Announced at the start of this year, the fifth annual The International Dota 2 Championships (#TI5) will be held from August 3-8 in the United States. With a prize pool that’s larger than the Super Bowl and the NBA finals, many mainstream media like SBS are talking about this event.
Dota 2 is a free-to-play (read: freemium) MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) PC game developed by Valve Software, an American gaming company that’s best known for their Half-Life, Portal, and Counter-Strike series.
Rather than explain it in my own words, Wikipedia’s entry on the game summarises the game pretty succinctly:
Dota 2 is played in matches involving two teams of five players, each of which occupies a stronghold at a corner of the map. Each stronghold contains a building called the “Ancient”, which the opposite team must destroy to win the match. Each player controls a “Hero” character and focuses on leveling up, collecting gold, acquiring items and fighting against the other team to achieve victory.
16 teams will be competing against each other at Seattle’s KeyArena which holds a seating capacity of over 17,000. Judging by the last few years’ attendance, it will surely be a full house (GA tickets were sold out instantly this year).
Currently, the prize pool of the tournament stands at $17,310,428 USD. That’s 24 million Aussie dollars. It’s the largest prize pool in the history of eSports.
So how did a free-to-play game get a higher prize pool than the Super Bowl, the NBA finals, or any Aussie professional sporting leagues? Simple.
When announced, the prize pool of the tournament started at a respectable $1.6 million. This was solely contributed by Valve and – through a crowd funding system – asked the community to support the game and their favourite team by purchasing special in-game ‘compendiums’, with a quarter of these purchases (USD9.99 and USD26.99 for the entry-level and advanced options respectively) added to overall prize pool. It’s now $17 million dollars. You can do the math about how many people contributed to the fund (hint: it’s a lot).
It’s a benchmark for community management and engagement.
Fast forward to early August and sixteen teams will compete in a double elimination format over six days. Teams are flown to Seattle from all over the world, complete with their managers and coaches. This year, 27 Chinese, 12 Ukrainian, and nine American players dominate the competition’s nationalities (via TeamLiquid), with one Aussie in the midst of the battlegrounds (albeit playing for a Korean team).
First place is awarded immortal status and a whopping $6 million (that’s in USD!), making the five winners the newest millionaires on Earth – not too shabby for playing a game, but definitely well deserved for all the practice that was put into it.
It’s hard to paint an accurate picture of the tournament’s epicness if you haven’t experienced any eSports tournaments. There’s a really good documentary of last year’s champions from China, Newbee, that follows the team preparing for the event to the moment when they win. The video helps highlight the scale of The International, the preparation that teams go through (and the anger that follows losses), the players’ stress knowing that a split second error could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the relief and joy felt when VICTORY is splashed across the screen.
Only one week to go.
The entire tournament can be watched (with expert commentary/shoutcasting) in the Dota 2 game client and livestreamed through YouTube or Twitch (links to be announced from Valve soon). Event Cinemas in George Street (Sydney) are even holding a session at 3am (August 9) for enthusiastic Dota 2 fans to watch the finals live with similar-minded fans – I’ll be there!
More than 20 million people watched last year’s tournament and I was one of them.
This year, I will be watching again. Go Team Secret!