The International's importance goes well beyond just Dota 2.
The world’s largest eSports tournament ever, The International, just concluded on July 21st. It was a spectacle on many levels; whether it be a sold out arena, the massive prize pool, or the level of competition, the tournament was truly massive and an achievement in many different ways. With the dust finally settled a single question has arisen: why does this tournament matter? The unpacking of this question is simple, but it also speaks volumes about the gaming community as a whole.
Why Does The International Matter?
The answer to this question lies in exposure, legitimacy and community.
Until recently, eSports had been a sort of “underground network” that only hardcore players could utilize and fully appreciate, not a platform the millions of people would enjoy and happily support. Over time that has changed and eSports is gaining traction and popularity in circles that didn’t necessarily take the scene seriously beforehand (see Valve’s partnership with ESPN for The International). League of Legends’ LCS, for example, is sponsored by American Express and Coca-Cola Zero. These sponsors are no mistake; there’s money to be made in eSports and the time is now to jump on-board.
eSports is still going through a period of exponential growth, and as such it is difficult to gauge just how large the potential for growth remains. Valve seemingly attempted to gauge outside interest in events such as The International by partnering with the well-known sports broadcasting institution ESPN, even securing a time slot on ESPN2 to run a “Grand Finals Preview” segment (even though this segment was rather underwhelming). The coverage wasn’t completely well-received by some of the viewers who voiced their “outrage” through Twitter, although this was to be expected. ESPN on the other hand isn’t naive enough to ignore the monetary boon that proper eSports coverage would give them, but with Twitch and other viewing avenues that are already well-established, what need is there for ESPN?
The answer to this is legitimacy. The fact that ESPN recognized eSports as a profitable avenue to explore is enough to give eSports a new found legitimacy in the public eye. Whether the public as a whole respects eSports or not, they cannot deny the fact that there is a huge market for events such as The International, and that eSports is growing and thriving. The platform of eSports is profitable and it is in large corporation’s monetary interest to explore avenues to get connected into the eSports community.
Events like The International aren’t possible without the community, and that is what makes eSports such a unique platform. The communities of the games that have become cornerstones of eSports (League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty, etc) have had a large part in crafting the games that they know and love, and therefore have also shaped the foundation of eSports. This ecosystem creates a unique way for the average player to engage with the professional community.
What Valve has done with The International is found ways to gain exposure and legitimacy without sacrificing what has made events like this such a success in the first place, the community. The exposure may not always be completely positive, but that is expected with a “new” form of sporting breaking into the scene of traditional sports. These small moves, combined with community support, has allowed the gaming community to showcase that they take their games seriously, and that they can create some of the most memorable (and profitable) experiences that eSports, or even sports in general, have to offer.
With that being said, there’s always room for improvement in events as big as The International.
The biggest problem was the Grand Finals. NewBee won the best-of-five series with three games to Vici’s one. The problem wasn’t the amount of games played, it was the way they were played. The games were incredibly quick; the GG call was forced with relative ease from Vici as NewBee steamrolled them for three games straight. Player Daryl “iceiceice” Koh Pei Xiang even went as far as to say that “This was the worst finals for the people here.” To this end, I would agree with him. The finals were extremely underwhelming compared to previous years.
The International is heavily dependent on the players bringing top-notch new strategies (often referred to as “pocket strats”) to the tournament in a bid to surprise opponents and win games. An example of this would be the “well hooking” strategy pulled off by Na’Vi at last year’s International. These types of strategies often create a sense of wonderment or “How did they think of that?” moments among the viewers and reinforces the point that you are watching the best that Dota has to offer. This year didn’t really have too much of that other than Cloud 9 pulling out the Meepo pick against Vici. In the finals, it was a sub-par display from Vici, who refused to adopt any sort of different strategies to deal with NewBee counter-picking them at every turn. This cheapened the experience for viewers who expect to see picking and counter-picking from both sides, rather than one team sticking to their guns even in the face of crushing defeat. It goes to show that even Valve is completely dependent on the community and player-base, even at events this huge.
The ESPN2 broadcast had some interesting issues. The one that stuck out most was the audio problems throughout the special. At certain times the analyst’s microphones seemed to be topping out and creating static that accompanied their speech, and if you couple this with some interviews that had hard to hear questions and answers due to background noise, it made for an audio experience that detracted from the special as a whole. Personally I felt that there could have been a lot more done in that 30 minute window than was actually accomplished. While I love the fact that Valve secured time on a sports network for coverage, the coverage itself seemed to be almost half-baked.
Even with these issues, The International was incredibly successful, both as an event and as a moment for gaming. It is reinforcement that the gaming community is important. We hold great power in our hands to shape and influence the events and games that we play and see on a daily basis; hell, we just made five very lucky players millionaires at The International! This event showed the gaming community the power they possess in terms of our ability to shape the experiences that we all share together. It serves as a reminder to always stay passionate about the games and experiences we love, because without us, none of this is possible.
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