It’s been a hot minute since a Dota 2 event hasn’t asked me to sacrifice a first-born to stay awake for the full day for all the games, with the recent conclusion of The International 11 at Singapore. On Valve’s auspices granting me a press pass, I can say that the Finals Weekend affair was an incredible time – congratulations again to Tundra Esports, by the by – but even the pros like Puppey have said that the event was missing a certain ‘magic’.
Let’s start from a vague beginning.
THE LEAD UP
Group stages were held at Suntec Convention Center, while Finals Weekend was at Singapore Indoor Stadium. They were also ticketed separately, which doesn’t help the idea that this year’s iteration is much more expensive affair than previous ones. Suntec’s smaller than the actual stadium, and was also where most of the teams ended their journey, as only four teams could make it through to the weekend.
I wasn’t in Singapore for the playoffs, as likewise, I thought it would be pretty expensive to stay on for close to two weeks to ensure I could watch them all in person. From what I understood, though, that hardly diminished the hype.
Following interview sessions with the top 4, it was time for me to pack up and make my way over myself.
I stopped by earlier to pick up my pass and already there were some of the event fixtures in place. Of course, there were hardly fans around besides those picking up their own passes, since we were a little ways to go before the festivities could truly start. Outside of the stadium area, I didn’t notice much advertisement for the event, granted I wasn’t staying at a full-on happening tourist-y locale to have found any. Once settled in, there was naught to do but wait.
Day of, on the SMRT, I found fans in subtle jerseys or carrying equipment fully prepared to capture the essence of the weekend. I’m not sure how well it comes across on stream, but several times, on both days, people started clapping and chanting spontaneously, cheering on the teams. I have to say, there was a Liquid bias with the storyline of Liquid’s MATUMBAMAN retiring, but both sides did get their share of screams from the audience. On my end, I coasted on the energy of the crowd and shrieked at clutch plays and costly mistakes.
I’d like to shout out the one ground crew on Sunday who had us chant for a game 4 between Secret and Tundra, with us pulling out our phones’ flashlights to wave about. The community feeling was definitely there. Also, greatly appreciate Cap and ODPixel for taking selfies with us at the stands! I’m pretty sure most folks didn’t get a chance to hang out with the talent in slightly closer proximity…
Part of the fan interaction simply wasn’t present as a number of the broadcast talent weren’t even in the region, much less in Singapore. The panelists were in Norway (!), so if you had wanted to meet a non-caster talent, you were kinda out of luck. Obviously it’s not up to me to speculate as to why this may be so, but looking and listening around, the arrangements would apparently boil down to Business. It sounds reasonable enough, just not something I would dare definitively is the case without knowing the Behind The Scenes.
Even taking that out of the equation, on Finals Weekend, there was seemingly no space nor time for fan meets. It made The International, the biggest Dota 2 event, feel so much smaller scale to me. I occasionally saw the players sit among the audience in the stands, but that’s not somewhere that can accommodate even more fans who could line up to get some autographs.
There’s the fact Gabe Newell not coming out to make a welcome address at the Playoffs somehow disrupting tradition, and perhaps, the more egregious ‘breach’ in fan eyes, was the fact that the event brought on an official sponsor, and a betting website at that. Year on year, The International has been primarily funded by sales of the Compendium / Battle Pass, with the total prize pool swelling to record amounts. Going by a third party prize pool tracker, the roughly ~$19 million prize pool barely hits half of the 2021 (with 2020 skipped due to COVID-19) total pool of ~$40 million. 2019 saw ~$34 million, and 2018 was ~$25 million in comparison, if you wanted to take out the extension for TI10’s pass out of the equation.
Other issues include the apparent reduced viewership numbers (for the group stage at least) and even worse, the lack of soundproof booths lead to concerns of unfair advantages for English-proficient players.
The shuffles have already begun for the teams who didn’t quite make it. For me, it’s back to regular journo work as the dream fades away. I can’t stress enough that this was definitely a great experience and more friendly on the wallet despite it all, due to being in Southeast Asia and practically in my backyard.
Once the dust settles, who knows which teams remain intact, who will get shuffled where, and how the next pro circuit will go. This event had some oddities, for sure, but I will look forward to the next one anyway. After all, aren’t most of us here because we love the game?
I hope to see more of you next time.