Sweating, Swabbing, And Studying Under The Lights Of Madrid – Esports Is Back
Rise and shine at 7am, the taste of last night’s welcome drinks and tapas lingering in your teeth and on your breath. Jet lagged and groggy legged, the steaming stir of a Nescafe espresso begins to wash the four hours of sleep out of your eyes, but not quite out of your head.
With a sip of your black cuppa, you kick on your sliders and stumble out of the door. The mask around your mouth still contains the scent of the squid sandwich that you were forced to guzzle – apparently this is a Madrid classic?
As you take the elevator to the first floor, all you feel like doing is running back up and smashing on the cold shower, but duty calls first. Ding. Right foot first you leave the lift and head left, scan the QR code and take a seat. No amount of preparation can have you in good stead for this, as the mean Spanish nurse jabs a swab so far up your nasal that you’re sure it scrapes the memories from your brain.
They say Red Bull gives you wiiings: a 7:15am coronavirus swab gives you the matching claws, tails, and gnashers that spit flames.
The memories that the swab snatched must have been short-term, as you’re stupid enough to stick to this routine for the following three mornings.
Once you’ve flown back up to the room and taken off your scales, you actually soak in the gorgeous room, tinted with bronze brass and finished with marble tables. A blast in the shower and scrub of the teeth has you back in business, as you’re about to head down to the first international LAN event in over a year.
The walk-through Madrid is a sombre feeling, as you can tell the impact of the pandemic stripped back its tourist-esque make-up and left an authentic beauty on each building and statue.
But when you turn up at this angelic white transformed train station, the buzz of live action is an essence that has your nerves vibrating in excitement. With Red Bull flags mounted in across the approach like a mosaic of energy and cobalt, and gigantic Campus Clutch VALORANT banners positioned like a Skye set-up, the anticipation for what’s set to unfold escalates from dreams to reality.
Day one is media day, and whilst you’re trying to soak up the atmosphere, there’s so much work still to be done. At the arena, a pair of smiles that could melt an iceberg greet you; Swipe Right’s finest duo succeed to step inside as you take a moment to familiarise yourself with the raw smell and taste of the air (through your mask, of course), which is filled with an aura of elation. It’s a weird sensation, but you can almost feel the commotion and positive trepidation do a dance up your arms, leaving tiny dimples on your skin as your hairs stand up straight.
The arena is still in its birthing stages, but the adolescent preparation is just as tantalising. Up on the overhead balcony, you absorb the strobes of lights flipping across the stage like a Diversity line-up, the array of cameras that will capture the screams of jubilation, and the echo of the empty seats that will be ringing with the cheers of friends and family in 24 hours’ time.
As the day goes by, the arena becomes more beautiful by the second. The players' set-ups flutter their eyelashes, the big screen illuminates with the grins of casters and producers, and the buzz of the speakers shakes you to the core.
With a whirlwind of emotion coursing through your veins – and a gallon of Red Bull’s Organic range – night set over Madrid, with the orange-tinted skyline adding a flicker of fire to immense heat and roaring city life. Overlooking the entire city from Red Bull’s own bar, the Spanish Capitol was illuminated by a rising atmosphere on the streets, with coronavirus slowly being swatted away. The procedures for the travelling parties were still strict, but on the ground, the matador was charging, having been locked up for so long.
Live esports is back, and this is my review of the Red Bull Campus Clutch World Finals - a tale of fabled familiarity pinched back into reality.
Come day two, the taste of last night’s drinks and tapas lingered in my teeth and on my breath. Jet lagged and groggy legged, the steaming stir of a Nescafe espresso begins to wash the four hours of sleep out of my eyes, but not quite out of my head.
BAM, a swab to the skull has me injected with energy once again, like a tidal wave crashing over your head.
Did this happen yesterday or am I losing brain cells by the minute?
Anyway, it's game day, and as my senses begin doing backflips after an abrupt awakening, the excitement of seeing the jubilant faces of actual people has me on cloud nine.
Instead of a breezy walk through Madrid, this time we accepted the courtesy from Red Bull to be escorted to the event via a branded cab, and although it was no limousine, the feeling of Presidency is apparent.
The journalist trade had livened a beast within me, with a range of intriguing untold stories, fascinating faces, and untapped emotion all awaiting to surface. Players from five continents had travelled in, ranging from New Zealand to Pakistan and Peru - some with as long as 37-hour flights.
Commendably, the pandemic precautions put in place by Red Bull had everyone in safe hands, as players began to take their positions on stage.
From a distance they seemed unreal, like a mythical centaur that nobody knew how to approach, or a unicorn that nobody had ever seen. The phenomenon of seeing players in the flesh was strange, having been not much more than a cartoon on a screen over the past 18 months. It's real, esports is on its way back to its thrilling best.
