Dollar signs - DOTA2's $18 million prize pool

DOTA 2 and its Epic Prize Money

In Blogpost, eSports by Digital Bunker Overlord0 Comments

In 2015, an esport tournament for Defence of the Ancients (DOTA 2) wow’ed the world with its US$18.4 million prize pool.

With crowdfunding for 2016’s DOTA 2 tournament under way, we thought we’d take a look at where all this cash cash money came from, and what it all means for DOTA 2 and the future of esport.

Wait wait, what is DOTA 2?

For the newbies to esport, Defence of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2) is a top down, 5 versus 5, multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game published by American game developers ValveIn 2015, DOTA 2 amassed over 10 million players worldwide.

In the gameplay, each team has a base with a central structure called an Ancient. The aim of the game is to destroy the other team’s Ancient first.

What’s The International?

The International held in Seattle, is the pinnacle of competitive DOTA 2 and the world tournament where the epic cash is to be won.

In 2015, a prize pool of US$18.4 million was fought over and its winners walked away as millionaires. Well figuratively, we’re guessing they didn’t have to walk anywhere after winning $1.3 million each.

Leading up to The International, there are two qualifier rounds; the regional qualifiers, and the group stage playoffs. The top 8 teams to emerge from these 2 rounds compete in the grand finale, The International.

Where does the mountain of cash come from?

The most interesting aspect of The International’s prize pool is that it is majority crowdfunded.

Each year, Valve chips in US$1.6 million to the prize fund. The rest is funded through in-game purchases of a virtual interactive book called The Compendium.

With each Compendium purchase, 25% of the money goes towards funding the prize pool. As more purchases are made, The Compendium unlocks more items, levels, activities and other cool stuff to play with in the game.

The other radical thing is that it hasn’t taken long for the prize money to rise to astronomical heights. The Compendium was introduced in 2013 where it contributed to the US$2.8 million prize pool. In 2014 the prize pool was US$10.5 million.

Why does this matter to esport?

Besides proving to corporate sponsors and media broadcasters that the esport market could be incredibly lucrative, the dollar bills did a few key things for professional gaming:

  1. Legitimised esport as a sport

Serious cash meant serious competition.

The International’s prize pool outdid some of big name sporting competitions in the world, including the NBA finals which had a $US14 million playoffs pool, and the Cricket World Cup which had a prize pool of $US13 million in 2015.

High prize pools gave way to the possibility of players earning an income off esport and affirmed the “professional” part of pro gaming.

On top of that, add the sponsorship and streaming income possible for esport stars and you’ve got yourself a legitimate structure for esport.

  1. Legitimised esport as a spectator sport

The Compendium really showed that the people want esport. Rather than relying on the backing of corporate sponsors, Valve’s introduction of the Compendium created a funding community that bankrolled the competition through their love of the game.

Media buyers of the world realised that the invisible audiences behind the Twitch streams were interactive, engaged and there was a helluva lot of them.

So the big wigs are getting on board, with the likes of sports broadcasting giant ESPN screening 2015’s International tournament.

While the novelty of watching someone play a video game is still a mystery to some, the huge dollar signs threw the notion of esport as a spectator sport into the realm of mainstream media.

Spectators watching DOTA 2's International championship's million dollar prize pool

What’s next?

2016’s Compendium is available to buy and it is on track to beat 2015’s cash record. All eyes will be keenly watching the prize pool for The International 6 in August this year.

The crowdfunding example of DOTA 2’s Compendium is already being emulated by other tournaments such as first person shooter game Halo.

However, the real take away lesson is that the example of DOTA 2 offers an incredible alternative to funding esport events, that is shaped by the people who care about the game, not just the corporate dollars.

Perhaps the growth of esport around the world, and indeed in Australia, lies in finding other creative ways to engage and fundraise through the passionate grassroots audience.

Image Credits:

  1. Warhol Dollar” by Incase is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
  2. The International tournament area at Gamescom 2011 by YJ is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.