ESL confirms new Dota 2 circuit, and it starts on April 9 cover image

ESL confirms new Dota 2 circuit, and it starts on April 9

ESL has today announced the launch of a new Dota 2 tour culminating in a finals in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, confirming earlier reports by Richard Lewis. 

ESL FACEIT Group has today announced the launch of the new ESL Pro Tour, a global Dota 2 circuit to rival the official Dota Pro Circuit. A release today confirms earlier reports by Richard Lewis, and that ESL was pitching a potential new league to players during the Lima Major.

According to the release, the tour will consist of two seasons of ESL’s DreamLeague series of events, culminating in the Riyadh Masters, held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Each DreamLeague tournament will boast a $1,000,000 prize pool, while the main event in Riyadh will feature a $15 million prize pool. This is a portion of the $45 million prize pool announced for the Gamers8 festival last week.

DreamLeague Season 19 will run April 9-23, 2023 with the winning team qualifying directly for the Group Stage of Riyadh Masters. DreamLeague Season 20 will take place on June 7-25, 2023. The winner and runner-up will both qualify directly for the Riyadh Masters Group Stage. These dates will put it outside of the dates of the DPC Div I Tour 2 and 3, although will likely clash with Div II.

ESL Dota 2 Circuit format (Image via ESL)
ESL Dota 2 Circuit format (Image via ESL)

As per Lewis’ report from last week the DreamLeague events will be remote, and as per ESL FACEIT, the production will be based in Sweden. The ESL Pro Tour (EPT) is already a banner used by ESL for both its StarCraft II and CS:GO events. Today, Dota 2 was added to that list on the company’s website.

Return of the Riyadh Masters

The Riyadh Masters, a culmination of this new EPT, will feature 20 teams total, with three qualifying through the DreamLeague events. The rest will be directly invited, seemingly using a new EPT Ranking System, detailed here. Invites for DreamLeague events will also be handled using this method. The Riyadh Masters event will run between July 17 and July 30, 2023.

The Riyadh Masters name is one that Dota fans may recognize as the title organizers used for the Gamers8 Dota 2 event held in 2022. That event featured now-TI11 champions, Tundra Esports, who were forced to play with a substitute as Neta “33” Shapira was barred entry from Saudi Arabia due to his nationality and passport status. 

At the time of the original Riyadh Masters in 2022, Tundra Esports did not respond to requests for comment from about the exclusion of 33 from the event.

However, responding to a request to comment on these issues today, ESL FACEIT Group stated: “We are working with our partners SEF to ensure that all eligible participants can compete at the event this summer.”

It is also notable that since Riyadh Masters 2022, relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia have reportedly improved. In October 2022, an Israeli swimmer competed in an event in Neom, becoming the first Israeli athlete to compete in Saudi Arabia.

Previously, the Riyadh Masters 2022 was qualified for under the banner of Gamers Without Borders, an online tournament with entrants from Europe, CIS, Asia, and Saudi Arabia. It’s a strange name, given that it’s hard not to think of the likes of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), Humanity Without Borders, or other such institutions which aim to ease suffering around the world when you hear “Without Borders” in the name.

The Gamers8 event also saw limited boycotts by teams last year. Notably, Moist Esports Rocket League declined their invite to the Gamers Without Borders qualifiers in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

At the time of writing, several teams, including Tundra Esports and Nigma Galaxy, had already committed to traveling to the Gamers8 event to compete, likely in the Riyadh Masters.

Dota 2’s return to Saudi Arabia

ESL Dota 2 Circuit format (Image via ESL)
ESL Dota 2 Circuit format (Image via ESL)

There are several reasons this Saudi Arabia event is concerning. First and foremost, there is the abysmal human rights record of Saudi Arabia and the growing trend of sportswashing within esports.

Secondly, there are some competitive integrity concerns. While the event reportedly uses a new Elo rating-based system for its direct invites, these are drawn within a pre-determined list of teams. For example, Team Secret a Div II DPC team that lost all but one of its matches in Tour 1, is currently included in the rankings. The Elo ratings, the equation used, and other details were not public info at the time of writing.

(EPT Dota 2 rankings) Image via ESL
(EPT Dota 2 rankings) Image via ESL

This is par for the course for this event series though. At the Riyadh Masters 2022, several teams, including Nigma Galaxy, a Div II squad, received direct invites after failing to qualify for the main event.

Yet, even with these concerns, it is highly likely that for the average Dota esports fan, this will be viewed as a positive move. Fans who are less concerned with the moral implications of an event in Riyadh, and more interested in a tournament organizer with consistent production values will likely cheer the founding of a new ESL league.

There is growing discontent with the perceived quality of the mainline DPC. In the eyes of the competitive Dota fan, it’s declining, and every event's Twitch chat is filled with critiques of production, and Reddit is subsequently swamped with complaints after every tournament.

Dota 2 tournament organizers have become by-words for poor-quality production by fans, with PGL, who handled TI11, and 4D Esports and Epulze, who organized the Lima Major, being memed into oblivion by viewers.

No matter the questionable connections, a new league may be seen as a savior to a Dota esports fan base that’s hungry for something better. reached out and received a comment from the ESL FACEIT group which was added to the above report.