Talk about the passing of the torch: OG’s TI8 spirit was embodied by, well, Team Spirit, a young underdog side coming out of nowhere with a cocky in-your-face playstyle on the biggest stage of them all to take the Aegis of Champions for themselves. It’s a cool story for the fans – but it also showcases just how awful the returns are on the year-long investment when six consecutive series of Dota 2 will matter so much more.
So Europe made it four in a row for the West in Bucharest as Team Spirit triumphed against all odds over, well, everyone, an all-conquering run featuring PSG.LGD, Team Secret, Virtus.pro, Fnatic and, perhaps most notably, OG themselves along the way. From the last chance qualifier to the Aegis of Champions, they peaked at just the right time, the narrowest of windows of excellence netting them over $18 million and a spot in gaming history.
Simply put, this is awesome.
For fans watching at home, the underdog story has always been the best, the team emerging from that awful hotel room to conquer the world in the main event. It further fuels the legends and the legacy of The International, that insane cauldron of pressure that can crumble any top team to dust and make diamonds out of what seemed like a piece of coal going into the tournament. There’s simply too much on the line not to have legendary shit happen.
Clearly, fans were into the spectacle, with the viewership numbers crushing TI9 in terms of peak viewers and hours watched, not to mention the record viewers of the OG vs Secret match to begin the playoffs (though one has to wonder just how much of this was due to the Battle Pass points on offer), even if Worlds continues to outpace the showpiece Dota 2 event in the broadcasting space.
Let’s be real though: the show just wasn’t what it could have been. No crowd and synergy issues on the panels meant that the sections between the matches themselves fell a little flat, and it’s not a good look when analysts are actively discussing how they literally got everything wrong at the business end of the tournament.
All eyes are on PGL and Stockholm, where the upcoming CS:GO Major will actually have a live audience for the playoff stage: though it’s nowhere near as massive an event, it might just turn out to be a better broadcasting experience in total.
Behind the magic of Team Spirit’s incredible victory, the now-usual questions about the wider competitive Dota 2 scene and the DPC in general return in full force. Return they do indeed, for the real question is whether there’s any real return on investment here. At the end of the day, what’s the point of grinding through the hard yards of the DPC, investing time and resources both as a player and as an owner of an org, if it matters so little at the big event?
Simply put, this is awful.
Since the current format of the DPC was introduced, the winners of TI came from the qualifiers twice (OG at TI8 and Team Spirit now) and once as the tenth-placed side (OG at TI9). Wings also went through the regional qualifier in 2016. As the more professional esports get and the narrower the edges between teams become, the notion of consistency in Dota 2 will further shift from pure gold to mirage. Much of the magic of TI is simply down to variance: good luck trying to derive meaningful conclusions from ten distinct data points across eleven years.
Which is fine, we can all have our Super Bowl and insane excitement, the sugary overdose of the big day with millions of dollars on the line superseding everything that came before. It just doesn’t bode well for the DPC and the teams and players involved therein, relegating it more to a soap opera than an elite competition of its own. It’s not built up, it’s not consistent, it’s dwarfed by TI: these are issues the Dota 2 community has discussed for years at this point.
It’s the old-school view of esports, where it’s little more than a marketing vehicle for the game in question, with the developers having little to no regard for sporting excellence. Who’d be silly enough to try and build a franchise based on Dota 2 matches in this day and age? Not even a TI win guarantees you anything: just look at the downfall of Newbee. Where will Team Spirit be in two years, an eternity in this game? Most likely nowhere. Say what you will about Riot, but the way they reward consistency is a big part of why League of Legends’ competitive scene grows the way it does, with the sort of eye-popping business partnerships they represent.
Maybe this is a part of why the group stages of Worlds match TI’s playoffs in terms of global viewership. Cinderella stories are one thing, but efforts well rewarded are very much another.