SEATTLE -- It's a video game played by casual players and pros alike, and the biggest event of the year for it JUST happened last week right here in Seattle. Millions watched, and millions were on the line as sixteen of the best professional Dota 2 teams in the world competed in The International 2016. Earning their way to a spot on the main stage at Seattle's KeyArena meant playing in front of a sold-out crowd; while Dota fans and casual players around the globe watched on a live broadcast stream. At stake? Respect; being anointed the best in the world with well-deserved bragging rights; and millions of dollars.
When the dust settled, Wings and Digital Chaos were the only teams left to battle through a best-of-five grand final. Wings became your TI6 (The International 6) champions, with five team members splitting an over $9 million dollar first-place prize (from a prize pool of over $20 million).
We'll talk more about the money in a moment, because I know that's an eye-popping amount, and it's tough to look beyond it if you're hearing about it for the first time. Just don't, you know, be firing off an "I QUIT!" email to your boss as you read this so you can go pro. We don't know each other so I hate to judge, but maybe hold off on that for a bit. Still, I do want to address those of you who perhaps aren't familiar with the game; so I've addressed the money, the pros, how the game works, and more in a "Commonly Asked Queries" section at the bottom (because I'm a rebel and don't have to call them Frequently Asked Questions if I don't want to).
The future of gaming AND content
The money sometimes takes us away from one of the best parts of this story: The community, and the way we all participate in and watch games like Dota 2 and events like The International, which was produced by Bellevue-based Valve Corporation, the same company behind Dota 2 itself.
Millions of people play this game for free, and could watch this major tournament from around the world for free. Our director of digital strategy here at Q13, Travis Mayfield, talks in the clip above about how this seems to be the model for how we will be watching other events, sporting or otherwise, in the future. Sure, people bought tickets to watch the event live (a magnificent, over-the-top spectacle) inside KeyArena. But people could also watch the action for free on giant screens set up on the lawn just outside the arena. Then, millions of people from all over the planet were able to stream the broadcast of the week-long mainstage event across several platforms. And the broadcast itself was extremely polished and high-tech, even using AR (Animated Reality) to allow for life-size animations of the heroes from the game to pop up in front of the analyst desk. I may be slightly biased; this friend I know, let's call her Smaci, worked the event and had a blast. I hear she's a little weird but means well. But I digress.
It's changing the way we experience events. It connects more of us from all corners of the world, and when we combine it with social media, we become more than mere observers: we become participants. The International is really equally just as much about the pros as it is the community as a whole; people play casually with friends in opposite corners of the world; so connecting across these platforms while watching the event, they interact with the pros and support the teams in a much more real way. People watching the event unfold on Twitch.tv for example, could simultaneously watch the games while chatting with other community members in the same platform.
Commonly Asked Queries:
Q: You mentioned a prize pool of $20 million. Wha- How- ...?!
A: The $20 million dollar prize pool meant the winning team of five players split over $9 million in winnings. Yes, it's an incredible amount of money, but the real story here is that most of that came from the community of players and fans. Valve started the pot with $1.6 million, and the community increased it to over $20 million through buying into a compendium, where they could purchase special in-game items, with 25% of sales going directly to the prize pool.
Q: What "kind" of video game is Dota?
A: The easiest answer is that it's a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game, or MOBA (OK that's not just the easiest, it's also the correct answer), played by two teams of five who are trying to destroy the enemy team's base structure on the other side of the map. The game is free-to-play on Steam, a digital entertainment platform developed by Valve.
Q: But how is it played?
A: Each person plays as a different "hero" character selected at the start of the game. Each team then works together to defend their own base in separate corners of the map. Attack the enemy; attack their towers standing between you and their base; and ultimately, destroy their base to win. Defend yourselves along the way. Level up your heroes to make them more and more powerful as the game progresses.
Q: Um. What's a hero?
A: There are over 100 heroes to play the game as, each with varying roles and attack types that can increase in power at different points in the game depending on who they are. That's why picking the right hero for your team's strategy is so important- and one of the coolest parts to watch in The International is the draft, where teams take turns picking a hero for each player, and banning a hero they don't want their opponent to use (perhaps because they've been known to do well with that particular hero in the past, for example; or maybe you want to prevent your opponent from getting a hero that counteracts one you have).
Q: What does it mean to be a professional Dota player?
A: It's just like baseball. Some kids really enjoy playing, and end up playing at summer bbq's and office leagues and loving it. Others are, you know, Ken Griffey, Jr.
Meaning: they're a bit too good for the old office league, and are so amazing, people want to WATCH them play.
These pro teams play together for hours and hours a day year-round, perfecting their strategy and group play, studying opponents, watching other games online; not to mention dialing in on their individual skill. Most teams are sponsored; many "boot camp" before a major event by living and working together for weeks or months at a time. Just like anything, be it music or sports or playing an instrument: the difference between the pros and the casual players isn't just talent, it's time and effort.
Q: I wanna play.
A: You meant "Please tell me how to play," right? I kid. It's easy to play. And by that, I mean, it's easy to get INTO- sign up for a Steam account now and start playing for free. (I'll even link it HERE for you to make it easy!) The play itself is challenging- but that's the fun part.
Dota is challenging. But it's accessible. That's why so many people play it. Even the pros tell me they sometimes feel they "suck at Dota" (direct quote, I swear), because there are so many ways to play, and what works in one game might be your failure in the next.
Q: Wait, what does Dota mean?
A: Dota 2 is a sequel to DotA, which stands for Defense Of The Ancients. And now it really just means Dota as in "THAT'S MY NAME BECAUSE I SAID SO." Sorry, long day, didn't mean to yell.
Q: My kids play Dota and I don't get it.
A: Can you please phrase that in the form of a question?
Q: If my kids play Dota, how can I understand it?
A: Look, you don't have to be smarter than your kids at EVERYTHING, do you? It's ok if you don't play, or don't want to play. But you can still watch, and understand enough from watching a few games to relate to your kids and understand how it's a game of action, skill, and strategy. Can you land a triple back flip in Olympic vaulting? No, but it sure is fun to watch someone else do it. Video games are no longer meant for just the eyes of those playing; it truly is a spectator sport. And by that, I just mean gaming, to me, deserves the same level of respect and celebration.