Million dollar showdown

How would you like to play video games for money? Being the dreams of many gamers aside, it is actually much tougher than you think. Tough training schedules, unstable living conditions, slanted income scales, and high pressure are only a few factors in professional gaming. What if I told you this: you are now playing a video game for millions of dollars and being broadcast on ESPN? This was the new kind of pressure and excitement a few DotA2 players had to face recently in Valve’s The International 4 tournament, with roughly 11 million dollars as the total prize pool and 5 million of which went to first place. The International 4 also officially made e-sports supersede The Masters golf championship in prize pool (and perhaps popularity).

DotA, or Defense of the Ancients, was a custom map for Warcraft III that arguably started a brand new and exhilarating online gaming genre we now call Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA), which includes some of the most beloved games like League of Legends (LoL), Heroes of the Storm (HoS), and SMITE, among others. The game puts teams of five players, who can choose and play as their avatars called “heroes,” against another team in an elaborate map with the objectives of overrunning the other team’s stronghold and destroying its crucial structure “Ancient”. Among the industry, this game is famous for highly punishing gameplay and very extreme learning curves. However, this does not prevent DotA from attracting worldwide popularity and extreme dedications since its debut in 2005.

Jumping on an opportunity for a successful MOBA, Valve Corporation acquired the name DotA2 and put its predecessor’s main developer, IceFrog, on their payroll back in 2009. Under Valve, DotA2 offered an improved gaming engine, extensive online matchmaking support, spectator system, and statistics tracking that were all limiting factors in its predecessor. True to the expectations of demanding fans, DotA2 was praised by many players and critics for staying faithful to the original game and offering highly improved gameplay. After its long-awaited official launch in 2013, DotA2 now peaks at over 800,000 concurrent players daily and over 9 million unique visits per month.

Drawing on heated excitement for the game, Valve also capitalized greatly on popularity by rallying massive community supports and fan-based contents through Steam Workshop, famous personnel, Marketplace, and various collaborating websites. Instead of using the company’s “official” caster like LoL or HoS, Valve is largely dependent on famous community casters and even retired professional players. From adorable courier items to magnificent-looking cosmetic armor, high-quality user-created content is rampant. Community content contributors take 25% of all sales made on these marketable cosmetic items, further boosting their incentives. Bottom line, high-quality content, strong community support, and a “shut up and take my money” mentality means a lot of money — and this was true as Valve crowd-funded most of their 11 million dollar prize pool for The International 4 Championship.

Sixteen teams participated in this tournament. Eleven of the teams were invited by Valve due to their fame and recent accomplishments, with the last five spots contested in regional qualifiers that Valve hosted before the main event. In the end, after numerous twists and surprises, the Chinese team “Newbee” emerged victorious and claimed close to five million dollars in prize money. After taxes and other deductions, each player on the team was able to pocket more than $650,000, or four million Yuans, an amount that’ll allow for comfortable living in China. However, there was something much more important. The best of the best in the competitive scene, these teams provided fans with astonishing performances as crowds periodically erupted in applause and cheering, similar to watching a real sporting event.

Boasting over two million concurrent viewership on Grand Final and 25 million total views according to Valve and IGN, DotA2 as a sport festivity still has a long way to go before matching any serious sport game, or even its main competitor, League of Legends, in statistics. However, fans, players, and staff alike enjoyed the high level of community support and total value of entertainment. Due to efforts like obtaining ESPN coverage and using Seattle’s Key Arena for final matches, The International 4 received news coverage from USAToday and even the New York Times front page, in addition to being the biggest news on all gaming sites, marking it as an event of our time to truly escalate e-sports to the new level.

If you have any comments, questions, discussion points, or if you want me to write about something, feel free to e-mail me at jli27@stevens.edu