I had to make a decent effort to attempt to recall a disparaging word that I read or heard about The International in Seattle this past weekend. I couldn’t do it.
The play was top-notch.
The streams were solid.
The commentary was what DotA fans expected.
The tournament ran smoothly and synchronously; every game was played on the main stage and streamed, and they still wrapped up festivities before 11pm local time on the last day.
I saw many people comment on twitter that this event ranks amongst the best tournaments they’ve seen in years, if it didn’t take the top spot. But I’m not sure they understood why that’s the case, just that they knew how they felt about it.
Valve made this event look downright effortless. That’s partly because of obvious deep planning of every detail on their part, but also because the scope of this event was deliberately controlled. It was awesome because it was focused.
Not that it would have been any other way, but that’s not my point. If you enjoyed the genre, this event nailed it for you. Even if you’re new to the game, this event was a great introduction. The commentary was focused almost to a fault on describing hero matchup imbalances. The interludes between matches featured a panel which introduced us to every last team and their stories, highlighted the more interesting personalities, and just really did their jobs well all-around.
And they could do their jobs so well because there was one storyline to follow and tell. Not four or five tournaments each with their own independent storylines running all at the same time. One tournament.
It worked so well because it was a DotA event, not an esports event.
The scene consists of a handful of major circuits all trying to be all things to all of esports at every event. The communities around individual games flail and scream for attention from these big-tent events, and pout that their scenes are being ignored when they aren’t included. And even if they do, they play second fiddle to whatever game is most dominant that season. Meanwhile, these events blow through piles of money, and then play the ‘we’re just trying to support the community, guys’ card when it’s made evident their approach is way too heavy to stay afloat.
The International didn’t need an entire convention hall, with bleachers and lighting scaffolds and trucks of HD equipment hauled in, building a suitable venue from nothing, to create one of the best esports spectacles we’ve seen in a while. They didn’t need five different games to do it either. They rented a concert hall, and used one game. They had people buying tickets.
Valve indeed had a large budget for this, acted essentially as the sole sponsor, and carried things out in grand fashion; but could things be scaled down and still be successful in other games?
Could you rent a smaller venue that seats less than 500, not pipe the commentary into the hall so you don’t need the booths, stream the thing, attract more local teams, use a different game like CS:GO maybe, and still find a point where costs can be recovered immediately through sponsorships and ticket sales?
The question for me, now, is whether anybody’s going to pay attention to the lesson the whole scene should learn from this event, or if the reaction will just be “oh wasn’t that nice” and return to business as usual?