Making money is fine, breaking trust is not
Before and after The International 2013 alike, tournament organizers explored ways to increase ticket sales on Dota TV, since tickets were a direct source of revenue. So, they paired tickets with comestic items, the latter created by workshoppers who were paid for their work — and paid well. The arrangement became so popular that it grew into a universal practice among tournament organizers.
This added motivation for Dota 2 fans to purchase tickets. While Dota TV itself wasn’t popular, an extra item in one’s inventory was a good reason to fork out $10 for a ticket.
Profits increased further after organizers began to contribute some of the revenue to the prize pools and for the most popular tournaments, this would double to quintuple the prize money. MLG Dota 2 Championships 2013 was the ones to pave the way, with others following suit soon.
Simply put, it was a win-win scenario. The viewers were getting their unique items and battle bonuses, while the players, organizers, item developers, and Valve were earning more money. But then, someone decided to exploit the system for their personal gain.
In September 2013, designer Thiago Vidotto, who had crafted the item for the fourth season of Dota 2 Premier League, complained about not getting paid by his commissioner, DPL chief administrator and director Laurent “Ange” Blum. The standard practice for organizers was to add the developer to the list of payees immediately upon uploading the item to the game client, specifying the percentages based on which revenue was to be split. However, Ange had told Vidotto that certain contractual terms were making this impossible. The developer accepted it at first, but became suspicious after getting less money than he was entitled to.
Ange tried to conceal his actual ticket sales, claiming they were on a downward spiral. However, a tournament’s prize pool was publicly available information, ultimately making the figures impossible to conceal. Vidotto was never able to get in touch with Blum and demand the rest of his money, so he preferred to go public with the story.
Valve acted resolutely upon the complaint, forever banning Ange from any Dota 2-related activities and removing all Dota 2 Premier League tickets from their shop. Ange denied the accusation until the end, arguing that Valve was simply afraid of having him as competition. But his reputation had been dented long before then; it was common knowledge that when Blum managed MYM, he appropriated players’ prize money from The International 2011. The team had to sue to get it back.
༼ つ ◕_◕ ༽つ VOLVO Give DIRETIDE
In October 2013, Dota 2 fans were waiting for the devs to bring back Diretide. There had been no announcements, yet many believed Valve had simply decided to make it a surprise. When the long-awaited Oct. 31 arrived, there was nothing, beyond a few cosmetic items.
The news didn't sit well with the community. The fans wanted Diretide, and they were ready to do anything to get it. Like hold the largest online flash mob in Dota history.
It all started on Reddit and various Dota community websites. Valve continued to act as if there was nothing going on, which only added fuel to the fire. The Dota crowd decided to escalate, spamming “༼ つ ◕_◕ ༽つ VOLVO Give DIRETIDE” on the car manufacturer’s social media. Eventually, Volvo’s official account called on Valve to put an end to this nonsense and give the people the Diretide they wanted. Whether Volvo’s SMM people knew what this was about remains unclear.
Barack Obama was targeted for good measure, along with Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak and the FBI. Some went even further and started calling Matthew “Cyborgmatt” Bailey, who was very close to Valve at the time, but all it accomplished was made Bailey uncomfortable, and considering to call the police. The flash mob had now reached a scale where Forbes-level media were covering it, alongside the many specialized publications.
It wasn’t until a week later that Valve’s spokespeople finally reached out to the community. A large update had been in the works, they said, which was why there’d simply been no time to release the Halloween event on schedule. Asking to leave “innocent car manufacturers” alone, the developers promised that Diretide would come out in a few weeks’ time.
On Nov. 14, the Three Spirits patch was released, which included the in-game event. On Dec. 9, the game client got ranked matchmaking. For many players, this was a new motivation to log on to Dota 2 more often. Another week later, invites were removed from the game.
2014 brought a good amount of change to both the game and its pro scene. Boosted by sales of in-game items, tournament prize pools grew to the point where six-figures became commonplace. Valve got the message from the October turmoil and started releasing in-game events more often. The one in January was centered around the Skeleton King model getting replaced by Wraith King due to infringement claims from Blizzard. The following event, New Bloom Festival, was dedicated to the Chinese New Year, where another five heroes were added: Ember Spirit, Earth Spirit, Terrorblade, Phoenix, and Legion Commander.
