The event taking place at the KeyArena this week may just look like another video game convention, but within the halls of the arena is a monster of a culture that has yet to be experienced by the masses: Dota 2’s e-sports scene.
The KeyArena will, for the second consecutive year, host one of e-sports largest events, put on by local Bellevue video game company Valve. The event started Monday, Aug. 3 with grand finals happening Saturday, Aug. 8.
Professional players of the competitive video game Dota 2 have come from around the world to clash on-stage for a chance to compete for a prize pool of more than $18 million at this year’s tournament, The International (TI) 5.
The game basics
Dota 2 — originally an altered version of another video game, until Valve decided to further develop it into a stand-alone sequel — is described as a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game.
The game is notoriously difficult and constantly changing. The rules and mechanics are updated every three to four months. Players must adapt to the changes and create new strategies that may have been altered by the new game mechanics.
The game is difficult even for professional players such as Danil Ishutin, who said the game challenges him by the constant change of mechanics.
“I explain [Dota 2] as a chess field, but it’s not that amount of pieces but much more, like a million amount,” he said. “And it’s not played slow like chess; it’s a hundred times faster. You don’t have time to think on your next step. So it’s super-hard and deep, and there’s a million strategies because it’s so much more wider and so much more pieces.”
The game is available for free online through Valves distribution software, Steam. It consists of two teams of five players, each defending a main base from the opposing team. Players have more than 100 different characters called heroes to choose from, each hero with its own unique abilities and spells.
At The International, team captains take turns strategically picking and banning heroes. Depending on the heroes chosen, the game can have an array of possible outcomes.
Aside from being a skill-based game, it is also heavily team-oriented, where communication and chemistry among the players is key.
Ishutin said that teams must act like one unit: If one thing isn’t working it impacts everything.
“I think Dota is probably the hardest game out there,” said Ted Forsyth, a Dota 2 personality who goes by Pyrion Flax. “I think it’s the hardest one to understand what’s going on; it’s so fast. There is so much depth to Dota compared to other games.”
Forsyth is widely known for his humorous video guides to Dota 2 heroes on Youtube as well as Dota 2-themed rap parodies.
Forsyth’s contribution to the Dota 2 culture is only the beginning. With a large fan base and growing pro-scene, the landscape is constantly changing, including team rosters. Teams in the Dota 2 scene change rosters often and sometimes entirely.
Forsyth said that, unlike traditional sports, in which fan bases are geographically based, fans get attached to players as opposed to regional teams, due to the constant team shuffles.
“The teams are really secondary; the player is the story,” he said.
With a first-place prize of $6 million, the pressure is on each player.
Jacky Mao, who goes by Eternal Envy, from the Cloud 9 team, dropped out of the University of Toronto’s engineering science program in 2011 to play Dota 2 full-time.
Shortly after dropping out, Mao founded the team No Tidehunter and went on to win many tournaments. He was then unexpectedly kicked off the team, which changed its name to Alliance and went on to win The International 3 in 2013.
“It means life; there is nothing more than winning TI,” Mao said. “It means everything I’ve done all my life is worth it. There’s no more excuses; everything is so genuine. You know you’re actually the best for sure at that moment.”
Although Mao was eliminated on Tuesday, others competing have tasted glory before, such as Team Navi’s Ishutin, a Ukrainian player who goes by the name of Dendi.
Ishutin won the first-ever International in 2011 with the same team he’s on now.
“I had euphoria for like a week [after winning TI 1],” he said. “You can’t get those feeling from anywhere else in the world, I think, so after this, you just want to beat really hard, and I think it’s one of the reasons I really want to win TI again.”
Ishutin, 25, has been playing Dota 1 and Dota 2 professionally for 10 years. He is one of the highest-paid professional gamers in the world. His team was eliminated on Monday.
Although Ishutin began playing professionally at age 15, he is not the only person to go pro in their ripe teenage years. Currently, TI 5 features five players ages 16 to 18.
One of them is Swedish 17-year-old Ludvig Wahlberg, who began his career at age 14; his fans know him as Zai.
Wahlberg will compete alongside some of the best players in the scene. His team, Team Secret, is ranked No. 1 in the world, according to Gosugamers.net.
“If you look at it this way, TI is the Dota’s counterpart to the world championships in football,” he said. “It’s the Stanley Cup of hockey; it’s the Super Bowl.”
Dota 2 reality show
What keeps young Wahlberg playing isn’t just the competitive part of Dota 2, but what he likes to call the “reality-show part.”
“Pretty much how it works is we have a lot of personalities in our players,” Walhberg said. “A lot of us are outspoken and very active on Twitter. For example, we all stream, which is basically just broadcasting your game play to other players.”
Professional players interact with fans, often creating an environment that Wahlberg said makes it different from other fan bases like sports; the community is huge, but the interactions make it feel personable.
“If you compare a soccer player that’s playing at the world championships, you’re not going to have a clue what he’s doing during his days,” he said. “But we’re kind of looked at by everyone. We’re interviewed; we’re videotaped while we’re preparing. It just feels like you’re the center of something, like a reality show.”
Much like a reality show, the Dota 2 scene has its sensationalized drama, which Wahlberg said, keeps him happy and entertained. He himself has been part of a small incident.
Last year, Wahlberg left a fan favorite team, Evil Geniuses (EG), for Team Secret. This event left Internet forums in tangles as fans mourned for the losses of Zai and teammate Arteezy.
“It was like a big scandal or something,” Wahlberg said, laughing.
This year, Wahlberg said, his team’s biggest threat to losing The International is the team he left last year, EG. It is one of only two North American teams competing.
“EG is a fan favorite because everyone on that team is so good and they know that they’re good,” said Seattle EG fan Nihad Hadzimuratovic. “It’s the only fully American team that can actually compete with all the greatest players. They are usually the ones that change the game when a new patch comes out.”
For more information or to tune in visit www.dota2.com/international/overview.
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