This past Saturday, August 13 the Key Arena in Seattle Washington hosted The International 2016 (TI).

The tournament, produced by Valve and funded in large part by Dota 2 fans, broke esports records with its $20 million prize pool. Here’s a rundown of what went on and what it means for the rest of the gaming world.

The trophy of The International. The Aegis of the immortal.

The trophy of The International. The Aegis of the immortal.

This year’s TI is already widely celebrated as one of the best Dota 2 tournaments ever. What made this year’s competition so entertaining was consistently high levels of play from all the teams involved. In past, TI’s competition was dominated by a few teams like last years champions Evil Geniuses (EG),  2013 winners Alliance, or fan favorites Natus Vincere (Na’Vi) and upsets were fairly rare. This year, these old favorites were mostly toppled early with only EG advancing to the semi finals and going home with third place. Many former TI winners were eliminated in the first two rounds of play, and Na’Vi, the pro team possibly most closely associated with Dota 2 went out after a single game.   

The cause for all these upsets was not poor performance on the part of established teams but a crop of new challengers rising to meet their high level of play. Young teams like MVP Phoenix, TNC, and Digital Chaos (DC) dazzled the Dota community with amazing play. And older teams like Fnatic who, in the past, were little more than also-rans compared to bigger teams finally hit their stride.

All of this great play culminated in a grand finale no one expected. No one who follows professional Dota predicted DC versus Wings as being the Grand Finale of Dota 2’s most prestigious tournament. Neither team even existed as of last year’s TI, but both of them emerged from the early stages of the tournament white hot, playing some of the best Dota fans can remember. When they met in the finals, both teams played amazingly well, but Wings were victorious.

Wings Gaming celebrating their $9 million win.

Wings Gaming celebrating their $9 million win.

 

But what does this mean for people who don’t play Dota?

If we’re lucky, the Dota 2 pay model may spread to similar competitive games. Dota 2 is a free-to-play game, which supports itself and some pro tournaments including TI, through microtransactions with players mostly buying cosmetic items to change the look of their favorite characters. Unlike many games with this pay model, however, none of the items for sale in Dota 2 affect gameplay, all one hundred eleven heroes are available to play for free, for example. Additionally, Dota 2 offers players unmatched freedom of choice when it comes to what they buy. Players can buy full sets of cosmetics, individual pieces or chests with a random chance to produce one of a variety of items.

Contrast this situation to transactions in Overwatch, where players can only purchase some sets directly only using in game currency sold in bundles designed to encourage repeat purchases. Other sets in Overwatch are only available through random loot chests similar to the ones for sale in Dota 2, but the former chests are completely blind and the latter’s inform players of the potential contents ahead of time.  

Another reason to care about TI is that it helps to fund Valve’s side businesses. The lion’s share of the tournament’s funding comes from players purchasing a special $9.99 item called the Compendium in the Dota 2 client. Only a portion of the money raised in this way goes to funding the tournament; the rest is pure profit for Valve, which the company uses to develop hardware like the Vive virtual reality headset or the Augmented Reality tech they unveiled at this TI.  

This is not an effect added in post. That is a holographic game character in real life.

This is not an effect added in post. That is a holographic game character in real life.

And finally, the level of production value involved in this year’s TI raised the bar for similar events involving other games, which, in the past, has been a bit cringe-worthy.
So what are you waiting for – grab four friends and play some Dota!

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