Image via the International's website
Hey kid, you want to make $2.6 million dollars? All you’ve gotta do is get really good at the game Dota 2 and win the International championship in August. It might even make you a star in Sweden, which will broadcast the games live on the television station TV6.
Valve Corporation’s Dota 2 has been around since 2003, when it began life as a mod for Blizzard’s Warcraft III called "Defense of the Ancients." The mod pitted teams of five against each other in 40 minute matches. Players controlled one hero that they had to modify in real time, in order to invade and conquer the opposing team's base, while still defending their own buildings and towers. It's like chess, but without turns, and with the task of modifying your pawns as the other team is coming at you. It's stressful and difficult—good players will average two mouse clicks or keyboard strokes every second (compared to the wrist-breaking Starcraft II, though, this seems almost sane).
DotA was such a popular mod that it inspired the game League of Legends, which became one the world’s most popular esports in its own right. League of Legends has been covered by ESPN and its players can apply for visas to come to America as athletes, even though, like NASCAR, they play their sport while sitting in a chair.
Within two years, Defense of the Ancients caught on in competitive gaming, especially in China and South Korea, which is to esports what the US is to the Olympics—a hot bed of talent and the perennial champs. The mod became a tournament game in at Blizzcon. The games eventually were broadcast on the Internet with running commentary, functioning as a spectator sport as well. Valve Corporation, known for the Half-Life and Counter-Strike series, acquired the trademark and hired the legendary developer Icefrog to make a sequel for DotA that would function as a standalone game.
After two years in beta, Dota 2 was officially released just a few weeks ago for Microsoft, Linux and Mac OS platforms. Next month’s tournament already boasts the largest prize pool in history for a single competitive gaming event, passing a League of Legends pool from last October. Sixteen teams will compete in the third annual International Dota 2 tournament in Seattle beginning on August 7.
In 2012, the highest paying game was the Blizzard’s Starcraft II, but Dota 2 seems primed to take the crown. Blizzard, which gave birth to Dota a decade ago, must now acknowledge the game as a contender. The software company issued an apology to esports fans yesterday via Reddit, for scheduling regional finals for the Starcraft 2 World Championship Series on the same day as the International. in the comments under the apology, fans complained that it was further evidence that Blizzard wasn't taking esports seriously, and that it pretty deserves to be surpassed by Dota 2.
While 15 teams have already been invited to the International, one spot remains open for the team that emerges in a qualifier in Seattle. If you’re pressed for a couple million bucks (split five ways), get together a rag-tag bunch of misfits with hearts of gold and one trick play to bust out right at the end and get in this tournament. You will, almost without a doubt, get crushed.
Contact the author via Twitter: @a_ben_richmond