I never really had a taste for competitive gaming mostly because my less than stellar Internet connection usually put me at a disadvantage for any game that I played. Even after I remedied that I still found shied away from them, fearing that I’d simply end up losing game after game, never to make any progress. Starcraft II changed that however and I found myself deeply engrossed in ladder play, feverishly battling my way through opponents in the hopes I could make it to the top. That faded over time as my interest turned towards DOTA2 and much to my surprise I’m still horribly addicted to it. This has then evolved into a love for all things about the game including the competitive scene, something which I’d never thought I’d find myself interested in. Of all the tournaments and events that happen over the year none compare to the spectacle that is The International, a DOTA2 tournament hosted by Valve themselves.
I was only tangentially aware of the first 2 Internationals having been a keen DOTA AllStars fan back in the day and one of the many wanting an invite to the beta but was yet to be in possession of one. They made headlines for their gigantic prize pools for a game that was still relatively unknown, a cool $1 million for the first place winner. For pro gamers that’s an incredible amount of money, more than many other tournaments in more established eSports scenes, and is enough to sustain an entire team for a long time. On the surface it appeared to be just another marketing tactic by Valve to get people interested in the game but since its introduction 3 years ago The International has taken on a life of its own, becoming the standard for eSports events across the world.
Last year however Valve did something curious, the released a compendium (an in game item) for $10, $2.50 of which would go directly into the prize pool that would be awarded to the players. The result was incredible, players and supporters of teams alike contributed over $1.2 million to the prize pool which saw The International retake its crown as the largest prize pool eSports tournament. Valve, looking to replicate the success of last year’s tournament, released another compendium for this year’s The International as well with the same price point and contribution levels.
The results speak for themselves: yesterday the prize pool exceeded $6 million and it’s not stopping there.
For fans and players a like this is a great thing as it means that teams that even place in 7th or 8th will likely have enough funds behind them to sustain them throughout the year. Being a pro gamer isn’t as flashy as it sounds and there are some costs that simply can’t be avoided (like flights, not to mention the basics of living). For fans this means a bigger, much more well produced event which judging by last year’s standards will make it nothing short of incredible.
I’m incredibly excited as what this year’s The International will bring as we get to see the top tier talent of DOTA2 duke it out for the biggest prize pool in eSports history. Every year Valve has stepped up their game and this year looks to be no exception with the live floor moving to a much larger arena and the production crew swelling their ranks considerably. As someone who never really understood sports growing up I now know what it feels like for sports fans when grand finals time approaches and I simply can’t wait for it.
It was almost a decade ago when I got my first taste of real competitive gaming. Living 45 minutes outside Canberra meant that online gaming was usually out of my reach, except for that one precious weekend that came around every month or so when ACTGN was on. Coming into this world was slightly alien for me, having been a computer shut in most of my life with no one to share the experience with. The idea then that people would compete against each other for prizes was also rather foreign, but I happily competed even though I was sure I’d never be good enough to actually win anything (although in a team I eventually did, but that’s another story).
After a while I started to hear about tournaments on a more grander scale than just the local events I was accustomed to. The first one I can ever remember hearing about was the World Cyber Games which is in essence the Olympics for video games. It was amazing to think that games had reached that level where international competitors would face off against each other and I can remember catching fleeting glimpses of TV coverage of the events, fantasizing about what it would be like to be there. Then as ACTGN died a slow and painful death so did my interest in the competitive gaming scene and I hadn’t really paid much attention to it since then.
However my recent obsession with StarCraft II started to draw me back to this intriguing world. I had known that the tournament scene had grown considerably since I was last obsessed with it (I had heard rumours of 2 Korean TV channels dedicated to eSports broadcasting, amongst other things) but I really had no feel for how popular eSports was. One weekend though a friend sent me a link to the MLG Pro Circuit site where there was going to be a live broadcast of a StarCraft 2 tournament over the weekend. After tuning in and watching it for all of 5 minutes I was hooked and I’ve been deeply engrossed in the eSports circuit ever since.
Initially though I still thought it of somewhat of a niche phenomena, something that was isolated to StarCraft thanks to its insane popularity in Korean. However as time went on some really interesting statistics started to cross my path that started to change my mind. One of my friends and work colleagues is a big player of the free to play hero defence game, League of Legends. Just recently one of the tournaments, which was broadcast online, pulled in a whopping 1.7 million viewers with a peak concurrent viewership of 210,000. MLG is no slouch either shattering previous eSports viewership records with an astonishing 22.5 million stream viewers and 16,000 people in attendance at the actual event. When compared to traditional sports and TV shows those numbers are extremely impressive and shows just how big the eSports circuit has become.
And that’s when I realised what had awoken in me: my inner sports fan.
Being a stereotypical nerd I had never really been one for sports. There were ones that I enjoyed (I played basketball competitively for a good year or two) but I could never bring myself to watch more than 5 minutes of a game of anything before I became completely bored and wandered off to do something else. Even amongst my fellow geek friends that makes me something of an oddity as the vast majority of them enjoy sports in one form or another. There is one exception to this rule that I discovered back in 2004 and that is the Olympics, which I could watch for hours on end without getting bored in the slightest. I’d hardly call myself a fan of it though (since I rarely follow similar events outside of the actual Olympics) especially once I knew what being a real fan actually felt like.
eSports on the other hand captivates me in a much more holistic sense, seeing me seek out all the information I can get my grubby little hands on. For me the enjoyment is two fold: firstly I believe in doing so will make me a better player of the games that I so enjoy. From my own view it has as well with my StarCraft II game improving dramatically and a short stint of watching some of the Black Ops coverage on MLG had me changing my loadout and promptly kicking some serious ass. Secondly it’s just so damn enjoyable to watch other people play which is, I believe, what attracts sports fans to traditional sports.
Seeing games go from a simple distraction, to an underground culture and now to a mature medium that has a wildly successful competitive scene has been one of the most amazing things for me to behold. It seems that the passion of the gaming community is strong enough to bring what was once a fantastical idea into a reality, and one that’s not just a niche for the dedicated few. I’ve only just begun to tumble down this rabbit hole and I can see myself doing so for a long time to come as my inner eSports awakes from his near decade long slumber.