Valve's marquee esports event, The International 10 has recently made a new record, becoming the biggest tournament in the history of esports in terms of prize money. Armed with the TI10 Battle Pass, the Dota 2 community pushed the prize pool of the tournament to well over $34 Million USD. On the surface, the state of the Dota 2 Pro circuit (DPC) and the Dota 2 esports scene might look rosy and bright.
However, underneath all the hype, there is a growing problem. Valve has essentially shut down its support for the Dota 2 esports scene since March 2020.
The Cancellation of The DPC, The Postponement of TI10 and Valve’s Inaction
It all began in March 2020, when Valve decided to cancel the ESL One: Los Angeles 2020 Major after the increasing number of lockdowns across the world and the accompanying travel restrictions.
They followed this up by canceling the Epicenter Major and postponing The International 10 indefinitely. Shortly after the final major of the season also announced its cancellation, effectively bringing the scheduled DPC season to an end.
On 30th April 2020, in a blog post Valve stated that they were “working on restructuring the DPC season for the fall.” It has been over four months since then. To put it bluntly, apart from launching the Dota 2 Battle Pass for TI10 (a tournament that doesn’t even have a tentative schedule at the moment), Valve hasn’t done anything for the Dota 2 esports scene during this time period.
On 25th August 2020, in an update posted on Twitter, Valve stated that they still can’t commit to new dates for TI10 and the DPC.
What Happened to The Promised Regional DPC Leagues?
Initially, Valve was scheduled to launch a new Dota 2 Pro Circuit system featuring regional leagues after the conclusion of The International 10. It was supposed to divide the year into three seasons and distribute teams in six regional leagues. With weekly broadcast exposure and the possibility for a year-long plan that would give teams the chance to earn a spot at The International 2021, this was lauded by many in the community as the savior of the Tier 2-3 Dota 2 ecosystem. Many believed that this system would provide monetary support for those players and teams who were a few notches below the best, allowing them to continue pursuing competitive Dota 2 as a career without having to worry about income for sustenance.
One would presume that the time was ripe for such online leagues, considering the fact that most of the players are currently under lockdown and will be unable to travel to LAN tournaments. However, after the cancellation of the DPC, Valve doesn’t seem like they’ve taken any steps to address these matters.
After months of inaction Valve’s part, the bigger Dota 2 organizations like Team Secret, OG, and Evil Geniuses had to take matters into their own hands to host the Omega League for which they joined hands with tournament organizers WePlay! and Epic Events. Valve has not offered any noticeable support to this tournament.
Esports Organizations Are Bleeding
With months of inactivity, and no clear signs of the DPC resuming, Dota 2 teams are steadily becoming unsustainable. A report published by VPEsports presents a dire scenario in the Chinese Dota 2 scene. Without a structure in place, the Tier 2 Chinese Dota 2 is clouded in uncertainty and unpredictability. This is an unfamiliar situation that it hasn’t encountered in years following the introduction of the DPC system.
In the SEA region, teams have already started cutting their losses. Singaporean organization, Reality Rift has already shut down its Dota 2 operations for the time being, with the uncertainty about the circuit playing a significant part in this decision. In an statement to AFK Gaming, Ilya Vlasov (CEO & Co-founder - Reality Rift) said that "if there was a more solid and transparent story with the whole cycle announced", things might have turned out different for the organization.
However, he does understand Valve's point of view from a business perspective.
"I can't judge for another company who has its own strategy and priorities. It seems that esports it's just not a core thing for them, which I can understand from business point of view. Of course, in ideal world, they should've put efforts in growing the scene (Riot is a good example of how things should be done). But again, if esports is not a priority, then why would they spend resources on it if they can spend it somewhere else?"
Many other Tier 2-3 organizations might follow suit, sooner or later with the absence of any form of communication from Valve.
Eric Khor, Team Director at Fnatic spoke to us about this, stating:
“The lack of information on when a structured ecosystem could happen severely impact(s) most organizations' bottom lines, which could lead to the decay of the competitive scene, especially in developing regions.”
The Problem With A Prize Money Focussed Esports Scene
Dota 2 as an esport is quite unique. The International and the DPC Majors/Minors pay out a disproportionately large amount of prize money compared to other tournaments. This TI/Major heavy circuit has possibly led to organizations building business models that may have inadvertently begun to rely on prize pools. Due to this, when the prize pool tap gets plugged like with the current scenario, organizations tend to suffer financially more in Dota than in any other esport.
This could also explain the focus on performance versus brand building when compared to teams in other esports like League of Legends or even CS:GO.
It is no secret that the Dota 2 player base continues to decline.
Valve announced its plans to address this decline with a promised revamp of “the new player experience” in October 2019. It has been almost ten months since then, there still hasn’t been any progress on that part. The overwhelming first-time experience for new Dota 2 players has prevented many from picking up the game. Without new players, the potential viewership will plateau and eventually fall, which in turn might lead to the beginning of the end of Dota 2 esports.
We cannot help but compare this to how other titles like League of Legends, Call of Duty, Rocket League, PUBG Mobile, or even Mobile Legends have handled their esports scenes during the last few months. The esports scenes in these titles are thriving, with viewership hitting record new heights during the same time period.
Valve’s continued silence only serves to harm the active esports scene that they’ve built with the community over the many years and it’s high time that the community stopped giving it a free pass.