It’s time to say goodbye to the DPC as we know it, the competition that made Dota esports a lot more like League of Legends and made it a whole lot less interesting in the process. We will have to see whether the charred remains of third-party competitions can burn bright again in a more laisséz-faire era, one with hopefully a more transparent set of TI qualification protocols than in the past. All in all, the change is a good sign – here’s why.
To start things off, let’s take a look at an excerpt of Valve’s recent DPC blog post – though I would very much recommend that you read the whole thing.
“We started the Dota Pro Circuit in 2017 to answer a question that was coming up more and more frequently: How do you earn an invite to The International?
When it came to that one limited goal, we succeeded. The DPC demystified the invitation criteria, and made it easier for pros to understand their path to The International. Unfortunately, the DPC brought with it a set of rules and regulations, and those have come with a cost that’s become clearer to us over time: The world of competitive Dota has grown less exciting, less varied, and ultimately much less fun.
By existing as the only official league, the DPC has a stranglehold on the event calendar for the year and what it's filled with. Event organizers are innovating less, because that's effectively what we've been asking them to do…”
Stranglehold is a super strong word, and seeing it a no doubt PR-approved public discussion about the state of official Dota 2 esports is telling. Few would argue with this assessment, and the product we ended up with ended up being a lot duller than it could have been, without even getting rid of all the competitive controversies you would expect from such a tightly controlled format.
Speaking of the format, the repeated failure of round-robin league competitions in esports continues to baffle me. High stakes warrant low variance, and the media behind more traditional sports does an excellent job of creating storylines week by week across the various games. And yet, it never really worked out in esports, at least not in terms of making them relevant onto themselves beyond being glorified qualifiers to events that really mattered.
After watching many failed attempts and quite a few years’ worth of efforts, I think I now have a more nuanced understanding of this. In the past, I strictly pinned this down to a lack of stakes beyond the top spots, as football offers matchups fighting for the league title, Champions League qualification spots, battles for earning entry in lesser European competitions and the dogfight against relegation, all on top of any regional derby or player-related storyline to make things interesting.
Thing is, the DPC had most of this available to it, and it still wasn’t working as an entertainment product, or as a slate of interesting Dota 2 matches. Today, I’d pin additional blame on the small size of teams and rosters and the super-quick turnover of squads, not to mention the relentless pace of updates and game changes. 99 percent of long-term storylines are disingenuous, as any revenge match lacks half the original rosters, and they are playing on a very different patch, likely with three rule changes in the competition along the way.
So, a return to a third-party-focused Dota world should be of benefit to everyone. In this sense, the massive deflation of The International’s prize pool is also a blessing in disguise, increasing the relative relevance of large third-party events even if they don’t account for the coveted golden ticket to TI. (So, a TIcket? Is this too much of a groan-inducing pun, even for Dota fans? But I digress.)
As we keep diving deeper into the esports winter (or, if you’re looking at the slightly more dramatic phrasing of Bryce Blum and Avi Bhuiyan, the esports reckoning), it seems like Valve’s model is the one that makes sense over the VC-driven franchise-fueled stuff. The general imbalance where the game is the primary money mover rather than the sport – to quote the two above, imagine basketball sales making more than the NBA –, the flexibility and relatively offhand nature of their approach to CS:GO esports seems to be what’s coming now to Dota, albeit with a larger showpiece event.
(Not that Valve aren’t looking to make changes to CS:GO matches either on the competitive scene, dismantling existing large-scale franchising agreements with a solitary blog post, a development which I argued will benefit the tournament organizers as much as the rest of the community.)
The DPC was a grand experiment. Clearly, it has failed. We all learned a lot along the way. And there’s still enough to be saved, to be excited by. Valve are clearly looking to make changes based on the lessons learned in the VC era – and they are the best-positioned company to do so in the scene. Instead of falling back, they’ve redoubled their efforts as they continue to dabble. We should be thankful for that.