#UKMassive: How a strong national league built EUL’s UK superstars

EUL's brightest stars hail from the UK. Can the talent pipeline continue?

Image via Ubisoft

On Nov. 10, 2019, the U.K. Rainbow Six Siege scene achieved a “proof of concept” of sorts.

Natus Vincere, a British-majority roster, defeated a North American DarkZero Esports 2-0 to win the Pro League season 10 finals, the latest in a long string of European dominance.

This victory was different, though. It didn’t come from the G2 Esports roster, ENCE, or any of the traditional powers. It came from a plucky group of players who fought their way through the ESL Premiership, qualified for Challenger League, and qualified for and then won Pro League—all in under a calendar year.

The victory in Pro League season 10 is far in the rear-view mirror now and the U.K. presence in the top-tier of EUL has only increased since then.

Statistically, U.K. players dominate the EU scene. G2’s Ben “CTZN” McMillan and Jordan “Kayak” Morley and Na’Vi’s Jack “Doki” Robertson lead four of the six major statistical categories that SiegeGG displays. It’s not an instance of the U.K. scene being top-heavy either. Rogue’s Leon “LeonGids” Giddens and NaVi’s Byron “Blurr” Murray are in the top five in multiple categories as well.

“Six months ago, there weren’t a lot of U.K. players in the EU League, and now, we’re the second-largest country (in terms of players in EUL),” Doki told Dot Esports. All in all, in terms of the number of players by nationality, the U.K. has 10 players currently in the EUL and is led only by France, which claims 14 of the 50 EUL players.

The opening of EUL 2021 has been dominated by British players. And according to those involved with the genesis ESL Premiership and the current production of UKIN, it’s been a long time coming.

“U.K. people always back up other U.K. people”

The U.K. R6 scene has always been tight-knit dating back to when the 2017 “UK Invitational” was played on Xbox, according to Harry “Demo” Dempster, a longtime Premiership and current UKIN caster. Demo said the Xbox version of the ESL Premiership was short-lived. They did one season and scrapped it to return in late 2018 with PC R6 competition.

The Rainbow Six Siege portion of the ESL Premiership benefitted greatly from three separate aspects: existing infrastructure from the CS portion of the Premiership, a dedicated level of buy-in financially from several organizations, and the participation of the old Team Secret, who at the time were helmed by LeonGids and Matthew “meepeY” Sharples, now a player and coach (respectively) for Rogue. At that point in time, professional teams were few and far between in the limited number of well-functioning national-level competitions.

“From the beginning, they had this infrastructure in the ESL U.K. offices, which I think gave us a leg up over a lot of other places,” said British EUL caster Em “CaptainFluke” Donaldson, who commentated the ESL Premiership at the beginning of her career. “We’ve got all the studio space already sorted, we have all of this and luckily there was a drive of players as well.”

At first, Secret dominated their competition. They won the inaugural season of the Premiership (Winter 2018) without dropping a map in the finals. But their dominance was short-lived.

A plucky MnM Gaming squad—which included CTZN, Doki, Leon “neLo” Pesić, Szymon “Saves” Kamieniak, Luke “Kendrew” Kendrew, and was coached by current Giants Gaming coach Ellis “GiG” Hindle—defeated Secret 2-0 in the Spring 2019 finals. The result was less of an indication that Secret were not who they once were and more evidence that the U.K. scene, suddenly bustling with great teams and players, was set to explode.

“It was big, you know—having a professional team for your league is always going to hopefully, you know, boost and improve everyone around them,” Demo said of the decorated Secret roster.

Na’Vi signed the MnM Gaming roster on June 1, 2019, and the rest is history.

“Now we’re seeing more of the norm of people who play esports who are in, you know, their 10th year now,” Demo said. “If you look at CS:GO, for example, or League of Legends, a lot of older guys are still playing that game, whereas Siege is just still a very young game in terms of how we’re developing our talent the moment.”

