An Inside Look at How WePlay Esports Combined Dota 2 and Anime
Interview with Maksym Bilonogov, Chief Visionary Officer and General Producer at WePlay Esports
Fans have been treated to some exhilarating international Dota 2 action at the WePlay AniMajor, the second Dota 2 Major of the DPC 2021. In addition to the quality of the games, what’s equally intriguing is the extravagance of the tournament courtesy WePlay Esports. The organizer combined anime and Dota to create a fully themed event experience that includes fancy outfits, theme-based studio production, anime style media content, and much more. Over the last year, WePlay Esports has shown new ways to present esports competitions with events like a Cyberpunk theme in the WePlay! Dota 2 Tug of War: Mad Moon event and a Greek themed OMEGA League. And while Dota 2 is not particularly known for its theme-based tournaments, the WePlay AniMajor is another addition to the list of events by the organizer that’s (successfully) pushing the boundaries of the game’s esports scene.
Maksym Bilonogov, Chief Visionary Officer and General Producer at WePlay Esports is one of the key figures behind the anime-themed Major. We had a chance to interview him about how they brought together Anime and Dota 2.
The overlap between Dota 2 and Anime fandoms
The Major showcases anime in almost every aspect, making one wonder where the idea came from. Anime is very popular among the esports community, and when combined with the fact that it is a very rich theme, it helps to produce a very creative event.
“Anime and the Japanese culture in general are a bottomless source of inspiration for creative ideas and fun. For us, as tournament organizers, it is of great value due to the popularity of the genre among the esports community,” said Bilonogov.
He believes that it is possible for any two popular fandoms to come together successfully. This notion is evidenced by some of WePlay Esports' other events such as the Tug of War: Mad Moon tournament which combined Dota 2 with a Cyberpunk theme, or the Clutch Island event where CS:GO and adventure stories were blended together.
Further proof of the overlap between Dota 2 and anime fandoms comes via the popular Netflix series DOTA: Dragon’s Blood, which was trending in many countries and is more popular than most Netflix anime series, says Bilonogov.
How WePlay conceptualized and showcased the Anime theme of the Major
“For us, each new tournament is an original event with its philosophy, theme, and message,” explains Bilonogov. “To help viewers from all over the world immerse themselves in the tournament even when just watching online, we create all content in one style: from the supplementary visuals to studio decorations and crew outfits, and WePlay AniMajor is no exception.”
The outfits worn by the broadcast talent, along with the anime-themed studio have been among the main highlights of the AniMajor. Everything from the talent presentation and the event’s opening, to the playoffs had noticeable anime plotlines.
“Our broadcasting studio is made in a Japanese style: it resembles a pagoda — a tiered tower with multiple eaves common to Japan. The furniture inside is also made in an old-fashioned Japanese style with traditional colors of the region. The whole talent crew is dressed in outfits inspired by anime as a genre.”Maksym Bilonogov
In a series of recent tweets, Bilonogov mentioned that the entire studio setup had been completed within a month. In addition, he talked about how WePlay Esports successfully installed studio assets like statues.
Bilonogov added that in addition to all the macro aspects like set design and outfits, WePlay wanted to incorporate micro elements that would unify all their communication and promotion into one anime style.
“In the process of its development, the crew explored the visual techniques of Japanese culture: TV shows, street visual communication, advertising, and anime, of course,” said Bilonogov. “For example, the talent crew presentation, which was broadcast on the first tournament day, was made in the manner of an anime opening with music written by Owen “ODPixel” Davies.”
Bilonogov also mentions that the WePlay crew watched several anime to capture the true aesthetic and feel of the AniMajor. “To create a real anime tournament spirit, our production team watched the most popular and remarkable series of the genre — Naruto, One Piece, Demon Slayer, Attack on Titan, Tokyo Ghoul, Death Note, and others. An attentive tournament viewer will be able to notice some easter eggs to these famous anime series during the tournament,” he said.
DOTA: Dragon’s Blood’s influence on the WePlay AniMajor
In March 2021, Valve and Netflix partnered with South Korean animation studio Studio Mir along with some of the finest voice actors and production crew to release the first season of a game themed show called DOTA: Dragon’s Blood. The show which has been confirmed for a second season received a largely positive reaction and was trending in many SEA, CIS, and SA countries.
Since Valve had already explored the combination of Dota 2 with anime earlier, it was a possibility that this would have had some influence on WePlay Esports’ choice of the theme for this event. Bilonogov confirmed that Valve did influence the tournament, but not in the way that many would expect.
“Valve did influence the theme of our tournament with the release of the DOTA: Dragon's Blood. But I would like to point out that we pitched the anime theme to Valve as part of the Major even before we even knew about the Netflix series. We can say that they influenced our creative process by choosing our application among all those who applied to hold the Majors this DPC season.”Maksym Bilonogov
Bilonogov stated that, in addition to all of the anime mentioned earlier, DOTA: Dragon's Blood also had an influence on certain aspects of the tournament. Purple lotuses, easter eggs, and a color scheme based on the anime are prominent features of the WePlay AniMajor.
WePlay AniMajor was the second Dota 2 Major of the 2021 DPC and took place at the WePlay Esports Arena in Kyiv, Ukraine. 18 teams competed in the WePlay AniMajor with a total prize pool of $500,000 USD and 2,700 DPC points on the line. PSG.LGD convincingly defeated Evil Geniuses 3-0 in the grand finals to become the AniMajor champions.