Everyone who isn’t new to esports knows that Dota 2 offers the biggest prize pools in the industry through its annual tournament, The International. For six years since 2013, Valve has toppled its prize pool every year by mainly crowdfunding from its player base. Last year alone, The International amassed a massive $25 million of prize pot by selling TI Battle Passes. As of the time of writing, this year’s edition The International 9 is sitting on a $17,653,447 prize-pool.
Fans see this as a celebration of Dota 2 and its democratic factor by involving community affairs in its biggest tournament. However, there is a harsh side in The International tournaments that makes it an unfriendly place for teams, players, and other tournament organizers. The International in front row looks like an esport festivity but what’s behind it is an evidence that TI is hurting the Dota 2 game and the professional scene.
A Struggle for Third Party Tournament Organizers
Similar to traditional sports, esports business environment is a complex structure that cannot be explained in a short paragraph. Along with the game developers (in this case Valve) are sponsors, organizations, players, and of course, third-party tournament organizers that make Dota 2 pro scene function in a profitable way. In order for this to happen, these shareholders should work together, hand in hand. However, Valve has recently made changes in policies which makes it a harsh place for third-party tournament organizers.
In 2016, Valve stopped granting permissions to third-party tournament organizers to crowdfund prize pools and revenues through compendiums or battle passes. Moreover, Valve created a system called Dota 2 Pro Circuit (DPC), a series of tournaments, that basically decides which teams get a direct invite to The International. Valve supports the DPC events by sponsoring its prize pool.
The DPC creates an impression that non-DPC tournaments are less relevant. Non-DPC tournaments also don’t get financial support from Valve which has more negative results than you might think.
The International Prizing Model Is Not Future-Proof
Back in 2014, Polygon’s interview with Jason Yeh, head of EU esports at Riot Games, claimed that they are not worried of Valve’s millions in prize pool. He stated that Riot’s priority is focused primarily on the longevity of League of Legends by “producing large-scale pro-gaming events on a weekly, not yearly, basis.”
The biggest flaw in Valve’s The International prizing model is that it “begs” the players to contribute to the annual prize pool. As we have mentioned before, The International topples its prize pool every year. What could possibly happen when TI ends up with less money than the previous year is indeed a disaster.
Dota 2 Players Favor Short-Term Gains Over Team Loyalty
Dota 2’s professional scene is very unstable in terms of team casting. Top-tier teams may look stable by having the same rosters for a long period of time but it is only because the elite organizations behind them have set up a good financial foundation. The lower tiers struggle to maintain its players because of the instant disbandment when they don’t perform well in a single tournament. During the start of each season, players regularly break contracts and leave their teams in hopes of finding better ones that they think they have a higher chance of qualifying to TI due to the fact that this single tournament has the largest prize pot which makes up most of their income in a season.
Obviously, this is an unhealthy habit for players and teams. Renewing rosters on a regular basis has negative financial and strategic effects. This situation, however, is more complicated than what it looks like. You can’t blame the players for wanting to secure a dent from the biggest prize pool in all history of esports. It all comes down to the huge amount TI has and the whole structure of Dota 2’s professional scene.
Creating A Healthier Environment
While these predicaments did not occur overnight, not addressing the issue could make the situation worse. The Internationals hurt its shareholders that are keeping the pro scene alive, slowly yet surely. Dota 2 is not perfect and one thing they can do is to create a system that is friendly to third-party organizers, players, and other shareholders. As what Dota 2 coach and analyst Murielle Huisman said, “It’s not rocket science. Though if it was, Valve would probably be better at it.”