The International 2018: An Outsider’s Perspective

This past week was full of excitement for me. It was time for the annual euphoric Dota 2 International championship in Vancouver, British Columbia. In the recent past, this tournament had been hosted in Key Arena in Seattle, Washington. However, this year due to repairs being done, Valve moved it to Canada.

For those of you who don’t know, Dota 2 is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) style video game. The reason for the “2” is that it is a sequel to the original DOTA (Defense of the Ancients) which was a mod of Warcraft 3.

There are two factions, Radiant and Dire separated by a river in the middle. (In the image, radiant is at the bottom left and dire at the top right). Two teams compete with five players each. There are three lanes with 3 towers each. Two barracks; one ranged and one melee spawn creeps (computer controlled friendly creatures) in each lane who move toward the enemy and fight their creeps. Each player controls one character called a Hero. The objective of the game is to accumulate gold (obtained by killing enemy creeps and heroes), build items (to enhance abilities) and destroy the enemy team’s ancient which is guarded by its own set of twin towers. This is the game in a nutshell, though there is so much more that a player can spend a lifetime and more exploring all the possibilities (there are more than a hundred Heroes to choose from!).

I’ve been ardently following The Dota2 International since 2014 when one of my friends introduced me to the game and this year was no different. Since I was at work for some of the games which were played in the morning; I’d come back and watch the day’s highlights and then move to the live games in progress.

The International originally started out as Valve’s effort to sell the popularity of Dota2 and promote e-sports. The total prize pool was a whopping $1.6 million USD with the team claiming the top spot destined to get $1 million USD. Never before in the history of e-sports had such a big prize been awarded. The tournament was held in Cologne, Germany and was the foundation of the Dota 2 professional gaming scene.

To put things in perspective, this year’s total prize pool was over $25 million USD with the number one team getting approximately $11 million USD. In these last few years of watching this tournament, there is one thing which I have observed. The professional players and teams who make it to the grand stage, are not there for the money. They would be there even if the prize pool was not as grand. They are there to battle it out in the biggest e-sports tournament of all time to see who is the best. The teams who lose are not disappointed that they didn’t get enough money, but are morose over the fact that they don’t get to play anymore.

Now you must be thinking that I am not really an outsider. It seems like I know what I am talking about. And part of that maybe true. I was an amateur Dota player myself before I stopped playing. I am an outsider in the sense that I spectate the matches of the main tournament only. I don’t watch the other smaller tournaments (when I say smaller, I mean the ones with a million dollar prize pool instead of the multi-million one like the main event).

I had no idea which teams were favorites to win this year and I didn’t see the group stage matches either. However, I knew that Team Liquid, the defending champions had the same player roster as last year and they were going to be a force to be reckoned with. After watching a few games, I was certain that this year was going to be as adrenaline filled as the previous years. PSG.LGD (yes they partnered with Paris Saint Germain soccer club this year), the Chinese giants looked dominating and so did teams like Evil Geniuses and OG.

Ultimately, it was OG vs PSG.LGD for the best of five games final. Every one wanted a good show and all five games to be played. The spectators were thrilled when it eventually did go to a fifth game decider after the Chinese lost their 2–1 lead in the fourth game. All the games in the final were amazing. The players showed that they deserved to be there with their skill, strategy and speed of execution. Each game seemed like it could have swung either way. But OG finally came out on top and deservedly so.

Over the years The Dota 2 International has evolved into a major e-sports event with a huge global fan following. With Dota 2, Valve has created an ecosystem of sorts and the ecosystem is dynamic with changes to characters, map, items etc. coming through every few weeks. So if you want to get good at the game, you need to keep playing.

Elon Musk’s OpenAI has ventured into Dota2. Last year, OpenAI fielded an AI which played against the world’s best players in a one on one match-up. None of the human players were able to beat the AI at that point. Succeeding in their endeavor, this year OpenAI came with a team of five AI players to play against the best. They first defeated former professional players in a best of three game. However, they couldn’t match the skill of the professional players as they were taken down by paiN Gaming and Big God.

A striking thing about The International and e-sports in general is that there are no national boundaries for the most part. European players combine to make teams. Americans and Canadians play together even with Malaysians and Pakistanis. If you’re watching The Dota 2 International, you’re not watching nations battling it out, but the beautiful game played by the skillful players from all over the world.

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