As the games unfolded, the students came alive, as months of studying textbooks and VALORANT had paid off. Entertainers were born (and retired), emotions boiled over (yes, Turkey, your fierce bulldog approach was quickly squandered), and brotherhoods were formed on stage. It came clear that this was players competing for their future, rather than an accolade in a cabinet.
Devastation was followed by elation as the final four teams emerged from the mosh pits that were the group stages. Project S (Portugal) last grasp efforts over table-toppers BTR (Canada) was enough for them to secure second in Group A, despite being pushed every step of the way by Platoon (Belarus). Showstoppers VAC Kimchi (South Korea), and upcoming favourites Anubis (Egypt) also rose from the group of death - rather fitting for the Egyptian god of mummification and the afterlife.
With the finals decided, Sangria awaited, and Red Bull pulled out the stops again. A remarkable platter of starters was laid out at the authentic restaurant upon arrival, as I, Swipe Right's pulsating partners, and two further media moguls pulled up - out of place but just as welcome.
From cheeky cheese boards to sizzling salt and chilli king prawns, the atmosphere was soaked in with every bite and every gulp of hand-crafted drinks. Saturday night in Madrid was simply natural. Natives were rowdy in their special nocturnal lifestyle, whilst others enjoyed the sunset as a family. The naked city, tourist-free, marvelled.
Another 20 hour day notched up and a pillow awaited, if only for a few moments.
Day three arrived, the taste of last night’s drinks and tapas lingered in my teeth and on my breath. Jet lagged and groggy legged, the steaming stir of a Nescafe espresso begins to wash the four hours of sleep out of my eyes, but not quite out of my head.
By this point I should have expected the sensation, however, with a brisk jab to the cranium, my memory was shaken and the swab was released from my head, taking a tear from my eyes with it.
A morning stroll and a Lemon Red Bull later, the finals had begun to unfold. Yoon "Adam" Eun Hyuk and Nam "Sound" Hyeongju of VAC Kimchi opened the day with their typical roars and celebrations, with the pair planning on retiring to pursue their studies and careers post-event. Portuguese Ian "K1zpawn" Miguel de Freitas Rebelo was answering back on their side, as the emotions on display brought goosebumps to your skin.
Expertise was on display in the other match-up, as Anubis' Mohamed "shalaby" Shalaby began to steal the show against a Version1-esque BTR, led by William "Rejante" Rejante.
An array of top VALORANT casters also had the ante's flowing on stage, putting on an Oscar worthy performance throughout the gruelling day. Loviel "Velly" Cardwell, Jakub "Lothar" Szygulski, Jessica "Jess" Bolden, and many more topped off the production with a shine - cementing their legacy within the new-ish title and pushing Red Bull's showcase to its maximum potential.
Anubis and Project S bumped heads in the Red Bull Campus Clutch World Finals, Grand Finals, and what unfolded was the strangest best of five that I've ever witnessed.
Project S took an early advantage in Game 1, taking the Bind 8-13, and proceeded to pound Anubis into the ground in Game 2. Having been nurtured in the Pyramid's, Egypt's finest couldn't acclimatise to the conditions on Icebox, and was blown into a blizzard with a 0-13 crushing. Without taking a single round, Anubis faced dismantlement in their most important fixture ever.
It wasn't that straightforward though.
With a five minute break to regain, Anubis harnessed the power of their resurrecting Pharaoh and begun digging the grave for a complacent Project S. Completing a perfect reverse sweep, Anubis rose from the dead to become victorious and the Red Bull Campus Clutch World Champions.
It was easy to get caught up in the mayhem of winning, and only a LAN event would see this emotion unfold, but instead of screaming from the rooftops and swinging from camera to camera, Anubis' true beauty shone in their post-match humility. Without a second thought, commiserations were given to Project S, and a moment of prayer was enacted on stage, seeping modesty with every passing second.
Soon enough, fans, casters, producers, competitors, and media alike erupted at their victory, as Anubis lifted the trophy above their head.
With the event wrapped up, it was time to let off steam, although I simply admired the celebrations from a distance, satisfied. Shots were poured, native songs belted from relieved lungs, a rising pool of talent absorbed every second in the limelight, and the Red Bull Campus Clutch was topped off in a fashion the epitomised the event as a whole.
The taste of last night’s drinks and tapas lingered in my teeth and on my breath. Jet lagged and groggy legged, the steaming stir of a Nescafe espresso begins to wash the four hours of sleep out of my eyes, but not quite out of my head.
No Covid test this morning, just the bittersweet symphony that came with flying home from a surreal experience after being caged up for so long.
A resounding success and a model for the return of live esports perfectly executed.