Publisher-backed events, DOTA 2 and world domination
Clan Na'Vi from the Ukraine have been crowned champions at the recently concluded DOTA 2 championships hosted by Valve Corp. (tastefully called ‘The International'), with Chinese team EHOME finishing runners-up. Sixteen of the top teams from the world participated in the first ever championships in DOTA 2, a property which Valve (creators of Half-Life, Portal and Team Fortress) are currently developing along with the anonymous developer who only calls himself ‘IceFrog'. It wasn't just the promise of fame that drew participation, it was the fortune. With a whopping $1.6 million prize pot (the winners walked away with a cool $1 million), The International will probably change the face of competitive gaming forever. Publisher-organised tournaments could well be on the cards with the likes of EA, Activision and Blizzard following suit. The fact that The International was part of the world's largest game fair, Gamescom 2011 held in Cologne, Germany could also mean a new formula, one in which competitive gaming events form a key part of games conventions. But the real question remains: will DOTA 2 be able to overcome the competition?
The DoTA (Defense of the Ancients) or MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) are genres with overwhelming competition — from a couple of games in particular. First, there's Heroes of Newerth, a game targeted at players who simply cannot stomach the visuals of the original DoTA any more and are looking to move on to an upgraded version of the game. The game is heavily influenced by the Warcraft III mod, with an almost-identical roster of heroes, abilities and items. However, HoN has carved a niche for itself rather than assault the masses. The game has only sold about half-a-million copies, with a maximum of around 50,000 players online at any given point of time and has recently switched to a ‘free-to-play' model. Its bigger cousin, Riot Games' League of Legends, on the other hand, proved that the ‘free-to-play' model, in fact, worked. LoL currently has over 15 million registered users with an average of more than one million players gaming on its servers every day — more players than Call of Duty: Black Ops on X360 and World of Warcraft. Of course, the free-to-play model ensures that everybody who owns a PC can download and spend a few hours in Summoner's Rift, the game's 10-player map. What does this mean for Valve's upcoming offering? Well, one could argue that DOTA 2 is what players are all waiting for, with LoL, HoN and other games merely serving as a stop-gap. However, if DOTA 2 were to be sold for $50 as is customary for a major PC release, it could affect accessibility. But then again, Blizzard's Starcraft II sold nearly 10 million copies at that price point. Ideally, a free-to-play model will work from a community point of view, but a ‘cash-in' option would suit Valve as well.
A bigger challenge would be to pry players away from the original DoTA — a problem to which The International offers one massive solution. Publisher-backed events with the promise of fame and massive prizes will lead to a significantly larger adoption rate of the game in question as well as lead to the formation of better, larger communities — it would seem that The International has paved the way for Valve to take over the gaming world.