Free Game No Bitching - An Opinion on Valve’s Notorious Silence Around Dota 2
It has been irking fans of Valve's flagship games, such as Dota 2 and CS:GO, to see the company respond lukewarmly or at times with silence to game updates and esports issues. The emotions that come along with such issues are oftentimes fleeting. They get put into words and then archived in a couple of Reddit threads. The fact that Dota 2 is free to play also means that many of these issues do not carry the weight that they should, as players tend to return to playing, and eventually things quiet down.
And while this approach has thus far been effective for Valve, it may not be sustainable. Now more than ever, Dota 2 fans are irate with the company's lack of communication over issues like the Supporters Club delay, the humdrum Nemestice Battle Pass, the unsettling Spectre Arcana, and more.
So when the community gets agitated more than ever before, issues pile up, and it feels like certain actions from Valve need to be taken to alleviate the agitation. One has to wonder - does Valve need a Dota 2 community manager?
Why is the Dota 2 community unhappy with Valve?
Before we get to opinions and possible solutions, it's important to take stock of what exactly the community is mad about. The next few paragraphs are meant to consolidate and summarize all the complaints in the recent past that have seemingly fallen upon deaf ears at Valve’s headquarters.
The Supporters Club Delay
Supporters Clubs were welcomed by both, the fans (who gained a means to support their teams), and the teams themselves (who received a new way to boost fan engagement and revenue). Since the Supporters Clubs of the first few teams were released in May 2021, there have been a couple more waves of additions, but a month passed by and yet many teams still waited on theirs.
Finally, towards the end of June, the Supporters Clubs fan bundles were added for 22 more teams, including those for teams that had raised their voices such as Into the Breach and No Bounty Hunter.
Into The Breach and No Bounty Hunter had taken to social media a week before this update to express their frustration, highlighting the incessant lack of communication by Valve. They claimed to have spent a lot of money on creating these bundles but Valve had not only failed to introduce them to the game but had also ignored their problems. Both teams alleged that they are not the only ones with such complaints and that other lower-tier teams are also waiting for a response from Valve.
The introduction of the Supporters Clubs could have been a financial boost for teams across all tiers considering 50% of the proceeds from the sales go to the team.
Speaking to AFK Gaming, Eduard, a representative of No Bounty Hunter, talked about the lost opportunity due to the Supporters Club delay.
Supporters Club revenue could be one of the main revenue sources for our team,” said Eduard. “Yes, we got 6th place in DPC Season 2 in EU Lower Division which granted us $7,000, however taking in consideration that the season lasts nearly 3 months (~6 weeks only regionals + Major) it's so hard to live with $7k / 5 players / 3 months. And this is simple math just for the players, not to add the (cost for) people that are helping the team to play at its maximum (manager, coach).
Some of the team’s players are around the age of 20 and are having a hard time justifying living with their parents and playing on a computer while being unable to earn enough to live by themselves. Eduard believes that Valve is taking steps in the right direction but is doing so half-heartedly. He explains that they are not able to commit to Dota 2 as a full-time profession but were happy when Valve introduced , which encompassed more tier 2-3 teams.
These Supporters Clubs are available only until The International 10 commences and every day of this month long delay came with an opportunity cost for both the teams and Valve.
Delays and communication lapses like these could also plant doubt in the minds of organizations looking to enter the Dota 2 esports business.
The Spectre Arcana and the Nemestice Battle Pass Controversy
To date, no Arcana winner selected by the Dota community has been incorporated into a Battle Pass. For the first time, Valve included the long-awaited Spectre Arcana into a Battle Pass and that too at a high level of 330. This meant that players must spend relatively more money as compared to past Arcanas that were directly available in the Dota 2 store and were also reasonably priced at around $30-$40. The price tag for reaching level 330 and attaining the Spectre Arcana (along with other in-game items), on the other hand, is around $150.
In addition, the Nemestice Battle Pass is being hailed as a “Mini Battle Pass.” As they climb the levels, players will find that many of these levels, around 200 out of the first 500, are empty and will not reward them with any sets, cosmetics, treasures, or other items. Rewards repeat after level 500. Many of the weekly quests that grant Battle Pass points have been deemed difficult and strange. Without Dota Plus, players are not able to complete certain quests. At the time of the Battle Pass' release, this information was not available. And finally, the fact that this Battle Pass does not fund any tournament unlike previous ones that funded The International and the Majors is also not settling well with the community.
It’s important to note that the core gameplay remains practically unaffected without the Battlepass and its associated in-game items. Given that Dota 2 is a free-to-play game, one could make the case that these are all optional, good-to-have game elements that require payment in order to make it worth Valve’s time and effort. The prize pools of the TIs are however evidence that numerous Dota 2 players put in their money, so should these players not expect their issues to be addressed?
There’s one common problem that binds all of the aforementioned issues together - a lack of communication. In such situations, most players and teams find themselves without a clear way forward. Barring Steam support for broad issues, it is not prescribed how to resolve these types of problems. While the parties do manage to communicate their issues in some situations, in other ones, Valve seems to ignore them or respond without satisfying the needs of the teams, as was the case of Into the Breach, Chicken Fighters, Black N Yellow, Team DogChamp, and No Bounty Hunter.
