In a period of transition, Virtus.pro performed in a way they haven’t in ages. Was this a one-off or a sign that everyone else, and even Dota itself potentially, is in a weird place.
Before we discuss VP, spare a thought for Dota itself. For years, the game was the undisputed king of the castle in all senses of the word. It was the favourite child in Valve’s portfolio and the most lucrative esport in the world. Today, there are challengers home and abroad. Fortnite came first, with prize pools that matched TI but didn’t require the community to spend hundreds of millions on a battle pass, while CS:GO keeps hitting record player numbers, surpassing Dota’s all-time peak as well.
Recent stats show CSGO at a 24hr peak of 1.193m, while Dota currently sits on 736k according to steamcharts. Don’t forget you also have big-name players retiring, obvious issues with conflict of interest and more, all while there is no LAN action to distract the masses.
This is the context we need to examine ESL One Los Angeles, or at least the regional versions of the tournament, which have occurred in lieu of the event proper with much reduced prize pools and looks likely to remain the most prestigious event on the calendar for a while. It was not the LAN extravaganza ESL might have wanted, but the European event at least had some good name value with the likes of OG, Team Secret and Virtus.pro involved.
As we’ve seen in other games, it can be hard for the best LAN teams to translate that brilliance to the online world. Dota, of course, has the most extreme example with OG being unable to even care until the point TI is at threat, so results in this case should be taken with a pinch of salt. Having said that, one team did make a few headlines at this event, destroying some of the bigger names along the way.
It’s been a tough time for Virtus.pro since TI, and to be honest, the same goes for the org as a whole in recent years. Go back a bit and they are Major contenders in both CS:GO and Dota, with some of the most beloved and talented names in the game. Today, their CS team is best left unmentioned, and even the Dota department has definitely lost some shine with the departure of RAMZES666 to Evil Geniuses and RodjER to Winstrike.
VP would have felt pretty good about themselves coming into this online event, but even they might not have expected to 2-0 both OG and Team Nigma, and top their group with a 7-0 record overall, dropping just three games along the way. The other side of the bracket looked a bit more normal at that point, with Secret doing their usual thing of being amazing at the start of the season and matching VP’s 7-0 record.
In case anyone was thinking at that point that VP had just got lucky and met the version of OG that nearly didn’t make it to TI last year, the playoff bracket began and the TI champs promptly demolished Team Secret 2-0 before Puppey’s men went on to lose by the same scoreline against to Vikin.gg. While this was going on, VP were wrecking Spirit 2-0 in winners’ semis, before going on to do the same against OG in upper bracket finals and grand final as well, winning 2-0 and 3-2 respectively.
Had this happened in Los Angeles, it would have been big news, even if last year’s results should insulate us against getting too excited about early-season results cough Team Secret cough. So how much will this matter in the end? It looks as though TI won’t be happening in 2020, so the main focus of the calendar is gone, leaving us with online Dota and massively reduced prize pools for now – a situation which rendered a win that would otherwise be a potential springboard into an afterthought just as Dota itself is regressing somewhat. Hopefully VP will be able to parlay the confidence they gain here into a brighter future both online and offline, and compete with the best in the world on a regular basis when LAN play returns. It’d matter a lot for their own sake and the health of Dota 2 overall, too.