The $10,000,000 Book of Wizards
by Adam B
You may have heard of Dota 2; it’s Valve’s remarkably popular MOBA (or, to borrow a term from PC Gamer’s Chris Thursten, “Wizard ‘em Up”) with around 8 million unique players last month and an install-base of over 25 million. There are literally hundreds of Dota 2 competitions every year, from the open-invite you-and-four-of-your-mates affairs with a few hundred quid as first prize through huge professional tournaments such as ESL, Dreamleague, and The Summit, with prize pools in the $100,000 range. At the top of the pile is Valve’s own The International – an annual tournament which last year had a prize pool of over $2.8 million, with a first place prize of $1.4 million (split between the 5 players in the team).
Almost half of that prize money was crowd-sourced from the Dota 2 community by way of The International 3 Compendium. Compendiums are best described as interactive event programme/sticker books that also allow you to make match predictions and come with some in-game items. Sold for $10, with $2.50 from each sale going into the prize pool, Dota 2 players spent over $5 million on them.
This year, for The International 4 (TI4), Valve have once again created a compendium and put it on sale for $10 a pop with 25% going to the prize pool. TI4′s compendium is bigger and better than last year’s with rewards, challenges, substantial stretch goals, and the ability to donate more money to the prize pool to level up your magical book and earn more rewards. It also identifies you in-game as a compendium owner, makes your name purple, and shows your compendium level, so that you might feel good about having a greater number than another person on the internet.
In the six weeks since it first went on sale, the prize pool has already gone from an initial $1.6 million to an astonishing $9.5 million; with less than a month until the finals in Seattle, it’s projected to easily break the $10 million barrier by the time prizes are handed out. This would mean that the Dota 2 community had collectively spent over $30 million on nearly 3.5 million virtual books that are only really relevant for three months, after which they serve merely as a memento of the event. It would also mean that, assuming the same prize pool distribution as last year, the first place team will be awarded $5 million and the rest of the top six will end up with bigger payouts than they would get for winning any other esports competition.
Now, if you’re sitting there thinking “what the hell is wrong with these people?” you’re probably in good company, but let me try and explain it by way of a terrible analogy: The World Cup is happening right now and I want you to imagine that FIFA released a $10 virtual programme to accompany the tournament, one which gave you information on all the teams, let you make predictions about the matches, identified you as a supporter of your team to other programme owners, and gave you rewards for watching the event. How many do you think they’d sell? How many people would buy them because they love the sport? How many would just because all their friends had one and they didn’t want to feel left out?
The qualifiers for TI4 have recently come to an end and I watched them pretty obsessively – at least the ones that were on at sensible times of the day, stupid China – as well as getting involved in an associated Dota 2 Fantasy League. I got a lot of stick from Dota-virgins and fellow GamingLives writers Mark and Keegan for getting excited about it on Twitter, but if you have even a basic grasp of the game’s underpinnings it can be genuinely exciting to watch, and they’re probably just jealous of my Lv79 compendium anyway.
Dota 2 is a game that rewards both individual skill and teamwork in a context that allows it to work well as a spectator event. The International 4 playoffs and finals run from July 8th to 24th and I would highly recommend that you all watch them; if you’re totally clueless about the game then find yourself a friendly Dota 2 player to act as a guide until you’re au fait with everything, but you won’t want to miss out on what will be one of the biggest events in esports history.
Also, go buy a compendium, I want my victory taunts.
Last five articles by Adam B
- Deus Ex: Mankind Divided - Review
- No Man's Sky - Review
- The Curious Tale of The Consoles That Became PCs
- Quality of Life
- Why You Should Be Watching Dota 2 Right Now