Welcome to another edition of our once a year post on The International (TI), now in it's sixth flavor. This year we're splitting up the info and perspective, combining Eli's ability to nerd out amongst the community at TI and spending money for goodies with Jeff eXtine's eye for production and the bigger picture ahead. Double the minds double the perspective, be warned it's a long sweet journey ahead. We hope you enjoy the Antlion Audio TI6 Blog
Eli - This year was Valve's experiment with changing it's tournament structure from premier event to four in a year. With Majors taking place in Frankfurt, Shanghai and Manilla the international audience of Dota 2 became more involved and invested than ever before. Valve continued their streak of record breaking prize pools for the flagship event. This year the total amount of money in the pool was a staggering $20,770,460, and the first place winners, Wings, took home over $9,139,002 USD.
The Dota 2 community provided almost 18.5 million to the prize pool
At last year's TI, Valve was perfecting its craft in terms of a world class week long spectator event. This year the sixth edition of The International showed that the tournament is truly deserving of its name. Broadcast areas were set up in three of the four corners of Key Arena, with the English Chinese and Russian talent keeping their loving fans entertained without missing a second of gameplay. This year's tournament saw a total of 22 different countries represented on the team rosters.
As an attendee, we saw a number of changes and improvements to our experience. Valve decided to split up the tickets into midweek and finals, restrict the secret shop to online only purchasing, and probably the best English talent we've seen at the show. There were many new segments: Educational, player focus and a newly beloved weatherman segment. Valve also brought on the community's own class clown to co-host. All in all we had a fantastic time and left with a lot more Dota 2 knowledge and appreciation than when we drove up at the start.
5 Million viewers tuning in for the grand finals between Wings and DC
eXtine - This year's coverage of The International followed the in-game production techniques developed at the Majors while adding a significant amount of content between games. Kaci's lighthearted crowd interviews were backed up by her partnership/rivalry with SirActionSlacks, who did a wonderful job this year. There were plenty of player interviews and background videos as well as a great series of clips showcasing what different players did outside of playing DOTA.
Valve also debuted a new segment this year called "The International Archives". These segments offered fresh interviews from the players involved and behind the scenes clips of classic TI moments. One of the best of these segments covered NaVi's fountain hooks from TI3, demonstrating the play with cinematic customization, giving insights into its impact on the TongFu players and behind the scenes footage of an incredulous Loda asking "Is That Balanced??!?".
With the wide array of on-air talent available, Valve's main panel was able to be augmented by a second group for the more technical pre-game draft analysis. RedEye handled the overall hosting duties and did his usual wonderful job. Joining him on the main panel were Pyrion Flax, Charlie Yang, Sheever, Shane Clarke, and a few other members of the production team. Thanks to good weather, this crew was able to rotate to a couple different spots outside the arena, adding some variety to the cast. This group was able to keep the atmosphere of the broadcast positive and up tempo while the draft panel was able to swoop in with more technical analysis.
Another area of analysis that was improved to great effect was the post-game breakdown. This year's TI featured a large touchscreen manned by Kevin "Purge" Godec. Purge's friendly analyitcs were heavily supplemented by this technology, enabling him to convey useful information about the matches for spectators of all skill levels. While touchscreen technology isn't new and has been used for Dota coverage before, Purge was disgustingly good
And now Purge, with the weather
There was a neat feature of the broadcast that was a technological step, but didn't add much besides pomp and circumsance. Valve was showcasing an Augmented Reality technology which enabled them to overlay 3d models of the DOTA2 heroes onto their camera shots. It was neat tech for showcasing heroes during the draft, highlighting the MVP of the match, allowing fans to pose alongside their favorite heroes, and SirActionSlacks even got to interview of those heroes.
Overall, the video production this year was a fantastic success. There was a bare minimum of delays before games started, no long pauses during games, and there was always interesting content between games. Valve will surely be looking to develop new in-game techniques through the coming year to use at the next International.
Eli - Of course the first thing our party did after arriving to TI was the traditional assessment of the complimentary swag bag. Since Valve decided to split up tickets for the event into midweek (Mon-Thurs) and finals (Fri & Sat) folks who attend both halves actually end up getting two swag bags. That's double the swag! This helps offset higher priced tickets, and there were some good holdovers from last year, such as the Nalgene water bottle, Dota 2 notebook and sunglasses. Noticeably absent from this year's bag were the Dota 2 branded sharpies (We got a gold one last year!) and no sunscreen. A nice addition this year were free Dota 2 shirts.
