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As the crowd jumps to its feet, the air charges with a palpable electricity. If I were to touch the person next to me, I would feel a jolt that I could pass on to my neighbor until the entire stadium became an electric chain of life and passion. A roar surges from our mouths until we can hardly hear the commentator’s play-by-play. It doesn’t matter. The time for analysis is over. There’s an ingrained tactical ability within each competitor, but this requires something more; it demands heart, risk, and tears. As the dust settles, there is a loser and a winner, but oh, there is so much more.
What is this? A championship football match? The final round in a heavyweight title fight? War? No, this is eSports. And this is why you should care.
I’ve been playing video games my entire life, evolving from Putt Putt Saves the Zoo at age four, through my competitive World of Warcraft Arena stage, to now enjoying a game called Dota 2. For those of you who don’t know, Dota stands for Defense of the Ancients. It is an Action Real Time Strategy game that was first created as a custom game for Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos. Since then, the genre has expanded at an unbelievable rate, boasting popular titles such as Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends (arguably the most popular game of its kind), and now Defence of the Ancients (Dota) 2, which has been taken up by Valve as their newest project. As stated before, I am an avid Dota player, supporter, and fan. Later this summer, Valve will host the biggest Dota tournament of the year: The International 3. I know there are many of you who have played neither Warcraft 3 nor Dota, nor any other game in the ARTS genre. However, if you have ever picked up a game controller, if you have ever expressed a real love for your hobby, and if you have ever wanted to be a part of the growth of an entirely new world, I urge you to read on.
Valve is pretty famous. In fact, if they had stopped creating new games and software after Half Life 2, they’d still be frequent frontpage news of any gaming news website for the sheer hype factor of the community desperately wishing for Half Life 3. However, they have not rested on their laurels by any means. Fearless leader and CEO Gabe Newell is all about making good better, and he’s done just that. Valve has not only revolutionized PC gaming with the creation of the Steam client, but also made forays into the console market with the announcement of the Steam Box. The bottom line is that Valve is a very important company in the gaming world, and they are our biggest allies when it comes to press. Valve has consistently put a respectable face out to the public, an image that often translates to their player base and helps put an end to the stigma attached to videogames and professional gamers. Blizzard and Riot have acted similarly with their big products (World of Warcraft, Starcraft, League of Legends), helping to show the world that competitive gaming is more than a basement dweller’s pipedream.
When something big happens, the world jerks open its eyes and takes notice. In fact, it’s quite hard to ignore thousands upon thousands of people streaming into an event hall for Dreamhack, WCG, or another other major gaming tournament. This of course begs the question as to why The International is such a big deal. The tournament is hosted in Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington, a venue that holds about 2500 people. Why should the world care about a tournament a fraction the size of some of the larger global tournaments? To stay on my subtopic of exposure, let me explain just how wide reaching this tournament is. Teams are flying in from all over the world to compete. There are organizations from Russia, Ukraine, China, Germany, North America, Sweden, and Malaysia, just to name a handful. The event is truly global, and though the event hall only holds about 2500 spectators, there is a player base of 3.3 million1 waiting to tune in and watch via livestreams and the free spectator client (available through Steam). The sheer number of people interested in this event is enough for the entire world of eSports to do a double take, and as everyone knows, bigger is better.
Spectator sports are a gold mine for investors. Looking at any professional sport will tell you that there is money to be made when it comes to people wanting to watch events. As of right now, one of the hardest parts about getting professional gaming to be taken seriously is the money that players can potentially win. A football player gets thousands of dollars a week, and though failure is certainly never the goal, that money is generally paid win or lose. On the other end of the spectrum, professional gamers are traveling all over the world and playing online tournaments at all hours of the day and night in order to have a shot at usually meager prize pools, aside from some of the more major worldwide tournaments. Understandably, we can’t expect companies to throw money at professional gaming events without incentive for them to also make a profit. They’re looking for a willing market from which they can get returns.
One of the best parts about professional gaming, in my opinion, is that we the fanbase can show these sponsors that their investments are worth their time. Much the same as sports fans cheer on their favorite teams, we all have our favorite teams and players for whichever game we favor. We can show that the turnout for a gaming event can be as big as a baseball game. For those of us who don’t have the liberty to travel around the world to see some of these big offline events, there are still ways for us to show our loyalty to our games. Dota, for instance, is entirely free to play. There is zero mandatory cost whatsoever (and no pay-to-win, either). However, fans willing spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on cosmetic items, pennants for their favorite teams, or a ticket to watch tournament games in the game client. $.99 may not be a big cost for a pennant showing your love for a team, but when you can see the tally of just how many people have bought those pennants for any given team, the numbers tend to amaze you.