#UKMASSIVE

The hashtag “#UKMassive,” used whenever a U.K. R6 team needs any kind of help, is doing well, or is simply about to play, comes from an old group photo with dozens of members of the U.K. scene after a LAN, according to Demo.

One of the biggest adopters of the UKMassive hashtag has been MnM, an organization notable for two things in the Rainbow Six Siege scene: developing future EUL players and aggressive national pride.

“I didn’t expect such a huge community behind [R6]—I didn’t expect them to be so supportive, engaging, and passionate,” said Kalvin Chung, one of the founders of MnM Gaming. “We measure all our games in terms of community engagement, and Rainbow Six is by far one of the highest in community engagement.”

Chung echoes what Demo and Fluke say about the community of the U.K. scene and cites “friendship” as one of the keys to the success of the original Na’Vi team.

All in all, six of the current 10 players in EUL were with MnM for at least a match. CTZN, Doki, Kendrew, Kayak, Byron “Blurr” Murray, and Nathan Sharp were all with the organization at one point during their careers.

“I don’t know if it’s our milk, or our pies or something,” Chung quipped. “But seemingly we have a lot of good players. I think regardless of the natural-born guys, we have the infrastructure in place.”

The new UKIN league, which is what the ESL Premiership morphed into after Promod Esports took over as the official tournament organizer, is set up even better, says Chung. There’s a second division that feeds into the main UKIN division, and university leagues feed into that.

“Players from the U.K. and Ireland tend to stick together, so we see rosters with several members performing well and with Na’Vi and cowana we see a great mixture of established talent leading hungry new talent,” said Will Attwood, Ubisoft U.K. esports marketing manager. “They’re evolving the game as they progress. With CTZN on G2, now joined by Kayak, we have one of the most consistent players to have ever played the game. He was getting praise while playing alongside one of the best players ever and that’s high praise to draw the spotlight from someone who defined Siege in EU for so many years.”

The future

MnM was incredibly close to putting another roster in the EUL. The team eventually fell in the most recent iteration of EUL relegations to Rogue, but not before cowana put Rogue in the relegation position. Cowana did make the EUL, and should MnM keep improving, they might not be far behind.

The future isn’t set in stone, but the U.K. scene seems primed to broaden this current level of excellence for some time. In addition, multiple other professional-caliber teams have been taking part in other national leagues around Europe, in an attempt to invest their talents into the scene. GSA will feature G2 and Rogue this season, GAMMA Gaming has made a significant investment into their Benelux League roster. Vitality, TrainHard, and BDS will play in the 6 French League, and Virtus Pro and Team Empire will play in the Russian nationals.

CS did have quite a strong run about two years ago with the CS ESL prem where we saw people like smooya play in ESL One Cologne,” Demo said when asked about other prominent U.K. esports scenes. “Seeing U.K. people at the top will undoubtedly inspire others to try and do the same.”

The player base in the U.K. is large. There are 5.17 million players across the region, according to a Ubisoft spokesperson.

There are high-earning players from the region and certainly a lot of success by individual U.K. players across the course of esports’ history. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find as successful a professional season for a group of U.K. players. Across four separate teams, U.K. players are dominating in the first stage of EUL.

In the six major statistical categories SiegeGG tracks, a U.K. player holds the top spot in four of them. Three of the top five EUL players in terms of rating are from the U.K., and there are at least two in the top five of every major statistical category except KOST%, where the top four are French and play for BDS.

“I’ve been saying it for years that it’s an exciting time to be part of Siege especially for U.K. and Irish players, but it’s only getting better,” Atwood said. “Only a matter of time before we see those players in the Six Invitational finals and bringing home the trophy.”

With the blueprint for success set up by the U.K. national scene, it’s not hard to imagine more teams or players that are EUL-ready pop up from the U.K. scene in due time. In many other esports—League of Legends, VALORANT, and CS:GO, among others—how to grow their tier-two scenes has been a hot topic for years.

It takes time, effort, friendship, and at some level, it takes luck and faith. But the U.K. R6 scene shows it’s possible to build.