This should have been the high point of the Dota calendar. It’s shortly after TI, just as the DPC awakens from its slumber, new hopes and possibilities abound, perhaps with a patch or two to shake up the meta. Early September would be the time of shock roster moves, sad retirements and exciting arrivals, the beginning of a new era of perhaps the continuation of what came before. No matter whether it’s a Secret quarter-final exit or a VP choke or an OG shock that keeps everyone on their toes, Dota fans would certainly have something to talk about. Instead, it took until September 4 to get a few breadcrumbs instead of the usual feast, a sad reminder of how a benign ruler can quickly turn into a neglectful one under the wrong circumstances.
You can’t blame Valve for a pandemic. No one was ready for a scourge that would stop the world, even if the esports industry was among the few which had a ready-made escape hatch to the online realm. The LAN calendar was disrupted across each and every game, with no end in sight for the forced postponements and cancellations. By itself, the decision to push back TI10 to 2021 and to look at the long-overdue reconstruction of the bloated DPC system in the meantime makes sense. No one having any idea what’s going on in September… doesn’t.
It never feels right to bring it up, but it doesn’t make it any less true: esports remains a marketing tool for the game developers who maintain control with an iron fist over their title, holding on to licenses and access with little to no exception, and it’s tough to make anything happen without their support, implicit or otherwise. Though Valve didn’t quite pull a Blizzard with the Dota scene and haven’t fully suffocated the third-party scene, many TOs’ face turned blue over the last few years. Good luck holding a top tier event with the biggest teams in the world while they are gunning for DPC points! Regardless of the prestige or the prize pool, your tournament will inevitably end up at the back of the queue and the bottom of the priority list. Just ask ESL about their ill-fated efforts in Mumbai.
Imagine any other competition operating under a similar cloud. Even in the case of traditional sports, you could read about the non-stop wrangling and negotiations by the interested parties as everyone tried to get things off the ground again. Now the deity has deigned to drop a blogpost with more questions than answers, more a set of suggestions than a proper road map in these trying times.
At the end of the day, is this a baked-in facet of esports competition, the complete control of the developers who can just drop everything at the drop of a hat when they feel like it? The power imbalance between the different stakeholders is staggering, and one of the first big lessons learned by non-endemic investors who come from the world of traditional sports. One day, these issues will go to court. In the meantime, we’re stuck with Valve, Riot and the rest.
At this juncture, it’s simply not realistic to make your own esports scene with blackjack and hookers if you want to fill the void created by the developers. It’s a simple equation: if it’s small enough, it’s not worth the effort. If it’s big enough, the devs will swoop in to take over, even at the cost of overall reach and market share. They will even feel good about it. Just ask Blizzard about StarCraft 2 and KeSPA, or Riot and basically every single one of their partners. When everything comes down to Valve, and they take so long to provide so little, why would you stick along for GabeN’s crazy ride? Geek Fam and Reality Rift certainly didn’t.
Meanwhile, the prize pool of TI10 keeps breaking records day after day. At least we’ve got a tentative date for it. August* 11** 2021***, Stockholm****, each subject to change.
What’s Dota esports without the allure of TI? The struggles of the tier 2 scene and the aforementioned blue-faced TOs were all acceptable to the various parties as long as they could eventually play a part in competitive gaming’s showpiece event. The last few months should be a major warning (pun absolutely intended) for everyone involved, an accelerator of the various discussion topics which periodically cropped up in the scene, never to be resolved in a satisfactory manner. The top-heavy nature of the Dota scene, the broadcasting rights issues, the challenges of attracting newcomers. We’ve been here before
It’s no secret that Dota player counts are down from where they used to be, and that online competition doesn’t make up for the real deal, regardless of whether you’re a player or a fan. Whether these issues will be adequately addressed remains to be seen. However, we can already tell that Valve’s statement about tournament broadcasts doesn’t amount to as much as it used to, for the simple reason that they couldn’t be bothered to follow up on their bolsterous statements in the CS:GO scene, much to the surprise of that community. Though the situation isn’t quite the same, just bring up “StarLadder DMCA” to any fan and watch their face turn red from rage. While you’re there, maybe add “MiBR and Yeah” for an added bit of fun.
Valve’s blog post has already attracted its fair share of criticism for not clearing up the pressing matters in a conclusive way, which is nothing new. It seems enforcement isn’t really on the mind of this international behemoth of a gaming company. Despite the cracks in the wall and the occasional collapsed ceiling, the castle still stands strong, and the minions will keep trying their best to fix them up as much as possible. Meanwhile, the king is away on a forever hunt for a very different kind of game. Letting people do their thing is wonderful as long as the things are good and the doing is actually happening. Right now, Valve’s behavior feels more neglectful than benign.