By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Loud crowds, exciting play, announcers detailing action, and pre- and post-game analysis.
No, it’s not football or basketball. It’s Dota 2 (Defenders of the Ancient 2), The International, one of the “grand slams” for video game connoisseurs. Gamers, or esports as it is becoming more acceptable to call, made its annual stop in Seattle at KeyArena from Aug. 6–12.
Esports is more than just playing video games, but a burgeoning sport. There is speculation that it may become a part of the 2024 Olympics. Also, the teams competed for prize money that almost eclipsed $24 million. With that much money at stake, teams treat the sport like other athletes. Eric Khor Wei Soon, the team manager for Dota 2 participant Team Fnatic noted that the players train 8 hours a day, 6 days a week. Team Fnatic is based out of Malaysia.
South Korea may have the claim as the country where esports began. The fandom and competitions are as big as traditional sports, like baseball. Mainstream culture in South Korea has embraced video gaming as a pastime, as familiar as going to the movies. Crowds have filled soccer stadiums in Seoul to watch the world championships of one of the most popular games of its time, League of Legends.
Dota 2 is the creation of Bellevue, Wash.-based video game company Valve Software. The prize pool of the nearly $24 million came from crowdfunding. According to Geekwire.com, Valve contributes a portion and then takes 25 percent of sales from digital programs and in-game Dota 2 purchases made by games, and adds that to the pool.
KeyArena was set up like a concert, with a huge stage in the middle of the arena. Two glass encasings on stage pitted two teams of five playing the game. Each team, with their own team “kits,” or uniforms adorned with the logos of paid sponsors, entered the arena like members of a basketball team. KeyArena was set up with flat screens throughout the concourse, so fans would not miss a minute of the action. There were several broadcasts areas, which included a U.S. broadcast crew and a Chinese and a Russian crew… each broadcasting the show in their own language. The multiple broadcasts reflect the global appeal of Dota 2.
Esports is gaining steam in the United States with organized leagues, financial backing for professional teams, and even the need for drug testing for certain tournaments. Notably, former NBA player Rick Fox invests in an esports team that competes in League of Legends. Fox noted at a Sports Tech Conference, this past June in Seattle, that he played the Atari 2600 game console as a child, and his interest in esports stems from his son’s interest in gaming. Jeremy Lin was a guest analyst for Dota 2 in Seattle a couple years ago and remains an active investor in the sport. This year, the NBA is forming its own esports league around a video game. The NFL announced a partnership with game maker EA Sports to create a nationwide tournament around its video game ”Madden NFL 18.”
Despite the belief that video games are for kids, the games are competitive and takes some time to become fluid in them. “I think it is inevitable that eSports will grow,” said Soon. “The demographic eSports is known to attract is male, young adult — and that could be very hard for all other types of advertisers to reach. With that, there will be more money and with the investment, eSports will eventually grow.”
The crowds all week at KeyArena were big and excited to see some of the best in the world play. Fans traveled from all over the world for this annual tournament. Fans dressed up as their favorite characters, brought signs and flags, and chanted during the games for their favorite team. On Aug. 12, the day of the finals, KeyArena was packed with fans, reminiscent of when the Seattle Supersonics played in the same venue. The announcers talked through the events of each game on the big screen. Even for the beginner learning the game, you could understand when a tense or exciting moment occurred, depending on the inflection of the announcers’ voices.
From time to time, USA chants would break out from the crowd when a team from the United States performed well. In addition to USA flags, there were flags from China and South Korea in the crowd. There were other chants for specific teams, as fans religiously follow some of their favorites.
Soon had an interesting take on this year’s fans. “I think this year’s crowd was a little weird because there were four Chinese teams and one European team in the final five. Naturally, the crowd was more supportive of Team Liquid (from the European Union), although there were a lot of Chinese fans in the crowd as well.”
The finals saw an energy in the crowd resembling traditional sports events. Certainly, many in attendance were recreational players, but like traditional sports, the opportunity to watch some of the best master the game was something people were excited about.
Here’s my novice understanding of the rules of Dota 2. Basically, the game pits two teams of five against one another. The games begin with a draft of characters or heroes that each player will use during the match. There is a voluminous amount of characters in Dota 2, with different abilities and attributes. A player can purchase items and “level up” during the game. The main goal of each team is to destroy the other’s main building, known as the ancient. There are “creeps” that spawn to help each hero or attack those that oppose them. The heroes gain strength for doing different things throughout the game. The game is set in a unique environment, featuring forests, rivers, and towers.
The 2017 winner was Team Liquid from the European Union — they defeated Team Newbee, a team from China. The winners took home $10.8 million, while the runners up got $3.9 million. Team Newbee made it to the finals with an upset over another Chinese team, LGD. ■
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.