Dota 2 - Volvo's Redheaded Stepchild
Table Of Contents
DotA has never really been anything more than a side piece since it first came into existence in 2002. I say this without judgement of course, as a former Warcraft III guy myself, DotA has always been there to provide me with hours of entertainment and fun. So much so that I was one of two admins at CEVO back in 2008/2009 that ran the Fire&Ice tournament, and then went on to admin the first regular season. I like DotA, I like it a lot. I fondly remember the S&Y glitch, I've covered TI extensively for the SEA region, and I've interviewed some of the best players to ever play the game.
I say these things not to brag or come off as arrogant, but to illustrate that I do actually care about DotA and now Dota 2. I have invested a significant amount of my personal and professional life into these games.
However, Dota 2 has never really been a spotlight game outside of the TI prize pool headlines. The game that makes millionaires deserves better, a lot better. Thankfully, Dota 2 has always had a wonderfully supportive community. I mean, after all, how else would TI have made players into millionaires if it weren't for the community? Valve simply created the mechanism to feed the beast, but it was the community that did the heavy lifting.
Other esports do not have this dynamic. Fellow Valve child CS:GO has always been the clear favourite. And we all know how Blizzard dragon-mothers its children into becoming "top" esports. Yet Dota 2 is left up to the community at large. An outcast among its classmates.
And yet, that's what makes Dota 2 so great...
Despite all of this community support (read: fans), we still see an inherent lack of support and recognition from the rest of the ecosystem. The same ecosystem that nurtures and supports many other, arguably lesser, esports.
The infamous TI Shuffle, where teams disband, switch up, and ultimately trade from the same pool of players year after year. The rationale being "we lost the most competitive tournament of the year, we have to blame someone".
After every TI event, there comes a shuffle of teams and players. Some disband, some switch out players, but rarely is a team not affected in the aftermath of the world's largest (by prize money) esports tournament. It has become a kind of running joke within the community - how long after TI will it take for the first (of many) announcements to roll out that a team has changed something.
The International hasn't taken place yet in 2019 of course. But already we have seen 163 professional player transfers take place. This, after only 3 Premier level tournaments, and 7 Majors. That equates to an average of 16 changes per tournament. That is excessive.
By comparison, Dota 2 has a much smaller competitive community at the top echelons than the likes of Overwatch, League Of Legends, and CS:GO. Despite having a long and community-driven past, Dota 2 has not developed a stable standing within the traditional esports community. Professional organizations that house multiple games and teams have often picked up and dropped Dota 2 teams if and when it was convenient.
This lack of stability has led to an environment of upheaval. No team is safe, every man for himself.
It begs the question - what is going on? Why are organizations not supporting their teams/players better and keeping them working together over the long-term?
When it comes to tournaments - Dota 2 does more (read: the most) with less. Having been around twice as long as Overwatch, Dota 2 still only has an annual average of 181 events per year (this includes all types of events), whereas Overwatch has 214. LoL and CS:GO have annual averages of 222 and 569 respectively.
It should also be noted that of all of the top tier team based esports, Dota 2 is the only one without a formal professional circuit facilitated by its developer/publisher. It relies solely on The International to fuel competition throughout the year. Fear of missing out on the biggest event in esports history where you stand to make more money in one event than most pro-gamers have made their entire careers is a big deal.
This inconsistent competitive landscape is reminiscent of the early days of esports, back when you would have only a few tournaments to look forward to and then the big bang with WCG and ESWC. That kind of environment did not create stable playing conditions for players then, and it doesn't now. The inverse is also true; having too many tournaments begins to dilute any storylines or build-up for events. There needs to be a consistent stream of high-level tournaments in which teams can compete, stay relevant, and gain experience.
Infrastructure And Support
Part of it is money, but more so the infrastructure and support the game receives from all of its stake holders: teams, tournaments, Valve, players, media & content, etc.
If we are to see a more competitive Dota 2, with more stable teams and players having longer careers, we are going to need a more stable ecosystem from the top down. It begins with Valve themselves fixing the hectic and sporadic nature of professional Dota 2 today with a more consistent format offering longer and better storylines.
Dota 2 fans deserve better than "who is going to win TI this year?" and, "Which teams are going to break up the next day?".
Teams also need to invest more resources (ie, time and effort) into Dota 2. Considering the game's success, I find it difficult to believe that only a handful of teams can establish a long-lasting presence within Dota 2. I share the same bewilderment with media properties in Dota 2. Only a handful exist, and the ones that do exist produce such little content it could be managed by a single person.
With so many interesting personalities, stories, and a wide open market, it is shocking that teams, media, events, and sponsors are not taking advantage of the situation. I am not sure if it is a lack of knowledge of the game and community, or fear of Dota 2 players being unnecessarily hostile to newcomers, and let's be fair, that is a likely option. Regardless, the Dota 2 community is being underserved from all sides.
Valve's Involvement Moving Forward
All of what I've discussed above comes down to Valve being neglectful of Dota 2 esports. I used to think that these issues weren't on the developer to fix, but for the community (ie, tournament organizers, teams, players, media, etc.). However, I've come to realize that these issues are entirely up to Valve, as they are the only authority capable of making change at this level. They own the IP after all.
Realistically, Id like to see Valve take the following steps to make Dota 2 less of a train wreck esport.
- Create a Pro Circuit
- Create a Dota 2 Esports Committee with Valve and non-Valve people
- Create a community manager role, where they actually engage with the community at large regularly
It's funny, Dota 2 has always had such a fierce community, but it has never really gotten the support it deserves. People think Dota 2 has received support in the form of TI, but again, that is the community - not Valve. The biggest facet that makes any esport worth investing in is the community, and Dota 2 has always had that in spades.
I think it comes down to people being afraid to make moves in Dota 2 for fear of rejection. And with Valve not doing anything to support advancements in Dota 2, it makes it really difficult to assess that risk. I really hope 2019 and 2020 are the years where Valve starts to take a keen interest in a game that often gets lost in the headlines.
Should Valve do a better job of supporting the Dota 2 esports community? Or is it better left to the community at large to take care of itself as it has since the beginning?