Daeja's View: Dota 2's Majors Under Review
EPICENTER XL's stage; Photo Courtesy of Epic Esports Events
We had 22 events in the Dota 2 Pro Circuit (DPC) this year, nine of which were Majors. They contributed 78% of the total qualifying points for teams, and gave of us some of the best moments of the year. Today, I want to take a look at what makes a Major memorable and consider what next season’s Majors can do to make their mark on Dota 2 history.
What makes a Major in the Dota 2 Pro Circuit?
Prior to the 2017-8 season, there had been five Dota 2 Majors, three in 2015-6, and two in 2016-7. These Majors had prize pools of (US) $3,000,000 each. In this past year alone, we’ve had nine Dota 2 Majors. Eight had a $1,000,000 prize pool, with the last one, the China Dota2 Supermajor, worth $1,500,000. Additionally, the top four teams at each of these tournaments received qualifying points in the DPC—a share of 1500 points at the first eight and 2250 at the last. Nearly all of the eight teams who earned direct invitations to The International 8 did so by performing well at the Majors.
MDL Changsha may be most memorable for PSG.LGD's lower bracket run to win the event; but also look at that epic team graphic!
There’s been a lot of debate about formats and number of teams this year. The Majors had either eight, twelve, or sixteen teams, with varying formats. Valve will require Majors to have a minimum of sixteen teams next season, with zero direct invitations. There’s been no public statement about a required format. As a spectator, I prefer when teams aren’t seeded into later rounds, and I think teams shouldn’t be eliminated on their first day of play. But I don’t have strong feelings about specific formats. I know there are plenty of people passionate about this issue, and you’re welcome to tell me why I need to put more emphasis on it in the comments below! As for the sixteen team requirement, I think that’s the right decision by Valve. Majors should feature more teams than Minors, and there should be as many opportunities for teams to participate as possible. I’m also excited that we’ll get at least two teams from each region, with tournament organizers left to assign the remaining minimum four qualifying spots to regions as they desire.
I do think that a Major needs to be more than a big prize pool with a pot of qualifying points and a certain number of teams. It should be, well, major. It should be a memorable event, not just another tournament on a packed circuit. With so many more tournaments in 2017-8 given this label, it was critical for these tournaments to find ways to be remarkable. I want to look at those methods and talk about what organizers can do next year to wow us.
I believe the Majors have a bigger obligation than the Minors do to presenting themselves in a professional way. There’s more money invested in producing these tournaments, and thus, less room for organizers to experiment with different tones. That said, these tournaments can still develop their own identities and personalities.
The venue for ESL One Hamburg; Copyright: ESL | Adela Sznajder
ESL’s tournaments are characterized by a hyper-professional approach. They’re sleek and modern, with clean sets and strong production values. By contrast, DreamLeague’s developed their own rather cheeky identity, with meme-filled antics during the qualifier phase, and a more serious approach during the LAN. Both are appealing in their own way. And, because they both have such a strong identity, it’s easy to set viewer expectations and then, hopefully, exceed them.
Moving forward, I expect that the five Majors next year will all be produced by familiar tournament organizers. I think the best strategy is for those organizers to determine what they do well--whether it’s showcasing a host with a big personality, leveraging the enthusiasm of attendees, producing a really polished and smoothly run tournament, or something else entirely--and then lean into that as much as possible.
One of the obvious ways that a tournament can elevate itself is by producing additional content for viewers. Gaps between games and especially series can drag for viewers, so organizers have an opportunity to shine by creating memorable content to entertain fans.
At the Major-level, there were a couple of approaches to creating additional content. The obvious one is interviews with players, and several tournaments did this. The China Dota 2 Supermajor did both post-game interviews with players from the winning team, but also pre-recorded interviews. This gave fans the opportunity to hear their favorite players reflecting on the season, but also pumped on adrenaline after they’d won.
Another option is to pre-record other kinds of content, such as games with the players or comedic skits. The Bucharest Major gave us some of the most memorable Major content of the year, including the Newbee ad for “Scccuh.” It was such a memorable, iconic meme that the team revealed a few months later they’d actually produced the fragrance.
EPICENTER XL took a different approach to content creation, investing in a lengthy animated opening piece to begin each day of competition. It was beautifully produced video, introducing each of the competing teams by incorporating logos into a battle between Dota 2 heroes. While it left the event a little short on other types of content, the video was quite memorable in and of itself.
Obviously content requires both creativity and lead time to produce. For me, the best pieces are when the players are fully invested. Any opportunity to get to know the players in a more genuine way or to see them relaxing and having fun is especially welcome. I want to feel invested in the teams, and it’s hard not to root for a team after one of their players has opened up in an interview or made me chuckle as they run down a hallway chased by a toy shark.
I was delighted by tournaments that embraced a theme, and I think the Chinese tournaments did this really well. Dota 2 Asia Championships 2018 stands out for me because I remember the on-stage performances, the set pieces, and the guides who walked the players on to the stage. The tournament embraced a theme, and it made the event memorable for me.
Artwork from Perfect World for the China Dota 2 Supermajor
The China Dota 2 Supermajor also went all out with the comic-book hero theme. The tournament leaned hard on the “super” part of their title. The lead up to the tournament featured comic representation of iconic Dota 2 moments, and all of the graphics from team intros to post-game stats were superhero-flavored. It elevated the event from the last Major of the season to a tournament with its own identity.
Future tournament organizers take note! Not only does a theme inform your design choices, but it can also provide unique merchandising opportunities (plush Dota 2 heroes with capes and masks would have made me so happy, Supermajor!). It gives viewers something substantial to engage with and remember. I really want to see all five Majors next season find a theme and run with it.
Nine Majors were too many. Nine meant missing one here or there felt like less of a big deal. They didn’t punctuate the tournament landscape with their grandeur--they were too plentiful to feel inherently special. Organizers did a pretty good job of making their tournaments unique, but the volume made it feel less significant that these events were all Majors.
Valve’s already issued changes for next season. We’ll only have five Majors next year: more than previous years, but fewer than this one. They’ve also released rough dates that will spread the Majors across the season, turning them into five pillars for the year rather than a whirlwind of back-to-back tournaments.
What remains to be seen is which organizations will run the Majors and whether or not we’ll see other competitions fill the gaps in the schedule between sets of Minors and Majors. I hope there are several non-DPC tournaments and that they also take some risks to set themselves apart. Not only will it help emphasize the significance of the Majors, but it’ll give us fans something to watch when the DPC isn’t on.
What do you hope to see the Majors do next year to set themselves apart from Minors?