Erik Johnson praises competitive gaming

General Christoph “malnor” Helbig
It's been a year since Valve announced the first International tournament. Erik Johnson, as Valve's Market Director of Operations, is looking forward to the second edition.

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Valve's preparations for The International 2 are running at full speed. Not even a month remains until 16 teams battle for the World Championship title again, this time in Seattle. Erik Johnson, Valve's Market Director of Operations, describes how they are doing the rehearsal: "We will have our internal version of the International (dubbed "The Internal") with 16 internal Valve teams these days, where we do a dry run of all of the systems of the game to make sure everything goes smoothly for the real event."

"Our work now is getting everything in place for The International"

The real event, The International 2012, shall be sort of another milestone in eSports. One year after the first edition, this time everything will be bigger. Johnson admits: "We learned a huge amount from last year's International, and are really looking forward to getting this year's event underway." Valve is bringing the event from a booth at gamescom, Cologne, to the company's home town Seattle, Washington, into the huge Benaroya concert hall. For this event in late August everything has to be set. "Our work right now is getting everything in place for The International, which includes expanding the hero pool (which is finished for now at 90 heroes, Editor's note), spectating features, testing, and roughly a million other things."

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Dota 2 has indeed come a long way since last year's opener. Though not yet being free-to-play, the amount of heroes available has increased from 45 to 90 within one year. Now only 18 heroes remain to be converted from DotA to DotA 2. "We still are working on many of the same things as we were a year ago, but the big difference from a year ago is how much further through the process we’ve gotten." For the player masses yet to be invited or buy a pass, Erik Johnson gives hope for a soonish redemption: "Heading into The International this year gives us a good marker to see how much work we've gotten done, and we can start to see the point where the game will be freely available for everyone."

'Free-to-play with a twist' revealed, but not applicable on other games

Dota 2 is not free-to-play yet, but the Dota 2 shop with customizable hero items and DotaTV passes have revealed the business model of Valve for their newest game. Whether this model is the future for more games and the best for eSports, Johnson is unsure: "I'm not sure what the right answer is for all eSports, we tend to just think about what is the best thing for Dota 2, which isn't necessarily the right solution for every other game."

Our process for trying to figure out what is right for Dota 2 starts with paying attention to who is generating the most value for the community as a whole, and then building a system that connects both sides together. This was our thinking when we built the Steam Workshop, where we wanted to give people in the community that could build really cool content a way to have a direct relationship with the people that were playing the game.

eSports is extra value for a whole gaming community

Coming back to competitive gaming, he stresses the importance of eSports for the whole Dota 2 community: "In the case of tournament organizers and professional players, they are a relatively small group of people that generate huge amounts of value for lots of people, so it makes a bunch of sense to build a system that allows people to watch tournament games live in the client." DotaTV has already been an important issue since the East and West qualifiers of The International, which were available free of cost, at the same time as the caster's videostreams. Valve hereby reduces the dependency of eSport broadcasting from the big streaming organizations.

Johnson appreciates the community's interest in Valve's somewhat new approaches: "We have a long list of other things we want to try out similar to this, and the Dota community seems to have lots of different areas where people are doing cool things that people really love."

Dota 2 not yet convincing enough for newcomers

However, the Valve Director of Operations knows pretty well where Valve is doing good and where Valve's competitors are doing better: "We think we’ve done a pretty good job of making Dota 2 a fun game for people that have some familiarity with the game, or for friends to bring their uninitiated friends in, but we still have a lot of work to do for completely new players."

The International will not get new players into the game directly, but it will certainly help to raise attention. For now, Valve is 'busy' with The Internal. The Valve-internal tournament helps Johnson to remember what all this gaming is about: "While it is far far far from the level of play of The International, it makes for a bunch of fun leading into the real event."

More information: The International 2012 four weeks update
Christoph “malnor” Helbig
Malnor is former Editor-in-chief of, now a guest editor for Dota 2 and general eSports topics.