Finding out the root causes in the problems surrounding the amateur scene in Dota 2. From individual players to Valve, it’s going to take a communal effort to make things right.
What is tribalism?
Tribalism is a critical factor in any sports organizations success. The most valuable asset to any organization, is not their brand, their administration, or their players. It is their fans. Fans fill out arenas, fans are what attract sponsors, and fans push tournament organizers to directly invite a team, regardless of how they are performing.
Its well documented that traditional sports have extremely tribalistic fans. Using soccer (football) as an example, there are severe cases of tribalism in various teams fan bases. If someone is born into a family that supports a certain club, they are conditioned to supporting that club, and naturally, treat the club as their own. When discussing last Sunday’s game with their peers, soccer fans will refer to their teams as “we”, rather than “they”. For example, “we did really well on the second half, we did great!”. In comparison, Dota 2 specifically does not have these phenomena at all. A Team Secret fan would say: “Secret dominated the competition last night, they were great!” rather than “We dominated the competition last night, they were great!”.
How does tribalism develop?
To break down why this is, let’s treat organizations and players as 2 different entities. On one end of the spectrum, there are players like Suma1l, Puppey, and Nota1l, who have been in their respective organizations for a very long time. Their names become synonymous with their team. Think back to Dendi before he departed from NaVi. However, on the other end, there are players like Eternal Evy, PieLieDie, and Lil who are notorious team hoppers; they will leave their organization after having the slightest set-back. But what is it that keeps players contracted to the same organization? Tournament wins.
There is a strong correlation between the duration a player continues to play for an organization and his performance in tournaments. Almost every TI winning team does this. NaVi, EG, Liquid, OG, and Alliance, all had TI winning players that stuck with their respective organizations for years after having the inevitable “post TI slump”. This is not due to teams having the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, these players feel obligated to play for these organizations since they have made their identity synonymous with them.
What makes a team have a tribalistic fan base?
Let’s explore Optic Gaming and their debut into Dota. Optic was a team that had absolutely no history or presence in Dota 2, but thousands of optic gaming fans migrated their way to the Dota 2 ecosystem regardless, proving that esports fans have the potential to be tribal. Optic Gaming’s Call of Duty roster has players that have been around since 2014, and their CS:GO roster has had minimal roster swaps as well. It just makes it easier to be an Optic fan, knowing that your favorite player will stick with his organization. Not only that, they are a consistently top placing team.
As a rule of thumb, if a team has both prestige (tournament wins/high placings) and personalities (long-lasting players), they are automatically a fan favorite. All popular teams have these two qualities. If they don’t, they will never build a loyal fan base.
Tribalism in Dota
Dota 2 is incredibly behind in terms of team organizations building loyal fan bases. Just recently, Team Secret, OG, Evil Geniuses, Virtus Pro and Team Liquid have built a loyal fan base. However, amateur teams have non-existent fan bases, with the exception of Alliance, which was an already established organization since April of 2013. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Ad Finem was a team that performed well in only one tournament in their entire existence, yet attracted many sponsorships because they have loyal fan bases that supported the players. Although Ad Finem has disbanded, if a handful of amateur teams had the same fan power as them, sponsors will have more incentive to fund them.
The problem with NA Dota
North American Dota is currently the biggest topic of discussion amongst community members. Why exactly is NA Dota so underwhelming compared to other regions? Jimmy DeMoN ho posted this tweet, and brought to light a severe issue in the North American amateur scene. Players egos get in the way of team development, and players would rather jump ship than continue to persevere and fix any problems amongst themselves. This stems from NA pub culture, where toxicity was glorified by high profile personalities such as RTZ. Why would a company sponsor a team when five players refuse to stick together for more than a couple weeks?
