 1350 RP in the shop), a gift that’s worth as much as an entry ticket. The atmosphere inside the venue rose to a new level.
The production staff finally started the countdown on the big screen and the crowd went wild. At the end of opening, the announcer stepped on stage and announced both finalists, Asus Rog Elite and their opponents Crvena zvezda. Both teams come from Serbia, so there was more than just prize money on the line. The finalists joined the announcer on stage, passing all the fans on their way up. After a short video on how the teams got all the way to the finals (a first for both Asus and Crvena zvezda, who had previously only gotten as far as fourth and seventh place, respectively), they went to get set up for the first game of the tournament. The tension was high, cutting the air, while everyone was waiting for the game to start.
At last, Game 1 started. The noise was unbelievable. When the first blood occurred, all 1,300 viewers and fans went wild like it was the last day of their lives. I was not at all prepared for the intensity of the cheering audience! Every kill was rewarded by a passionate reaction of the fans. As the end of Game 1 approached, Asus made their last push into Crvena zvezda nexus; DoubleAiM, the jungler for Asus, got a pentakill with Kindred (see clip below) and the room just exploded. I had never heard anything like that before.
The following two games were pretty similar to the first, full of action and high-flying passion. In the end, Asus dominated Crvena zvezda with a final score of 3:0. Asus got their first EBL title and the joy on players faces was amazing.
Crvena zvezda took home 5.000€ and a spot in qualifications for European Masters. Meanwhile, Asus took 10.000€ and rights to play in European Masters where teams from all over Europe compete for a prize pool of 150.000€.
The EBL has only been around for 3 seasons since 2016, but the finale on Saturday clearly showed that the league has a bright future. After just a handful of years, they pulled off an event with a production standard worthy of the LCS. 1,300 fans can’t be wrong, and we can say that esports in the Balkans is not only alive, but kicking!