You might not have noticed, but there is a Dota event happening right now in China. It’s called The International. Like the Fortnite World Cup, it has a massive amount of money on the line, and like Fortnite, it has arguably done a massive amount to propel esports into the mainstream, even if the games are very different. However, where Fortnite is working hard on bringing new fans to esports – and especially younger fans –, Dota could be doing more to increase growth and ensure that a game many consider ‘true’ esports is front and centre when the mainstream comes around.
The problem Dota suffers from in comparison to other tier one esports is not unique and has plagued other MOBA games in the past. While it has all the complexity and depth required to be a competitive title, Valve’s favourite child is not easy to understand as a newcomer, while most shooters make a lot more sense even on your first viewing. You might argue that the building part of Fortnite is anti-intuitive, but even with construction included, Epic’s title is more straightforward than the average game of Dota.
To a lot of fans, that isn’t a problem, as it is a factor of the complexity involved in making a ‘real’ esport, rather than just a virtual version of an existing sport, but there is an opportunity being missed to grow the audience. Compared to the Fortnite World Cup, the amount of explanation on screen for ‘newcomers’ to Dota 2 at TI is pitiful, and with at least $120m to spend there is no real reason Valve shouldn’t invest a little bit into the future of the game, and trying to bring new fans in.
Yes, there have been plenty of times in the past when Valve or the TOs have run “newcomer” streams and the like, and the bump in viewership has been fairly insignificant. However, 2019 is a somewhat unique year in esports, and the opportunities are greater than has been the case for many a year. Sure, we still get pilloried by ignoramuses in the mainstream media, but today we are at least allowed to send our own emissary to argue the case when Fox goes full-Fox, rather than be forced to sit in silence. Thanks Slasher.
With that in mind and the progress we’ve made, this should be the year the TOs make more effort with newcomer streams, explanations of abilities and generally welcoming behaviour toward future fans. Parents seeing headlines are going to be more comfortable than ever with their kids playing “the E-Sports”, knowing there is a potential career out there, and Dota is wonderfully positioned with its total lack of overt gunplay in a time when this is an issue that regularly rears its ugly head.
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Dota is a more complex game than any of the other tier one esports in many ways, and changing that risks alienating the fans that have made it what it is today. With the way TI is positioned though, the fact remains that it will draw more new eyes than the average event, and therefore has the potential to act as a gateway to esports for new fans if they are treated correctly – even with the complexity in mind.
There are young kids on Twitch browsing to see if TFue has gone live yet and noticing the weird change to their frontpage. What is this ‘Dota’ game with massive follower numbers? It is a complicated game, sure, but kids learn fast, and many of the world’s greatest players started before they could legally drive or smoke. If Fortnite really is to be the ‘gateway to esports’ that FIFA claimed to be for years, this is the time to start taking some of the next generation and offering them a taste of what esports meant pre-Ninja, as that is good for both the game and the scene.