Big sponsors have begun to make their way into the professional Dota scene. Companies like Monster, Kingston, Razer, and Raidcall, as well as other “non-gaming” oriented companies like Norton Anti-Virus, have shown their support for the community by sponsoring teams and tournaments. Though we have all of these wonderful sponsors (and a big shoutout to our own, CyberPower PC), there is always room to grow. No CounterStrike team would be opposed to a bigger prize pool for any given tournament, nor would any team from any other game. By showing our love for our games, we show potential sponsors that their investments are worthwhile.
So, what does this have to do with Dota and the International 3? Well, a whole lot actually. The International 3 is currently just on the cusp of having the biggest prize pool for any professional gaming tournament ever. The current leader is the Season 2 World Championship for League of Legends with a prize pool of $1,970,0002. The International 3 is sitting at $1,919,320 at the time of this article. Interestingly enough, the original prize pool was set at $1,600,000. How can we account for this increase in the prize pool?
The community. About a week ago, Valve announced a new item in the Dota in game store: the International 3 Compendium. It is an interactive booklet that allows players to make predictions for outcomes of matches, select players for an all-star game, as well as providing them with a special cosmetic item. Each compendium cost $10, and for each one sold, the prize pool of the tournament would increase by $2.50. That’s right, moving upwards at $2.50 at a time, the community alone increased the tournament’s prize pool by roughly $300,000. That is more than most of the other tournaments throughout the year put together. It’s simply incredible. From the perspective of an advertiser/sponsor, if I saw a community willing to buy about 115,000 in game items meaning a total profit of $850,000 ($1,150,000 in compendium sales – $300,000 in tournament prize pool increase), I would call Dota 2 a fairly lucrative market. And folks, remember: that increase was entirely community driven.
Bringing it Home – Dota 2 and You
As much as I would love to assume that everyone who reads this article is an avid Dota fan, I know I cannot make that claim. I’m sure a large majority of you have at least heard of the game, and some of you play and love the game as much as I do. I’m going to end with this suggestion: watch the International 3, even if you have never seen Dota before. There is a certain passion that comes with being dedicated to a game, whatever it might be. However, having never experienced that game, it can be difficult to really get into that passionate mindset. I’ve talked a lot about the amazing things that the Dota community has done over the past few months, and the big steps that Valve has taken to put eSports out into the world in a big way, but what really makes this game amazing is that it is for everyone, and I truly mean everyone.
eSports is the professional scene for everyone. Because it is an online based community, getting in touch with others around the world who love it as much as you do is incredibly easy. Watching professional games, livestreams, or even just chatting with famous personas is often as simple as going to a URL or making a Skype call. In my opinion, Dota is a fantastic medium through which eSports can continue to grow. There are tons of matches going on every single day, and if you want to try your own hand at being the next best thing, all it takes is about half an hour to an hour of your time to play a game (best of all, it’s free!). If you’re a bit timid to take the plunge as I was, Valve has made it exceedingly easy to go in and watch everyone else play live. You can get in game and spectate nearly any match that you could imagine and watch it from the perspective of any of the ten players. If you want a bit more of an understanding of the game before diving in, check out some youtube videos from people like Purge, the GD Studio, Beyond the Summit, or other people and organizations. There are loads of informational videos and guides to help get you started.
Now is arguably the best time to get into Dota. The qualifying matches for the International 3 are currently underway. They are split into two groups: North America, Europe, and Western Asia, and Eastern/Southeast Asia. Here’s some dates to mark on your calendars:
Western Qualifying Matches
May 13-19, 2013
Free to watch in the game client
Eastern Qualifying Matches
May 20-26, 2013
Free to watch in the game client
The International is simply incredible. I joined the Dota scene last year during the International 2, and watching those games was something that I will never forget. Watch the streams, pick a team to root for even if you know nothing about them, and come join us over at reddit.com/r/dota2 for a community that loves the game and loves to bring in new gans. Show the world that eSports are a serious market, no matter what the game might be. Take Nike’s advice: Just do it.