They’ve done it again. With the help of its 1 million daily active users Dota 2 has beaten its own record for the highest tournament prize pool in eSports history. The International 2016 has beaten The International 2015’s 18,429,613 USD prize pool. And it’s not done yet.
“One… big… pot.”
What the International means to players
I distinctly remember a time before Dota 2. It was a time when no Dota player cared about cosmetic items, only pure skill. You played Dota because you wanted to prove that you either had the fastest reflexes, that you can think more steps ahead, or that you could help your team get an intangible edge. It was a time when we were all busy greeting Portal 2 with critical acclaim. Nobody could have predicted what else Valve had up their sleeves or how it would affect competitive gaming.
Valve announced that 1,000,000 USD would go to the winning team. I was shocked when it came out. The International 2011 (TI1) which took place at Gamescom in Cologne, was Valve’s launching event for Dota 2, a tournament with the largest prize pool in eSports history then. To put things in perspective, the biggest prize pool in Dota 2 before that was around 100,000 USD. Valve had made it clear that they wanted this event to be big. They wanted players to mark it on their calendars or make them start and end it in August.
How did we get here?
During The International 2011 Valve had introduced the Compendium, an in-game tournament manual that came with the online tournament ticket. It also included a few cosmetic goodies. This will be important later.
The International 2012 rolled around with around the same prize pool. But the real change came with The International 2013. The prize pool almost doubled to 2,874,380 USD. The reason why the number isn’t rounded is because every compendium purchase contributed to the prize pool, which wasn’t really new as most tournaments did this.
The real turning point was The International 2014, when the prize pool had leapt to an unbelievable 10,923,977 USD. Remember the cosmetic goodies from earlier? Well, in the last few tournaments Valve kept adding on more and more. So much so that items began being released in compendium levels. You are given ways to increase your Compendium level, such as challenges, but not by much. Real leveling had to be done by purchasing, usually at $10/24 levels. To add to this, getting all the items each compendium offers gets harder every year. Last year players needed around 175 levels to complete the TI 2015 collection. This year, you’d need to be at around 300. To be fair, there are much more ways to get levels this year, but they are still limited. And when you reach level 1000 (around 450 USD), you’ll receive an Aegis plaque for your patronage.
One more bombshell. Only 25% of purchases make it to the prize pool. Don’t do the math, it’s depressing unless you’re Gabe Newell.
Who would buy into this?
Well, gamers. Though some, including me, would probably like to see all that money be spent on the next summer sale, most F2P players have been known to spend upwards of $500 monthly on cosmetics. It should be noted though that Dota 2 is Free-to-Play but not Pay-to-Win and is a highly competitive eSport.
Unlike its MOBA counterparts, League of Legends and Heroes of Storm, the whole gameplay experience is available from the outset. You don’t need to pay to unlock anything. Naturally, as with any F2P game, a huge chunk of daily users will always be non-buyers.
Dota 2 may also be home to an entirely different breed of gamer. I know a lot of players who only have Dota 2 on their Steam account. While some would allocate their money and 24 hours to playing, curating and talking about their extensive library of games, Dota 2 players might as well do the same thing to their costume collection.
We all have our poison
This leads me to ask: What other kind of gamer is out there? I’ve seen Captain Kirk types fervently exploring the unknown indie game universe, old world Jedis finding meaning in titles like SOMA and Bioshock: Infinite and adrenaline junkies looking for that clutch play to pull off in titles like Dota 2 or CS:GO.
As we head into August and the professional players practice their best plays, every Dota 2 player will be feeling the gravity that they themselves have created. Whatever you may think of Valve, they have succeeded in creating a tournament/convention/event that celebrates all things Dota 2. A place and time honors the hours played and good times had by the old and welcomes the new with a bang. If you visit KeyArena in Seattle between August 8 to 13, you might see a rather peculiar breed of gamer. See you there… over Skype.
“What was it like in your day grampapa?”
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