Those of you who know me, or remember last year's blog, are familiar with my fondness for buying and trading items at events like this. Hands down one of the biggest improvements from year to year, beginning in my first experience at TI4, has been the time spend in lines. At TI4 I spent roughly 12 hours spend in line. At TI5, probably 4 hours in line. This year, I spent as much time in line for the secret shop as I did waiting for food at the carts outside Key Arena. Having the shop only accept online orders eliminated walk ups and streamlined the entire process.
All of these people, free of having to stand in any lines!
Valve didn't stop at desolating the lines, they also worked on increasing the outdoor spectator's options for where to watch and extra fun stuff to do. Instead of a fragmented sponsor area above the shop as last year, this year the whole area was a huge VR tent where people could experience the Dota 2 VR Hub on the Vive and also play some actual games like Space Pirate Trainer, one of my personal favorites. In addition to this, they summoned a 2nd giant screen in the north end of the park positioned near this year's beer garden. While this wasn't actually that well placed for people in the garden to enjoy, it still provided a new viewing angle for hundreds of visitors and native Seattlites alike.
Beer Garden inhabitants huddling under the only shade.
Last but not least I want to talk about some changes to the actual contents of the shop this year and the Crimson Witness drops. In years previous, the plastic figures called Demi-Heroes would have a chance at being gold instead of their default colors. This year, that no longer happened as the vinyl hero figures available were from a different manufacturer. People who purchased these figures still had a chance at getting a golden in game item as I did on one of mine, but I always loved finding the golden figures. As has become standard, the community also provides a multitude of designs that Valve then picked out to become the shirts available for sale. I personally got a bounty hunter shirt and several pieces of outerwear that I had no business wearing in hot Seattle summer, so they will get enjoyed when it cools off.
This year's badges had an RFID chip in them and were linked to a person's Steam account. Attendees needed to scan in and out of the arena, but by connecting our badges to our accounts Valve was able to distribute prizes randomly to people as long as they were checked into the area during the first kill of the game aka First Blood! This new addition quickly turned our group into experts for being there during that first kill, but then more comfortable with watching the games from outside. It also became a running contest and joke with checking your phone for that precious email from Steam or ridiculing your friends who did not make the right sacrifices to RNGesus. Whether you buy tons of stuff from the shop or if you just went to see the matches and get as much free stuff as possible, I think you walked away completely satisfied.
eXtine - Not only was this year's International a well produced and well run event, it also featured some fantastic DOTA! NaVi and Secret got eliminated on the first day of the main event, this year's most dominant team OG lost two straight sets to get eliminated, and several teams eXceeded eXpectations such as DC and TNC. There were a multitude of very close games, large comebacks such as EG persevering over mega creeps for the first time at a TI in game one against EHome, surprising upsets like TNC eliminating OG after they lost to MVP, and a diverse pool of mostly well balanced heroes. In the end, only 5 heroes weren't picked. The eventual champions, Wings Gaming from China, helped this trend through some unusual picks and even claimed to have a strategy ready utilizing 2 of the 5 unpicked heroes, Treant Protector and Visage.
The Draft Panel waiting for the final day to begin under the bright lights
With their dominating victory, Wings Gaming continue the pattern of TI winners alternating between the western and eastern scenes. The parity between teams seemed to be very close this year with all teams raising their level of play. There were a few bumps in the road this year in regards to a busy schedule for teams and roster rules being ironed out. With the tweaking of some of these roster rules and the change from three to two majors in between TIs, we should have an even better year of DOTA ahead of us.
IceFrog and Valve have also mapped out the path forward. They released Underlord earlier this week and revealed an ambiguous timeline for the release of Monkey King, the first brand new hero for DOTA 2. Additionally, they reduced the number of majors from three to two, which will help unclutter the DOTA schedule and add more impact to larger third party tournaments.
One of last years hosts will face some disappointing news
While the format and scheduling of The International has pretty much been perfected, the coverage of the group stage didn't quite match its importance. With so much going on, Valve could easily eXtend the festivities of the main event to include the group stage. While the players are resting between the intensive group stage and the resumption of games, Valve could feature Workshop Creators, Cosplayers, and their other video game properties. The International is an amazing festival already, but giving people a way to attend the group stage would take it to the neXt step.
Valve definitely did another great job organizing The International and there were even some community organized gatherings around town such as the Reddit meetup at Gameworks. TI continues to be a cornerstone of the eSports world and we're already getting eXcited about neXt time. Hope to see y'all there.
Bonus pics / videos below
Team Banners hanging in the Key Arena, a very nice new addition
EG banner, bleed blue
Fans posing in the "Hall of Heroes" with AR imposed Dota 2 characters
This guy is pumped to pose with these cosplayers
Community art on display all over the Key Arena
Dota 2 confetti after the grand finals concluded, congrats to Wings!