Oh, how games have changed. In 1989, a film called The Wizard depicted kids competing in a video game tournament for a $50,000 grand prize. The film was panned at the time for being ludicrous, essentially an extended commercial for Nintendo games. This August 3-8, competitors from around the world will take the stage at Key Arena in Seattle to compete in an actual video game tournament with stakes far grander than any ’80s film could have ever predicted. The winners will leave the arena as millionaires, if they weren’t already.
The game is Dota 2, and the tournament is known as The International, a name that conveys the sort of respectability to which competitive games (colloquially known as esports) aspire nowadays. This year will mark the fifth International. Hosted by Dota 2’s developer, Valve, The International has grown in stature at a remarkable rate since its inception. The first International was held in a hall at Gamescom with a grand prize of $1 million, but this year, the spectacle will fill Seattle’s Key Arena and overflow into the surrounding area as teams fight for a prize pool totaling more than $17 million.
The International grows bigger with each passing year, riding the massive waves of online streaming and crowdfunding. If you’ve completely missed the rise of esports or just Dota, there is no better time than now to get into it. Thankfully, Valve has ensured there are many ways to watch The International. Read on to find out how to watch and what to look out for.
What is Dota 2?
Before watching Dota, one might want to know what exactly it is. Dota 2 is somewhat a sequel and remake of the popular Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients. In the game, two teams of five players battle each other on a large, slightly asymmetrical map. Both teams start in their bases located on opposite corners of the map and the goal is to destroy the opposing team’s “Ancient,” a large structure located in the middle of each base.
Each player picks one of more than a hundred heroes to play as, each with their own unique abilities. Characters fill a variety of roles, too, with some specializing in doing damage, some in disabling enemy heroes, etc. As the game progresses, players gain more powerful abilities and can acquire items to improve their capabilities.
Games can be long and complicated, as teams push back and forth in their efforts to seize the enemy’s base. Fights frequently break out, and as characters gain more abilities and items, these battles can become hectic flurries of bright lights and explosions. It makes for an exciting spectacle, if also a confusing one for new viewers.
Sunday, July 26: Wild Card tournament, starts at 9 a.m. PST
Sixteen teams compete in the main event. Fourteen of those teams have already been decided, but the last two slots will go to the winners of the Wild Card mini-tournament on July 26.
Monday, July 27, through Thursday, July 30: Group stage, starts at 9 a.m. PST
With the 16 teams decided, a stage of round robin play takes place to decide bracket seeding. Each team plays every other team in its group twice and the teams with the best records are seeded in the upper bracket, whilt the teams with the worst records are placed in the lower bracket.
Monday, August 3, through Saturday, August 8: The main event, starts 10 a.m. PST
The International proper is a double elimination tournament (teams that lose are knocked down to the lower bracket, in which another loss means elimination.) Nearly all series will be best-of-three, with the only exceptions being the first lower bracket matches (best-of-one) and the grand finals (best-of-five).
Where to watch The International live
Eager to ensnare the widest audience possible, Valve is providing many ways to watch the tournament (most of which are free!) There will be a number of streams available in different languages, each featuring different broadcasters commenting on the game. New players may find it helpful to watch the “Newcomer Show,” a stream focused on walking viewers through the basics of the game and what is occurring during each match.
Dota 2 is free-to-play, and that includes all the gameplay features available, including the ability to spectate games and watch replays. Dota’s spectator mode is also robust, probably one of the nicest of any video game. One can watch the game from the perspective of any broadcaster or players, or simply control the camera themselves. Spectator mode also provides real-time graphs and stats, allowing viewers to analyze the game as it progresses.
YouTube or Twitch
Maybe you don’t want to install the game to watch it — perhaps you simply want to watch it on your smart TV. Regardless of why you might be unable or unwilling to watch in-game, Valve has you covered. All the games will be streaming for free on their official Youtube and Twitch channels.
If you miss a game and want to see how it played out, Valve will provide replays both in-game and on the company’s official website. The replays also allow you to pause and rewind.
Go to a pubstomp
Like classic sports, esports are just a bit more fun to watch with a pint in hand, surrounded by cheering friends. Thanks to some enterprising bar owners, you can get that experience while watching TI5. The International’s website has a list of pubs that will be showing the tournament, making it easy to search for locations in your area. A brief aside on jargon: the term “pubstomp” originated in online gaming communities to describe a team of friends beating a team of random people on a public server.
Last year’s International proved to be a changing of the guard. Many hitherto successful teams found themselves losing early in the tournament, falling against new strategies they couldn’t adapt to. In particular, European teams saw their dominance ended; no Euro team made it to the top four. Several members of such teams — including former champions Alliance and Na’vi — perhaps disgruntled at their fall from prominence, came together in the wake of TI4 to form Team Secret. It seems to have been the right decision, as they have been on a dominating streak, placing first in several major tournaments this year. Given the team’s momentum, they are the definitive favorite to win it all this year.
The returning champions have a lot to prove and history is not on their side. As of yet, no team has won the grand prize at The International more than once. Newbee were remarkable underdogs last year, placing eighth and then proceeding to tear through the main event. Since that momentous run, it has not found much success. The team failed to make it past the group stage of the Dota 2 Asia Championships, and have lost two members of its champion lineup. Still, it’s already proven once that it can thrive under low expectations.
Perhaps no other team has experienced the prolonged success of Na’vi. It won the first International and made it to the grand finals in years two and three, an unmatched streak. For years it was a perennial contender in any major tournament. All of this makes the team’s collapse last year so tragic. After a string of poor showings in other competitions, it was eliminated early in The International. Rumors festered that there was strife amongst the players, and sure enough team captain Puppey and support player Kuroky left the team, marking the end of what had been one of the most consistent lineups in Dota history. It will be interesting to see if its rejuvenated roster can go far.
Dota is a complex and sometimes confusing game, particularly for new viewers. If you want to familiarize yourself with the game a bit before watching the tournament, there are many resources available.
The Dota 2 website has a breakdown of all the characters in the game, their roles, and their abilities. Readers can also find information on other aspects of the game such as items, updates, and top plays.
Team Liquid is one of the most prolific organizations in esports, and a large part of that is its community engagement. At the forefront of this is its Liquipedia network is a series of wikis covering different esports and their professional scenes. LiquidDota is a great resource for learning about professional teams and players, as well as the game itself.
The Dota 2 subreddit has been one of the major community hubs since the game was first announced. It provides links to numerous guides, streams, and informative discussions. The only downside is that you might have to wade through a dank bog of memes.