The International 2014’s prize pool was yet another record-breaker at $11 million. Valve hadn’t expected to raise even $6 million from players, judging by the fact that it was the last amount on the list of compendium bonuses. However, that goal was reached as early as May, prompting the developers to come up with a few additional ones.
Dota 2 Reborn
After TI 4, Valve announced their plans to port Dota 2 to a new engine: Source 2. That was also when custom scenarios and maps were allowed to be uploaded to the Dota 2 Workshop. A new hero, Oracle, was added at the end of the year, and two Arcana items went on sale, for Shadow Fiend and Phantom Assassin. The latter hero was also the focus of a new in-game event, which was however only available to owners of the item.
In February, Perfect World — Dota 2's published for China — organized Dota 2 Asia Championships 2015, hallmark event for the scene in a way. Prior to DAC, there had been competition among several organizers as to whose would be the second most important tournament after TI; come 2015, DAC outdid them all.
The initial $250,000 prize pool grew to $3 million from Dota TV ticket sales, regardless of the bleak reputation that Chinese Dota 2 tournaments had at the time. The New Bloom Festival commenced immediately upon DAC's completion and it was during that time that Dota 2’s number of online players peaked. 1.25 million were playing Dota 2, a record for the game that remains unbroken to this day.
The success of the DAC did not escape Valve’s attention. In April 2005, the company announced a new tournament system, due to be implemented at the start of the following season. Besides The International, Valve decided to back three more Major tournaments and they stopped accepting bonus items for Dota TV tournament tickets from third-party organizers.
Dota 2 Reborn went into beta on Jun. 12, 2015, but it didn't receive the warm welcome Valve perhaps hoped for. The players had grown used to the old interface and were reluctant to switch, all the more because Reborn was unstable and crashed frequently. The only thing that motivated players to try the new interface was the 50 percent bonus to the TI 5 compendium coins, which leveled it up faster.
The three Majors were not the only new additions of the 2015/16 season, and transfer windows and roster locks were also introduced. The four-part structure of a Dota 2 season now applied not only to the competitive scene but also to regular players. Before each Major, Valve would now release a Battle Pass. Its holders would complete quests and level up and received in-game items and collectible cards as rewords, which could be used to form players' own fantasy team during the tournament.
Thus far, each year’s TI had had a larger prize pool than the previous one. That was the case in 2016 too, but the difference from 2015 was not too drastic: a "mere" $2 million.
Dota 3 and Dota 2 AllStars
Following TI6, Dota 2's development seemingly froze. The game’s balance wasn’t changing, even though it was arguably far from ideal. The single major patch from Aug. 23 added Underlord — the last DotA AllStars character that had been missing from the game — along with expanded functionality for the game client interface. Dota 2 was on 6.88 until the final of The Boston Major 2016 in December, after which IceFrog announced that version 7.00 was coming soon.
7.00 transformed the game beyond recognition. A new interface was introduced, along with a new hero, Monkey King. What's more, the addition of shrines and talent trees changed the way the game was played so thoroughly, that some jokingly called the patch Dota 3.
7.00 laid waste to the game’s balance. Both fans and pro players had to learn and adapt to Dota 2 all over again, which took them several months. Old know-how was meaningless now. Everything had to be figured out from scratch.
Patch 7.06, released in May, was probably the most balanced one in the game’s history. Every team honed its playstyle and worked out unique strategies based on a variety of heroes. There were virtually no useless characters in Dota 2 anymore, nor obligatory first-stage bans.
On top of that, the tournament system changed yet again. Valve decided to only stay in charge of The International and outsource the rest. For the benefit of third-party operators, a season schedule was set up, doubling the tournament prize pools and making the TI8 invite system transparent.
Just like at the end of the previous season, the first tournaments were played on the old patch, and 7.07 was released after the end of the first Major. It introduced a new ranked matchmaking system, reworked several heroes, changed the math for armor and regeneration, and added two new characters and a few extra bonuses from basic attributes. More hard work on rethinking the meta and balance is ahead for pro players, while regular players are awaiting the start of the first season under the new matchmaking system.
original article by: Kirill "gr1nder" Russakov