Eduard, the No Bounty Hunter representative, also stated that Valve had no direct contact with them. They had to communicate through an intermediary, a tournament organizer (in their case PGL).
Are these Dota 2 communication issues a new phenomenon?
Such communication issues in Dota 2 aren’t a recent occurrence. This has been the case for many years, with 2020 being especially notable. The communication regarding the return of the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) was meager during the pandemic. Organizations like Reality Rift and Geek Fam left the Dota 2 competitive scene because of the uncertainty around DPC and the financial difficulties caused by the pandemic.
Croatian esports organization, CR4ZY had some of NA Dota 2's finest players, but it also eliminated all of its esports rosters because of the uncertainty surrounding the esports world and TI10. In their parting statement, CR4ZY said,
"Despite the obstacles, we managed to pull through, and our teams improved considerably while waiting for big announcements such as the future of The International 10 and other esports competition. Unfortunately, those things didn’t happen and we were put in a position where we had to make some tough decisions."CR4ZY
Furthermore, the Spectre Arcana took around eight months to reach the public after it won the vote in October 2020, which is a longer amount of time compared to previous winners. It didn’t help that Valve communicated no updates about the arcana during this period.
In October 2019, Valve announced plans to revamp "the new player experience" in response to the decline in player count. The new player experience was revealed only in March 2021. Again, communication was sparse during this period.
So, what is Valve's communication model and what are its potential flaws?
In a recent video, CS:GO Developer Gautam Babbar explained why Valve rarely communicates with the game’s community. “Future plans can always change. A bug might require more work than we expected or a fix may have unexpected consequences. Also, when we make these promises about the future, customers start thinking about the game’s future, and not how it is now,” Babbar said.
Elaborating further on his communication strategy, he mentioned, “So we tend to think about the communication strategies we would use during those challenging times. In those times we don’t think we can make customers happy just by talking to them, we would have to ship them updates and fix the issues.”
While these statements were made in the context of CS:GO, and they may work in the case of in-game updates and issues, such a communication strategy does not seem to work for issues occurring outside of the game. As an example, if professional Dota 2 players who are not playing for Tier 1 teams in 2020 wanted to learn more about the DPC but did not have any information, they would not be inclined to tread on this path.
Additionally, teams like Reality Rift and CR4ZY may not have departed, while others may have prepared in advance to join the DPC if timely communication was a priority.
In the end, with the return of the DPC in January 2021, Valve did, indeed, create a holistic professional scene, catering to the needs of tier 2-3 players. Regional leagues meant that lower tier teams could take part in the DPC, earn some money, get the opportunity to compete against the top tier teams, and also find out what they need to do in order to qualify for TI10.
In the example of the Spectre Arcana, the community-voted winner of the Arcana vote, thousands of fans would have been better off understanding why it was taking so long for Valve to release it. Similar to the DPC, the end product was top-notch, with some outstanding animations and wearables, and there wasn’t any noticeable negative sentiment among the community regarding the cosmetic's design. Teasers, work-in-progress images, and other such updates would have gone a long way in keeping fans engaged while communicating the added value that was being built into the arcana on account of the eight months it took to ship it.
A potential solution to the communication problem: Introducing a Valve Community Manager
A community manager could serve as a guide for Dota 2 fans to understand why certain designs have been implemented in the game. It may be useful to redirect aggrieved users to the https://dev.dota2.com/ forum, where moderators could route priority grievances to relevant Valve staff while posting progress updates and announcements. Multi-language support would be a plus and could potentially alleviate community woes and create a liaison with them. A roadmap on the next Battle Pass, next Arcana, and new hero can help maintain the fan base's enthusiasm and also help keep them attached to the game.
Further, the community manager can help settle issues and problems that the teams have in regards to the Dota Pro Circuit. Dedicated channels can be set up through which teams can contact Valve directly, without having to go through intermediaries. Through this channel, the teams will also be informed of all urgent and top priority aspects of the esports circuit. Additionally, teams like Into The Breach and No Bounty Hunter, who have spent large amounts on their Supporters Clubs, ought to be told what has caused the extended delay.
A Q&A session and feedback forum initiated by the community manager can also be extremely useful when addressing issues raised by various stakeholders.
Valve's competitor, Riot Games, has established a communication mechanism for its trending esports title, Valorant. They provide timely information to their community through their blog and their subreddit. Valve has also had a community manager for Dota Underlords and Artifact, a move that was well received. Employing one for its premier game, Dota 2, will only benefit both the game and the company. Furthermore, the effectiveness of forums and blog posts cannot be understated when it comes to addressing general issues directly and quickly. Steam support tickets could also be promoted and reworked as a way for users to directly communicate their issues.
The current community redressal system appears to be clogged with grease. All of the aforementioned options can help alleviate a lot of distress and promote relationships between the company and the community if implemented together as a holistic solution.
However, if Valve continues to be on this delayed wagon like always and wishes to function as an organization that believes in communicating the least possible, the community will continue to be agitated someday; this might reflect in actual numbers rather than just random community threads. A fate that no Valve / Dota 2 fan ever hopes for.