Tournament of Heroes Part 2
I swear, I totally planned on posting Friday. But, well, this is my Superbowl and things happen.
For those that haven’t paid attention to the Part 2 in the title, this last week Valve held their The International 3 Dota 2 tournament. Sixteen teams from around the world descended upon Seattle’s Benaroya Concert Hall to battle for a piece of the over 2.8 million dollar prize pool. It’s remarkable how people give you that questioning look when you inform them that you’re watching a video game tournament and suddenly their expression changes when they hear the prize pool.
E-sports are becoming a thing and times are exciting for those that are invested in it.
This is going to be another gushing post of positiveness and enthusiasm. Last year’s The International was a fantastic showing and Valve really demonstrated that they are capable of holding a very entertaining even despite their lack of experience. Knowing their work philosophy, I was excited to see how Valve would approach this year’s tournament and what improvements they would implement.
Even anticipating the change, I was still struck by the just how good this year’s event turned out.
One of the big improvements was the inclusion of this girl. Kaci Aitchinson. A local Seattle reporter had been conscripted by Valve to work the trenches of the event interviewing players, commentators and attendees alike. I won’t sugar coat it, there was a lot of trolling and awkwardness. Somehow, through it all, Ms. Aitchinson kept collected and cool and brought a great touch of humanity to the proceedings. She felt sincere and honest, apologetic in her ignorance of the event but constantly eager to learn more. There was some questioning of this stranger in our midst when she first appeared but within hours she was winning people over and learning more than she ever cared about Internet culture and bronies.
More importantly, her segments were a wonderful break that provided a new perspective to the production. She focused on players’ stories, the background working of the event and the reactions and feelings of special guests and the attendees. Last year, the interviews felt like a formality. A shallow stumbling through elements aped from other sports coverage. But Kaci’s bits were almost always entertaining and not just to see whether Iceiceice would discuss his diarrhea.
Kaci’s coverage also gave us unfortunate souls unable to attend a view of the additions to the venue. Valve clearly had a bunch of new ideas for bringing fans and teams together and their implementation was nothing short of genius.
Tables were set up to allow fans to meet with their favourite players, voice actors and even workshop creators. See, Dota 2 is a free-to-play game which means anyone can download and play without giving a single cent to the developers. In order to make money, Valve has turned into a simulation hat manufacturer. Or distributor would be more accurate.
The Steam Workshop is an initiative that allows anybody to create and upload items to be sold in Dota 2. Fans vote for their favourites and after a quick quality assurance pass, Valve includes it into the main client. From there, every purchase will give the creators a portion of all earnings. You can take a couple of the over one hundred heroes and tweak their appearance to match your favourite player’s or cobble something practically unique.
Getting sports heroes’ signatures is rather popular and Valve, in their ingenuity, came up with a system that would net attendees a way to get their virtual items autographed by their stars. Every time you visited one of the tables, your visiting pass was scanned and your in-game account would receive a digital copy of your hard earned signature. I would kill to have Anuxi sign a set of Crystal Maiden’s Snowdrop set so just give the word Anuxi and someone can be expunged from existence at your beck!
Obviously, fan favourites would be voice actors like Ellen McLain (GladOS) or star players like Puppey. And if digital signatures weren’t enough, Valve returned with their Secret Shop to sell a load of new merchandise for eager fans. One of this year’s new items were little balls that contained a random plushie. Made, no doubt, to replicate the crate system in the game, you could buy a number of balls in the hopes of getting a doll version of your favourite character. And if you ended up with a Meepo, you could just toss it at N0tail.
The hall itself was amazing. Spectators could see the teams in their booths – soundproof of course as the match’s commentators are just to the side of the main stage. This year they added the two large displays on either side of the main screen to showcase the heroes picked and banned during the first stage. Then, beneath the players were animated portraits of their chosen heroes including whatever cosmetic items they had equipped. These portraits would turn grey upon a player’s death and a counter would keep the audience updated on their respawn time.
Even more impressive was the personalized hard drives each of the players had. As is common for competitors, they had their own hardware from oversized mousepads to custom keyboards with specially made keys. The hard drives are important as they save each player’s personal settings which would be annoying and time consuming if they had to reset them every time a new team took the booth. It was fascinating to watch the Valve employees swap out the hardware for teams, having it down to almost five minutes to get in and out. As a result, time between matches was smooth and short.
Perhaps the most exciting feature for all fans was the inclusion of the Interactive Compendium. For ten dollars, every fan could help contribute to the prize pool which topped off over 2.8 million dollars. In the time between Valve’s recording for the show’s audio, the prize pool had increased 200,000 dollars which made me smile every morning when the introduction announced the pool as “Greater than 2.6 million!” It’s a testament to the passion of the fans but since this is Valve, the Compendium really went on to make the matches even more exciting. You could choose your favourite team to support, create a fantasy team to garner points through each member’s performance during the event, collect trading cards of the participating players and even vote on the participants for a 1v1 tournament and a show match between the most popular players. Being invested in a team, even if it was because their picture was on the side of my digital book, made those matches even more intense. My sister was the only one of us to not have a Compendium and I think she began to regret that as we would cheer and cry over the performance of our own teams.
After an intense week of Dota with more games and plays than I could ever hope to cover, the event wound down to a close. It was exciting and exhilarating and even Kaci was caught up in the enthusiasm especially by the nerve-wracking Grand Finals which wound down to a nail biting game five. Everyone seemed exhausted but overjoyed and one team walked away 1.4 million dollars richer and the Aegis. Over five million spectators were logged in on Valve’s in-game client and the streams on Youtube and Twitch.tv. This doesn’t even include those that watched on the Swedish and Chinese channels that ran the shows or the hundreds of people gathered into pubs and theatres to watch with their fellow fans.
So I think the real hero to snag the Aegis is Dota 2 itself as it demonstrated the power and passion that e-sports are creating.