It was the most chaotic Dota 2 Major in history, by far the most plagued with technical difficulties and a myriad of problems with the broadcast. Dubbed the “Shanghai Shit Show” by the community, it also marked the end of James “2GD” Harding’s Dota 2 casting career. The gig was already meant to be a comeback of sorts for him, but Gabe Newell’s personally posted Reddit thread where he told the world that he was “an ass and we won’t be working with him again”. But what led to this incredible declaration?
James "2GD" Harding is a former professional Quake 4 and World of Warcraft player turned commentator born in 1982. The child of a millionaire father, he was one of those fortunate enough to be fully supported by his elders as he embarked on his esports journey. After playing for Dignitas, Fnatic and SK Gaming as a professional Quake 4 planer, he transitioned to casting in his twenties, getting his first big break in 2006. The Shanghai incident wasn’t his first brush with controversy: he lost his MLG gig after criticizing the company live on broadcast.
He was an important part of early Dota 2 broadcasts but his edgy style of commentary slowly began to deprive him of opportunities as the scene continued to grow, not getting a gig whatsoever after hosting TI2, TI3 and TI4 for a year and a half. He did, however, get a shot at the big time at the first Shanghai Major, seen as a comeback opportunity for him by many.
It wasn’t to be.
The Shanghai Major in 2016 remains one of the most infamous in the history of Dota to this day. Production company KeyTV couldn’t deliver what was necessary for a pristine broadcast and the choice of personnel also didn’t live up to expectations. Stuck cameras, stream issues, commentators who couldn’t be heard and, in the form of 2GD, a host who perhaps should not have been heard. He was let go on the second day of the group stage.
Though Valve never gave a specific reason for what led to the host’s firing, a look at the broadcast archives gives us a good idea. Cringeworthy and tasteless jokes like a reference to disabled people in pornography don’t mesh well with even the edgiest of esports broadcasts. Though 2GD has later stated that he was told he should be himself by Icefrog, the entirety of details never came out.
The most notable high-profile communique came from Gabe Newell himself, who decided to create a thread on Reddit addressing the problems with the Shanghai Major. It featured two points. The first was about Harding. The second about the production company.
James. We've had issues with James at previous events. Some Valve people lobbied to bring him back for Shanghai, feeling that he deserved another chance. That was a mistake. James is an ass, and we won't be working with him again.
As long as we're firing people, we are also firing the production company that we've been working with on the Shanghai Major. They will be replaced, and we hope to get this turned around before the main event.
As always, I can be reached at [email protected].
Well, things did end up getting better, though things were nevertheless far from perfect. An entirely different production company was brought in, who, despite the total lack of pre-event preparations, managed to mostly hold things together with what was no doubt a lot of duct tape both metaphorically and physically. There were multiple other issues with the venue as well, most of which were only contained, not resolved.
Though these little moments didn’t impact the gameplay or the broadcast – at least not directly – stories like the director of the English broadcast being unable to get a pass, a truly abysmal “VIP” room and many personal items lost in the hotel (including a set of card keys) don’t exactly scream “perfect execution”. Though the event was salvaged in the end, it remains the undisputed low point in Dota Major history.
On the broadcasting side of things, the Shanghai Major served as the breakout moment for Sheever, who stepped in to replace 2GD after a string of lesser on-camera roles. Today, she’s a permanent fixture at the biggest Dota events in the world, one without a tendency to make wildly inappropriate jokes on air. The whiteboard, like Mr. Harding’s many other innovations, were lost to history.
Though his Twitter bio has read “currently in hibernation” for a very long time, it now says “Waking up” at the time of writing: he has made a return as part of a new arena shooter project. The game titled Diabotical is currently in closed beta and is getting favorable reviews from those who already had a chance to give it a try.
It’s certainly a very different world and it’s quite likely you won’t see it at a big-ticket Shanghai tournament anytime soon. However, it does go to show that there can always be another chapter and a different kind of redemption, even when the biggest man in gaming calls you on ass in front of the entire Internet in writing.