Valve is in the middle of hosting The International 3
, a DOTA2 tournament with the largest E-Sport prize pool in history - over $2.8 million dollars to be given out this weekend. This coincides with the official launch of DOTA2 itself, which saw player activity spike to over 500,000 concurrent users
and 5.7 million unique monthly users. The game launched to wide acclaim, scoring an 89 on Metacritic
, praised for its deep and rewarding multiplayer action [Gamespot]
and "true" free to play model, where all gameplay elements are fully unlocked for everyone [Destructoid]
- possibly the only competitive free-to-play game that is totally uncompromised by its business model. [PCGAMER]Origins
Quintin Smith from Rock Paper Scissors says DOTA could never have surfaced from a commercial games development studio
- the weird and at times completely counter-intuitive game is a result of natural evolution, and not deliberate design - and may in fact be responsible for this game's surprising longevity. DOTA is a one man mod project started in 2003 by Eul, with leadership passing to Guinsoo in 2004 and then to Icefrog in 2005, who remains the sole developer until today. Icefrog is famously reclusive and does not communicate with the community at all, only emerging to update the game and introduce balance changes - his Wikipedia page
is only a few lines long and contains virtually everything the internet knows about him. Even his real name is unknown. In 2011, Valve announced they were collaborating with Icefrog to produce DOTA2, a free to play update of DOTA.
Valve's monetization strategy is also unique, being heavily community focused. Anyone can create cosmetics for the game, submit them to the in-game Steam Workshop
for rating by the community - if it receives enough votes, and follows the extensive in-game art guidelines [PDF]
, it becomes available in game for purchase by other players, with the original creator receiving a 25% cut of all sales. In Team Fortress 2, another Valve free to play game, content creators have received over 10 million dollars
for their contributions, and it's expected that the DOTA2 community will very quickly eclipse that. Valve has their own in-house artists, of course, but they cannot compete
with the talent of the community, with several individuals earning over $100k per year just from item royalties. Individual artists can develop a cult following, for example, Stephanie, a freelance animator from Australia
who created several iconic and recognizable item sets in DOTA2 today. Valve's community support doesn't just extend to artists - it provides a mechanism by which tournament organizers can set up their own tournaments and sell viewing tickets
, in order to cover costs and provide prizes and logistics for players. Tournaments are watchable from within the in-game client, complete with audio commentary from multiple languages, and the ability to take control of the camera, watch the game through any commentator's screen, or even watch from any of the 10 players' perspective, providing an unrivalled level of control for the viewer and cutting bandwidth requirements to a fraction of what it would normally take to view a high definition stream. Players can purchase "Team Pennants"
to support the team they are rooting for. Even the International 2013 is partially crowd-funded - sales of the digital Compendium
have increased the size of the prize by over 1.2 million dollars.
The Road to TI3
The Group Stages are over, and the competition for the $2.8 million prize money has begun in earnest. But first, a retrospective of how we got here - notable games in the lead up to the TI3.
The last International, held in 2012, told the story of Chinese domination of the DOTA2 scene. When the dust settled, 5 of the top 8 teams in the world were from China - IG, LGD, TongFu, DK, and EHOME. Na'vi, the 2011 International winner, was the sole Western representation in the top 8. The remaining 2 teams - Zenith and Orange - were from Singapore and Malaysia respectively. Some were worried that this heralded an era of Chinese and SEA domination of the game, much in the same way that Korea dominates the Starcraft scene.
They were wrong. 2013 saw the emergence of new threats from the West - in particular, a newly formed Swedish team called The Alliance. They flew to China and defeated all the Chinese giants in a clean sweep at the G1 LAN finals. Their unorthodox playstyle - more popular among Western teams - is based on running a tri-core lineup, with 3 core heroes that get moderate amounts of gold and experience. This contrasted sharply against the preferred Eastern strategy of "4 protect 1", where they focus all the gold and experience on one single core hero. The Chinese had shown their hand in 2012, now it was the time for the Swedes to show theirs. The grand final match of the G1 LAN Final between LGD and Alliance was stomp, with LGD trying a variety of ineffective plays, never managing to find their footing. [VOD]
The Alliance have rapidly become a fan favourite around the world, with a penchant for utilizing surprising strategies - like taking on a challenge during the EMS Raidcall One Summer Cup tournament against iNfernity to win the game within 10 minutes [VOD]
, or daring to run double stealth heroes against EG during The Defense 4 where they pick Riki and Bounty Hunter [VOD]
or coming up with an unstoppable level 1 Roshan strategy against DK during the G1 LAN Finals 2013. [VOD]
Other teams to watch for - Team DK still have the arguably the best Carry player in the world on their team - Burning. They epitomize the "4 protect 1" strategy, with the entire team working in perfect harmony to maximize the gold and experience gain on Burning. They turned in a stellar performance at the D2SL Semifinals, where Burning managed to farm a full 6 slot inventory in 30 minutes and proceeded to immediately end the game against their helpless opponents. [VOD]
Na'vi, the winner of the 2011 International and runner's up in 2012, remain a firm fan favourite because of their extremely aggressive tactics and spectacular plays. They often feature unorthodox and risky strategies, like running Pudge mid [VOD]
in the 2013 International group stage on Monday against LGD, winning the game in 15 minutes. They ran Windrunner mid against RoxKis in The Defense 4, winning the game in only 12 minutes [VOD]
. They recently beat the Alliance at the Starladder Season 6 in a highly anticipated game with relentless aggression led by with Dendi on his signature mid Puck. [VOD]
. Funnik, their off-laner, also makes waves when he gets to play Bone Clinkz - one of the only players in the competitive scene to play that hero - as seen when Na'vi beat LGD at the Alienware cup, where Funnik's Bone Clinkz terrorized the entire LGD team. [VOD]
And of course, The Play
they made in the 2012 International has forever been immortalized in the annals of DOTA2 history.
IG, the winners of the 2012 International, have been in a slump recently - but they managed to take a game off Na'vi in the Alienware Cup when they completely outsmarted Na'vi in the draft stage, forcing Na'vi into a very unfavourable laning position, proving you can win the game before it even starts. [VOD]
The results of the TI3 group stage on Monday continue to tell a similar story
with Na'vi (11-3) and Alliance (14-0) topping their respective groups. But as we head into the playoffs - this year's TI3 will be anyone's game to win.
The main event will run for the next 4 days until Sunday, with games starting at 12 noon Seattle time. Matches are free to watch in the DOTA2 client, or on the official Twitch streaming channel.