There’s been plenty of coverage surrounding Dota 2 lately. Why? Well, aside from being one of the MOBA genres biggest powerhouses, it has also played host to an international eSports tournament with a prize pool of over ten million dollars.
The International 4 Grand Final has just taken place with Chinese eSports giants NewBee and ViCi Gaming going head to head, the former team coming out victorious and winning the grand prize of $5 million, while the latter still getting the second place prize of almost $1.5 million. It’s not the level of skill on show, or perhaps not even the size of the cash pot, that will surprise many people, however: for me at least, it’s the turnout.
Seattle’s KeyArena usually plays host to legions of basketball and hockey fans as well as concert goers, the venue boasting a seating capacity of 17,000. Tonight, however, those seats are occupied by Dota fanatics, many of whom have travelled the globe just to watch ten young men hammer away at each other in a virtual fantasy world.
To some it may sound crazy though speaks to just how popular competitive online gaming is nowadays, even at the most complex end of the spectrum. To call Dota 2 complex though is a laughable understatement, it has to be said. Without wanting to get into any great detail, Valve’s spin on the MOBA genre is demanding and constantly updated with balances and new features.
Even after playing the game for some 200 hours, I still consider myself a novice. That’s not to say I’m particularly bad: my match history shows a close tie, tipping slightly in my favour. However, when watching The International, it often feels like I’m looking at a completely different game. Though I grasp the majority of what is happening, the amount of pre-meditation and number-crunching that goes into these matches beguiles me.
Despite its intimidating complexity, there is still a mass of human bodies flailing and whooping with each successful gank and cunning manoeuvre. Even during match preparation, where players select which heroes to use, every choice is met with cheers and shouts of surprise. Like any physical sport, Dota 2 also has its own personalities, team members being ambushed for autographs and selfies, homemade banners being flown in every direction.
Seeing all this unfold has taken me aback somewhat. Though never against the concept of eSports, I’ve just never really gotten behind the movement despite being an avid gamer myself. I find it hard enough to stay interested in real sport matches in which the players are actually present on the field and not sat behind a keyboard. However, seeing the fervour and adoration of Dota 2 fans has really got me thinking.
The eSports movement hasn’t just appeared overnight, nor is it likely to disappear in an instant. If The International 4 is anything to go by, the medium is thriving, creeping further and further into the mainstream. Where eSports will eventually end up, however, is another question. One day, in the near future, could we see Dota 2 and its ilk being broadcast on BBC or ITV? Though one part of me thinks “no, definitely not”, three or four years ago I would have said the exact same about Valve taking over the KeyArena.
Ultimately, the viability of eSports in mainstream culture hinges entirely on popularity and traffic numbers as well as accessibility. You don’t need to own a pair of football boots to kick back with friends and watch the Premier League, though the same can’t be said of Dota 2. Even the “newcomer-friendly” streams Valve broadcast from The International require a basic knowledge of the game, something which takes at least a good twenty or so hours of play to grasp. Needless to say, non-gamers tuned into Dota 2 would be absolutely clueless even if they were to sit through an entire match.
This could well change in the near future, however. Select matches from TI4 were broadcast online through ESPN 3 with a preview of the final even making it to TV channel ESPN 2. If accessibility is to grow, however, there needs to be some changes. This isn’t much of a problem though, given that Dota 2 is a piece of software and not a live event. Through simple tweaks such as dynamic camera angles and enhanced spectator options, the game could become more viewable while adjusting to each individual spectator, casual, hardcore, or otherwise.
Interested in playing Dota 2? The game is completely free to download through Steam. We’ll be posting some tips to get you started later in the week.