Up and coming professional players would rather grind thousands of games in the solo queue ladder, rather than actually play with a stack of others to build team skills. If this trend continues, then every player in the next five years will be extremely mechanically skilled, but a weak team player. Fixing this ideology will not only set up the next generation of Dota 2 players to success but also attract fans to follow a group of 5 underdog players on their climb to the top. This, in turn, will attract sponsors knowing that every time this stack of 5 players play in a certain tournament, a small handful of viewers will watch, and that’s all sponsors need to fund a team.
Alliance, a soon to be fan favorite
Alliance has rebuilt their roster and after many underwhelming performances, they are finally finding their stride. Alliance, without a doubt, will join the aforementioned list of teams with loyal fan bases very quickly. Not to imply that Alliance will be tier 1 anytime soon, but they have a group of 5 guys that are easy to cheer for, and are the underdogs to look out for in minors, and soon to be majors if all goes well for them. Unfortunately, the large majority of amateur players will not follow Alliances example in this matter.
eL lisasH’s account of the amateur scene
The lower tiers of Dota’s professional scene is struggling. Ex-captain of team Kinguin gave his thoughts on the issue, and shed some light on what it takes to be a tier 2+ player. In the past, it was somewhat financially viable to organize an amateur tournament and players would be able to live comfortably with their modest salaries. eL lisasH pointed out that his “earnings this season is ~~1300 euro + pack of beers, earnings last season ~~40k USD earnings during ATN (Team Alternate) (and) Team Singularity seasons ~~15K USD”. Tournament Organizers are less inclined to make Majors and Minors, because the return on interest in very low compared to previous seasons. There are simply too many tournaments happening, and there’s absolutely no end product. The tier 1 scene is critically saturated, and the amateur scene is paying the price for it.
Sponsors have no incentive to fund amateur tournaments because no one will watch them. Dota 2 from its birth was incredibly top heavy. Only the tournaments with the biggest prize pools were watched on Twitch, only the top placing teams made good money, and only the top-ranked players had viewers on Twitch. There is no presence for anything mid-range in Dota, its only the best or nothing at all. The root cause of this goes back to the whole philosophy of TI. The tournament must have the HIGHEST prize pool, and the HIGHEST viewer counts, with only the BEST teams of the year. Using TI as a headline-generating spectacle rather than a true representation of Dota.
What does TI have to do with the amateur scene?
Every year valve injects a fraction of user-generated funds via the compendium into the TI prize pool. The system is set up so that the prize pool surpasses the previous years respective pool. Valve, of course, does not mention this in any fine print, but it is implied, Valve must have the highest prize pool of the year. It’s become a meme in the community, where if the previous years prize pool is not surpassed, then the game is dead; which is an incredibly toxic state of mind, but it did not start that way. In the past, Valve would set stretch goals for how much money was raised. For example, if X amount was reached, then a certain cosmetic would be given to all Compendium owners. However, in the back of every player’s mind, was the ultimate stretch goal, being the last Internationals prize pool.
The reason as to why this is probably the biggest hindrance to the growth of Dota’s amateur scene is because TI is glorified as being the end all be all tournament and that TI is the only tournament that matters. In reality, if a portion of TI’s prize pool was injected into funding proper amateur level tournaments, to be organized by independent Tournament Organizers, there would be fewer problems with the amateur scene. There are conflicting interests when it comes to this because if that does happen, TI will no longer have a larger prize pool than the previous year. A simple solution would be to cap the prize pool, and all remaining proceeds go into nurturing the scene.
The fact of the matter is…
Dota simply does not have the appropriate funds to grow further and develop a strong amateur community. Tier 2+ players have devoted their lives to making a living competing in Dota 2, and most of them simply cannot sustain themselves doing so. The lack of tribalism in Dota 2 is a key issue for a game that has been around for nearly a decade. People want to cheer for an underdog, but there just aren’t any underdogs worth cheering for right now. It’s time Valve made an investment to the next generation of players, and for all veteran players to set a good example for our young stars. If Dota 2 is to have as rich as a competitive scene as it currently does, then changes need to be made.