This week, in the midst of a European heatwave, the prize pool for The Intenational 9 in Shanghai passed 30 million dollars. The current mark is already a good $5m past the 2018 sum in a year when many were speculating that this could be the first TI to not surpass its predecessor, and it’s an incredible achievement by Valve and the millions of people worldwide who love the game.
Perhaps more incredibly – at least to those of you reading this –, there are people out there who have never heard of TI, or even esports, and are having their world expanded with the headlines about this record-breaking sum. $30m is a big payday even to a football fan, and we’re in a media sweet spot right now where the mainstream are interested in headlines if they contain big numbers, but still generally pretty clueless about the day-to-day existence of the average esports professional.
In a weird way, that’s actually been a blessing over the last year or so, with the number of stories relating to esports that were in no way positive. TI winners being accused of racism, the entire scandal relating to the last Major held in China, and players cheating in competition are just some of the more controversial moments that have taken place in the last twelve to eighteen months in Dota, but largely flown under the radar when it comes to the general public.
Read more: Where are the different TI winners today?
It won’t stay that way for long, and at that point there will be a big challenge for a scene that has so far traded often and extensively on the fact it’s ‘welcoming’ to people of all types. Where sport requires you to be big and strong for the most part, esports is a level playing field where dedication to your craft can overcome all, and people from all nations come together to celebrate their shared love of buttons.
There is also another thing coming, and one that we’ve already referred to previously, that TI’s prizepool will not continue to grow forever. Of course, we say that every year, but there is already a different feel to next year’s TI as it will be the tenth – and possibly a homecoming for an event that used to always be in Valve’s home town but has gone on the road in recent times. If it were to cap out at, let’s say, $28m, it would be a difficult time for the company given the marking of a decade of Dota 2.
Quite how the TI9 sum grew so fast is tough to be sure of, but with the event being in Shanghai there is going to be a lot of Chinese support for it this year, and it’s not likely that we’ll see the same in 2020 unless Valve decide to go back-to-back CN Tis. If this perfect storm conspires to see TI10 as the first International with a lower prize pool than its predecessor, then 2020 could be a difficult year indeed.
With the way reporting of esports works in the mainstream media, we’d no doubt see a swathe of articles about the ‘bubble bursting’ if that were to be the case. All of this is based around a single competition, don’t forget, while other games are growing, new leagues are being created, and new millionaires are being made across multiple genres, and is a result of the way TI’s prize pool has been used for years as ‘proof of esports concept’.
Read more: Another way to watch TI9: Jungle Jam
This isn’t to say we ignore TI in future, but with esports so much more than just that one showpiece event, there has to be a time when we stop holding up Dota’s crown jewel as our shining light – even if no other event comes close to it in terms of prize money and prestige. The International is important (possibly even too important for Dota itself at this stage), but the big number/prize pool attached to it makes it too easy to use as the one definitive example to prove that esports “works”.
Whether it be viewing figures for League, the enduring brilliance and success of CS:GO or the emergence of entirely new esports, there are reasons to be cheerful wherever you look. This time of year will always be a good one for headlines – as there are 30 million reasons to be proud of the Dota 2 scene – but that prize pool ain’t nothing but a number. Esports is so much more than just money – something we’ll all be shouting when the TI sum does eventually fail to beat the previous year.