Kacy: Sumail, what’s your motivation?
This quote from Suma1l rubs me the wrong way even some 2 years later. It was possibly the most disrespectful showing of him that I’ve ever witnessed, and that’s saying something! The more I pondered on Suma1l’s comment, the more I came to terms with the fact that this philosophy was nothing more than a symptom to a serious underlying problem in Dota 2 esports.
The ecosystem that we are presented with is not a natural manifestation of how Dota 2 should have developed. It was meticulously morphed into something toxic and wholly undesirable. We set our own arbitrary standards every single year, just to show that we are “growing”. Only for us to dovVal it once more the year after. I am sick and tired of seeing any headline saying “TI prize pool surpassed the last!”. TI may have been birthed off of revolutionarily high prize pools, but it was never the focus, and it never should have been.
What is TI without prize pools?
Suma1l was wrong, simply put. Players don’t play for the insanely excessive prize pools, they play because it’s TI. Is TI TI because of the large prize pools? Absolutely not, just take a look at the Valve events of yesteryear. We have gone miles past the point of diminishing returns when it comes to prize pools, and we continue to use medieval and archaic methods to distribute it. This needs to stop.
In technical terms, that means capping TI’s prize pool probably wouldn’t necessarily diminish the quality of the tournament. We have had incredible non-TI tournaments, with a fraction of the funding and prize pools. Why did they work exactly? Players played for the win, the money came after.
I realize that this is probably a naive rationalization, considering that a major problem in Dota 2 and esports, in general, is just how top-heavy it is. The fact is that inequality is inevitable, and without external forces, it will take over the entire scene. “Winner takes all” should not be the goal, this is a given fact of how communities manifest. Instead, “Winner takes most, with reason” should be applied.
So how do we solve this issue with the lower tier teams? They simply can’t function with a lack of tournaments, since they get paid laughably low salaries. This is due to a number of reasons, be that “ExClUsIvItY” or what have you. Instead, I would like to pose an alternate explanation. Lower tier teams don’t stick together, due to instability. Instability caused due to uncertainty of the future, which goes hand in hand with financial security.
If teams are able to stick together, people will watch them. Dota is distinctly lacking in one essential quality, and that is Tribalism. Of course, you shouldn’t have too much tribalism, though in sport, tribalism is good! Tribalism means that you watch your favorite team, because you identify with that team. No matter how well or poorly they are doing, you will continue to watch them. If Dota and esports as a whole can disconnect itself from the philosophy of; “only the best teams deserve watch time”, we’d have a lot less problems.
Seeing Team Secret play against OG is nothing other than a spectacle. And I say “spectacle” in a rather derogatory tone. This is because they are simply too good, for the average viewer to relate to. Teams like this are close to perfection, and nobody actually likes perfection. The single best memories of me watching Dota, was seeing incredible runs from Dark Horse teams. For example, Ad Finem will always have a special place in my heart, because that team was sloppy, imperfect, and intense. They had their own fans, and their own culture. We need more teams like Ad Finem. AWOO AWOO AWOO
Dropping like flies
Yet Ad Finem disbanded, for one reason or another. So did Wings, Complexity, Cloud9, and Optic. How can we as a community let this happen? Teams should not just “disband”, there is a lot more to a roster than just the players. There is the org, the fans, the sponsors, the viewers. Disbands should not happen anywhere near as regularly as they do. But they do, and I blame nothing other than the propensity for teams to play for the craziest prize pools, rather than play for the privilege and glory of being professional players. With an org, fans, sponsors, and viewers that genuinely care about them.
And this is no fault to the players, or the orgs or any single entity. This is simply what it looks like to be a starving artist. Things get messy and ugly. And we never truly appreciate the art until the artist is long gone.
We say we were outraged but were we really?
A call to end the Anarchic approach
I have one simple, and grand proposal to hopefully put an end to all the issues plaguing not just Dota 2, but esports in general. The case of Dota 2, is a result of extremely (and I mean extremely) minimal attention from governing 3rd party forces. The year is 2020 and teams still get scammed out of prize money, professional dota player work insane hours for below minimum wage rates, and we get traumatizing stories from people ala the #metoo movement. We operate like this, in exchange for nothing but the absolute privilege of freedom that is granted to us by Valve. Freedom is great, but too much freedom is not.
This entire blog post is guided under a singular request, to “Big Esport”; whoever that may be. Take ESL for example, a massive and established industry leader in esports. They are known to be extremely competent in the field of the tournament organization and are simply one of the most influential organizations in all of esports. They, along with other entities in “Big Esport” have the capacity to act as intermediaries that operate in the interest of safety and security for the players, as well as introduce responsible and long-term policies.
Valve was our intermediary. But Valve is focused on Steam, and they have no direct interest on whether Dota is successful or not. This may seem counter-intuitive, as Valve owns Dota, and as long as Dota is making tons of money, they’re happy! Apply the same logic and it would be a rational statement to say that providing extra attention to Dota would be a win-win. But here’s the kicker: Valve, is not motivated by money, at least, not in the way you think. If Dota 2 dies tomorrow, Valve could care less financially. Sure, Dota’s success is directly proportional to Valves interest, but they are mutually exclusive. Not to mention, just how one-sided the relationship is!
The point that I am trying to make here is, that Valve is not qualified to be the judge, jury, and executioner of this game. They have no interest in allowing the competitive scene to flourish, and to regulate the flow of money between the teams.
Rose Tinted Glasses
In my opinion, Dota peaked at TI6, and has been steadily deteriorating over time. To this day, I can’t quite put my finger on what is different today in comparison to 4 years ago. The game seems balanced as it ever was, tournaments still happen from time to time, and so on and so forth. But the overall quality and prestige that the “Dota 2” brand carried with it died. Think back to the 3 Major system, every tournament really mattered. Though of course, this is nothing but a case of rose-tinted glasses.
Dota’s initial problem was that third party organizers like ESL could not compete with the prize pools offered at Valve events. So Valve ultimately decided to shift all the tournaments to third parties apart from TI. This was the point in history where Valve essentially severed all ties with the professional scene. Has this actually solved this problem? Or has Dota 2 become more inequal since that change?
A couple of days ago, I read that some 80% of all prize money is in the pockets of 10 players. Whether or not this is true, this is nothing but an unfortunate symptom of an overtly broken system. There must be an unbiased third-party organization keeping funds in check, one that enforces minimum wage policies to players, to completely revamp how specific issues are handled on a case by case basis. So that we don’t ever have to hear about players getting scammed out of winnings, players living in dire circumstances, or yet another metoo movement.
Once more, this is a call to end the anarchic system that has developed. The problems that Dota 2 is facing are not unique problems and have been dealt with millions of times before. Valve are not motivated by money, but they are allergic to effort. And all it takes to fix Dota 2 is a little bit of effort.