Sadly, these relationships often remain remote. Life gets in the way. The distance, expense, work, family (a global pandemic!) – so many things can make jumping on a plane much easier said than done.
But taking that trip and meeting an online friend in person for the first time is a moment many dream about.
How do we know that?
We received over 1,400 touching stories sent to us as entries into our Gamers Unite contest. They are a true testament to the strong connections esports fans make through their love of gaming.
It wasn’t easy, but, in the end, we found our two winners. This is their story.
As ESL’s Official Logistics Partner since 2018, it’s our job to handle all the transport logistics behind the scenes. But we also help ESL deliver the biggest tournaments to global audiences by supporting fan-inspired activities. Maybe you’ve heard of the DHL Drop! or even played our very own DHL EffiBOT Dash game?
In 2020, we hosted Gamers Unite, an online competition aimed at – wait for it – uniting gamers all across the globe. It was a chance to win a trip to an ESL event to meet in person and share a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We invited Dota players who have met and become friends online to share their stories. We asked them how they met and became friends, whether they had ever met in person, and why they wanted to win.
A story of friendship and frustration
Our winners – Claudiu from Romania and Glen from South Africa – told a compelling story of countless hours playing together in the virtual world and numerous attempts to get together in the real one.
The two came in contact when Glen decided to play Dota on European servers. They recognized a shared passion for the game and started playing together regularly. As Glen puts it: “We added each other, and the journey began.” They met up on Dota every day after that.
“I’m super excited to see my friend, Claudiu, who I’ve never met in person before.”Glen
For several years they chatted every day and set up times to play together. They constantly talked about how great it would be to meet up and just have a beer together. “But life doesn’t always go in one’s favor,” they wrote in their Gamers Unite entry.
They made a handful of plans to see each other, but things never panned out. First, Claudiu went to work in the United States, and then Glen took a job in China. The different time zones and technical realities often made it difficult to even play together, let alone meet up in person. But their bond was solid, and they managed to keep in touch via WeChat.
Glen moved back to South Africa a few years later, got married, and started a family. He invited Claudiu to the wedding, who was back in Romania after his own professional journey through the US, Germany, and Greece. Sadly, Claudiu wasn’t able to make it. “I felt so miserable,” he says.
The two friends often wondered if they’d ever be able to meet in person.
A long wait
Then Gamers Unite came along. Glen spotted an advert on Twitch, and right away, he knew their story was exactly what we were looking for. It was their story! A friendship that has flourished online. Two people from two sides of the planet who had never met in person. This contest was made for them.
They sent in their entry and waited – a wait that dragged on much longer than they could have ever imagined. After a few months, they learned that they were one of 10 finalists. They couldn’t believe it. Shortly after, they got the word that they had won! A truly surreal moment. They were going to meet in person for the very first time! But they were also on their way to their first live Dota Major!
But it wasn’t to be, at least not right away. Just after finding out they won the competition, Covid-19 arrived. Suddenly, their long-awaited VIP trip had to be postponed. It took 27 months from the moment when they won the contest until they could claim their prize: a trip to Stockholm and the ESL One Dota Major in May 2022 at Hovet, one of Sweden’s most legendary arenas.
The long wait made the buildup super suspenseful, says Glen. Just before they were united, Claudiu was so nervous and excited that he barely made it through the pre-meet interview at the arena. He literally couldn’t stand still. It was a moving moment for us all.
A best mate experience
That’s right. After all that waiting, we asked the two friends to wait a little bit longer so we could ask them some questions about how they felt right before meeting each other.
“Today I’m feeling really ecstatic,” Glen said. “I’m super excited to see my friend, Claudiu, who I’ve never met in person before.”
Claudiu would have preferred we’d turned the camera off and pointed the way to Glen. “I feel fantastic,” he said. “Imagine I’m going to talk to a guy I’ve known for 6-7 years. I just want to finish up here so I can meet him sooner.” He was literally bouncing up and down while he said this.
“It was fantastic. It was phenomenal. I have no words.”Claudiu
The two gamers met at our DHL booth. There were hugs and handshakes, fist bumps, and back slaps. The wait was over! After the initial euphoria wore off, Glen suggested they play our DHL Box Stacker Pro game together. It made sense – playing was what they had always done together.
After shooting some footage with us at the booth, it was time for our duo to take off and enjoy the event. They hung out in the arena, watched the matches, and cruised through the fan zone. Later that evening, they finally went and had that long-awaited beer together. It was the perfect first day.
“It was fantastic. It was phenomenal. I have no words,” Claudiu told us later.
“It was absolutely surreal,” added Glen. “Since we’ve been here, we’ve had the best time ever. We’ve met so many nice people, from players to other fans in the grandstands. It’s been such a great atmosphere – I loved every moment of it. Here with my best mate.”
“We’ve never been to a major before,” said Claudiu. “So being here together is just amazing.”
“We’re watching the games, arguing a lot about what’s going on. It’s just fantastic,” he added, smiling.
A future play?
We asked Glen and Claudiu what they think playing together will be like now that they’ve met in person.
“It’s going to be crazy different,” said Glen. “Our relationship has definitely grown. It’s going to be the best.”
Claudiu couldn’t agree more: “Chatting is going to be easier, and now I can imagine saying something like, “do you remember that time when…”
After pausing for a moment, he added: “I can’t wait to go home and play a game with him, but actually I don’t want to go home because I don’t know when I’ll see him again.”
So, do they have plans to meet again?
“We don’t know when the next meeting will be,” said Claudiu. “Because honestly, it’s hard. I am in Europe, and he is in Africa. But we have made plans. If I get married, maybe Glen can come to the wedding. And he’s thinking about moving to Europe, which would make things a lot easier.”
“Having these constraints does make it difficult,” added Glen. “I would love to try to arrange it, and we are going to do our absolute best to make something like that happen. We’ll just have to see how the future plays out.”
After having the privilege of watching Claudiu and Glen meet in Stockholm, we’re sure this won’t be their last real-life unite.
Best of luck, guys!