$25M eSports tournament begins in Vancouver
The excitement at Rogers Arena around unassuming five-player teams in track suits would be a head-scratcher to some – but for fans of eSports it was a red carpet welcome for the biggest teams playing one of the world’s most popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games on the planet.
"Dota 2" was developed by Valve Corporation in Seattle, and until this year, the city hosted the annual international competition to name the world best team and award millions of dollars in prizes. This year, with Key Arena undergoing renovations and Valve keen to expand their presence in the real world, they moved the event to Vancouver with a splashy launch event and a milestone jackpot for the winning team.
“The winning team gets a little over $10 million U.S. dollars,” says Erik Johnson of Valve. “These aren’t people who do this off-hours for fun. This is a year-long event. The prize pool is $25 million USD. It’s very serious and it’s something the players and everyone take seriously.”
Sixteen teams began a week of tournaments Monday morning, their five members facing each other on the floor of the venue that usually hosts Canucks hockey games and big-name concerts. The event is live-streamed online and Twitch, with knowledgeable announcers outlining the gameplay and the screams of fans can be heard in the background, with millions of viewers around the world appreciating the elite gameplay, which balances the skills of various characters with experience of the players, as well as their personal strategies and reflexes.
eSports, or competitive online videogaming, has become so popular, not only has BC Lottery Corporation been accepting novelty bets for several years, but they’re offering detailed betting on Dota 2, including individual matches, player performance and overall team performance.
"We've seen a steady increase on betting in eSports," says BCLC spokesperson Anjee Gill. “We want to be where people are playing. From last April up until this past July we saw a 600 per cent increase on bets being placed overall on eSports.”
For fans, the money to be won by betting or by the teams is icing on the cake. Marcel and his sister told CTV News watching the gameplay makes them better.
“I think it’s really important to watch someone a lot better than you because from there you can learn a lot of the mechanics from the pro player. You notice a lot of the small things you can incorporate into your own game.”
Dota 2, short for Defense of the Ancients, is free to play online and has amassed a tremendous following around the globe. The game’s website reads: “When it comes to diversity of heroes, abilities, and powerful items, Dota boasts an endless array—no two games are the same. Any hero can fill multiple roles, and there's an abundance of items to help meet the needs of each game.”
While that may attract people to the concept, the sense of community and atmosphere of the live competition have people spending hours watching gameplay online and even travelling long distances to see competitors in person.
One man who came from Illinois to see the tournament said, “When you watch these plays on the internet that you've seen here, it gives you goosebumps being there and you can feel it."
A woman who asked CTV News to simply call her “Reebs” was dressed in an elaborate cosplay costume depicting the character Luna. Reebs flew to the event from Germany, having spent more than 300 hours on that costume and 500 hours on another costume she would switch to for the semi- and finals.
“It's honestly a dream come true for me to be here," she said. “Cosplay makes an event special. It’s about getting as close as possible to the heroes you love and love to watch and play.”
Johnson agrees about the sense of community is what makes eSports different from any other sporting event.
“You go into the audience and every single person watching plays this game and care very deeply about it and they're in there to cheer plays and the best in the world. Many of these people, this is a big part of what they do for entertainment so it's kind of a natural way to connect with another person.”
The winning team will be crowned Saturday afternoon, with a worldwide audience of 10 million anticipated for the final match.