A Commentary on Dota 2 Tournaments

I think this is the right season to talk about this, with the (once again) record breaking Dota 2 The International happening as I type. 

The International has always been the juggernaut of all e-Sports, always breaking records for crowdfunded prize pools and boasting some of the best games and production value. It is natural that is is also the crème de la crème of Dota 2 tournaments, and its the most prestigious of all Dota 2 tournament.

This short piece’s main point is that having a single incomparably most prestigious tournament actually has one overlooked downside: it devalues all other Valve-organized international tier events. The Majors were implemented with the intention to make the competitive scene relevant all year, so that teams do not only work their best only when the The International season is near. Basically what happens is that incentives to perform should not just peak at The International, but rather available all year long.

The Majors definitely played their part in making the scene more entertaining to spectate all year round, with rounds of fascinating Dota 2 game happening once every few months due to incentive to perform being spread out more evenly all year across 3-4 seasons. Effectively, each Majors are as competitive as The International (TI) in terms of invited teams and formatting. Controlling for the higher mainstream media coverage, sky-high prize-pool, and the stress that accompanies them, winning a Major should yield teams as much prestige as winning a TI. A Major champion team should have the bragging rights to claim to be the best team in the world of the season, just like a TI champion. 

Except it doesn’t for one good reason. The collective recognition of Majors simply isn’t good enough as those of TI because of the massive difference in prize pool. With this year’s TI’s prize pool reaching $24 million USD, where champion takes home somewhere around $10.6 million USD, in contrast to the $1 million by Major champions. It is no wonder Majors winners simply cannot be seen to be as good as TI ones.

The main core of this small problem lies in how similar all these International tier events are. They invite similar pool of teams (means of determining who is eligible to attend), overall similar formating, but with TI having more than 10 times more cash prize then Majors. Majors all turn out to be just smaller copies of the International, with different home crowds. It is still more rewarding to invest in winning one round of TI, than multiple rounds of Majors. 

My suggestion? A crude ineffective way is to just move crowdfunds from the TI season to other Majors in order to even out.

A more well-thought out solution is to make every Major tier event in the future qualitatively different from the rest. Nothing can change the fact that TI is where it all started, so let it stay as a major celebration with that enormous prize pool with balanced representation from every region. The other Majors can differentiate themselves in other ways by establishing different identities (instead of TI with relatively pitiful prizepool). Some could actually boast endurance testing Best-of-7(s), some could use Captain’s Draft mode for deciding games, some could use Limited Heroes mode, Ability Mode for all-stars, or Reverse Draft mode. Majors have to establish different means of demonstrating player’s or team’s performance that can deliver approximately similar amounts of prestige to winning tournaments. If evening out the winnings across the year is not possible, there has to be a way to at least even out the incentive to win, such as adding on other forms of rewards.

The International also suffers from a winners-take-all ailment, where there is only one clear winner (who takes about half of the total prize) for a international scale community celebration. The champion’s winning can be cut down and be redistributed to others, such as teams that make it to regional qualifiers. This is such that teams in less advanced regions such as Australia, South Korea, SEA, South America, and Japan can actually start developing better teams to compete.

ps: I know it doesn’t do Majors justice to claim Majors have pitiful champion winnings of $1 million, especially when a lot of upcoming Dota 2 tournaments and other eSports are struggling to even get a quarter of that. But my point still stands: if Majors are to be seen as TI equivalents, the amount of investment that goes into organizing them should not be drastically lower than The International. Creative efforts can be done to ensure every Valve sponsored Major experience to be equally memorable. 

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