The ESL One Los Angeles conundrum with China


The ESL One Los Angeles conundrum with China
  • The recent outbreak of the Coronavirus in China has pushed the US to tighten its borders. This spells potential disaster for Valves DPC should Chinese teams be unable to compete in certain tournaments. ESL One LA is set to be the first of many tournaments this season to fall victim to this issue.

What is the DPC?

The DPC or Dota Pro Circuit, is a season-long marathon of Major and Minor tournaments, that sport massive prize pools, and an opportunity to get invited to The International. Every tournament placement in DPC tournaments net you valuable points, which are represented in this leaderboard. The top 12 teams are given a one-way ticket to TI at the end of the year. Every season has a set amount of tournaments, and theoretically, every team has equal opportunity to participate in them. This means that this system is an integral, fair and critical measure of a team’s performance in a given season. Once external pressure interferes with a team’s ability to participate in the DPC, the system is no longer fair, and essentially is pointless.

The Dota Pro Circuit
Source: Valve

The recent outbreak of the Coronavirus raised many eyebrows in the esports scene. Historically, professional players struggled with obtaining visas to compete in international tournaments. Recently, there have been some strides in simplifying the process, via granting esports players an “Athletes” visa, similar to a typical Olympian or Football player. Despite this, there are still cases to this day where players are unable to attend certain Lans, especially from developing 3rd world countries. However, for the first time, the most prominent Dota entity may be negatively affected.

China

A quick recap of China’s involvement in Dota 2 esports. China has been one of the most dominant regions in the entirety of Dota 2’s history. Since the first International in Luxemburg, all the way to last years TI9 in Shanghai, they have been major contenders. Recently, however, the region has struggled to maintain its former glory, as Chinese teams have had relatively lackluster results in recent years. Here is a piece of Dota folklore to explain China’s significance in Dota. Until TI7, Chinese teams won every other TI; TI2, 4, and 6 have all been won by a Chinese team. Essentially, for the longest time, the narrative in Dota was China vs the world. Today, it seems that Europe has taken that mantle, as the last 3 TI’s have been won with European teams.

On the other side of things, a noteworthy fact is that China dominates the Dota 2 player and viewer base. Obtaining valid and reliable statistics on the Chinese demographic is very difficult, but for reference, the TI9 tournament peaked at over 1 million English viewers.

North America and ESL

North America has had a Lan drought for the last 2 years. The once-dominant region used to house the most prestigious tournament of them all, TI. Unfortunately, since 2018, Seattle’s Key Arena (the TI stadium) has undergone renovations that are set to be completed in the summer of 2021.  This meant that there was no “default” North American tournament, a region that is essentially the birthplace of Dota. The reason for such a drought is not completely understood, however, a combination of NA’s relatively low player base, strict entry requirements, and costs for venue and accommodation resulted in low strategic value to run a tournament there.

ESL has done a wonderful job of running god-tier tournaments in all sorts of countries around the world. Unfortunately, Valves monetary policy with DPC tournament has pushed ESL away from organizing a “DPC” tournament, but they haven’t shied away from organizing their own independent tournaments. This made ESL a prime candidate to organizing the first North American DPC Major Tournament (what a mouthful!) in years. From Birmingham to Katowice, to Hamburg, to Los Angeles. Not only would this tournament mark the first ESL DPC tournament in history, nor the first North American DPC tournament, but the first North American Dota 2 tournament period in years!

That sounds great… but is it really?

On February 1st, 2020, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ban all individuals who had been to China from entering the United States. This posed a major problem for Chinese teams, as they will have no means of participating in tournaments in North America. This has left personalities to ponder a potential solution to this issue, but so far none have been made.

As stated earlier in this article, it’s important to understand the function and mythos of the DPC and what it represents. The DPC is meant to be a place of equal opportunity for all teams to compete in. The big issue with this is that China, although is only a singular country, is considered to be the biggest region in the Dota 2 ecosystem. If Chinese teams will be unable to participate in such a critical tournament of the year (Major), then that raises questions to the integrity of the DPC. Another important fact to realize is that no one is particularly at fault for this matter. A set of unfortunate circumstances led to a potentially devastating blow to Dota 2 and esports in general.

Potential solutions?

Disregarding China for a moment, should the region be unable to compete at the tournament, that leaves 3 to 4 potential open slots that need to be filled. In a podcast with PPD and Grandgrant, Mason proposed awarding every team in the StarLadder Imba Minor (the winner of a Minor tournament gets a direct invite to that seasons subsequent Major tournament) a “bump up” to fill in the 4 remaining slots. Grandgrant argued that reintroducing a “wildcard” (an arbitrarily selected set of teams to compete) would be more appropriate. But PPD reinstated that this is too damaging to the “integrity of the DPC”, and another solution should be found. He adopted a more defeatist approach, in “we’re f*cked!”.

The reality of the situation, as PPD stands by, is that it is ultimately unfair if China is unable to compete in a Major tournament. Unless by some miracle the travel ban is lifted, or some new effective precautionary measure is introduced to increase leniency for a few special cases, then the tournament may be postponed. Perhaps the Chinese team’s management could figure out a “loophole” to legally enter the country, it’s not completely clear at this time.


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