I love Dota 2. I love its esports scene. And I hate that the recently concluded The International 2022 (TI11) in Singapore has been simultaneously the best and worst TI yet.
Why, you ask?
Valve released a Swag Bag to drum up attention for the game. The bag came with a free Battle Pass, a choice of a free Arcana, and one month of Dota Plus.
You just needed to play 10 games to claim it. Hordes of players returned, hyping up the game, and by extension, awareness of the Grand Finals even more.
Then, there are the amazing games. From a two-hour long elimination match featuring a solo player on stage and four stuffed bears, to a ridiculously executed clinical finish of a Grand Final, this TI had it all. But not all of it was in a good way.
TI had a betting sponsor
For the first time ever, the Last Chance Qualifiers and Group Stage featured a sponsor. And it wasn't just any sponsor, it was an online betting sponsor. Betting odds featured prominently on the streams, with betting ad breaks playing at every opportunity.
Given that the games are mostly played by impressionable youths who may be watching as well, this felt completely unacceptable.
But nary a squeak was heard by Valve to address this. Why was a community-funded esports tournament relying on betting sponsors? Was Valve not paying enough for the LCQ and Group Stage that we could avoid such situations? Did someone not read the fine print on the contract?
Then there were the production issues, with a two-hour pause because of a game-breaking bug in the OG versus Liquid Group Stage game.
Caster panels were located far away in Norway, with no physical presence in Singapore, meaning the Singapore crowd didn't get to meet favourites like Jorien "Sheever" van der Heijden, Mira "Ephey" Riad, and even surprise returnee James "2GD" Harding in person.
As the community started leaving feedback, Jake "SirActionSlacks" Kanner jumped into Valve's defence, calling it "not TI yet".
This…didn't make any sense. That was TI. If it wasn't TI, what were the teams doing the entire DPC season to qualify to play in the Group Stage of not-TI?
The Main Event that lacked the magic
Slacks further made the point that Group Stage should not be as good as the Main Stage… but as the Main Event started, people were starting to ask questions.
Held in an 800-seater hall in the middle of a shopping and convention centre, the Playoffs experience was…mind-boggling.
Even the players said so, with the capacity a fraction of the non-DPC ESL One Malaysia's 4,000 at the Arena of Stars in Genting, probably the last LAN tournament most of these players experienced before TI.
Given the size of the hall, there was no grand stage with soundproof booths and no fancy lighting and seating.
Cool opening ceremony? Nope.
20,000 people who were all ready to sit and cheer together? Couldn't fit them.
Where was the Secret Shop, or the panellists (stuck in Norway, remember?) that fans could say hi and get autographs with?
Not there, that's what. But to be fair, they did have super cool rotating stages that led to minimal downtime, because I guess the mall turns off the air conditioner after a certain time and TI games tend to go on late, usually.
In fact, most days ended at around 8pm, which meant that also meant that there was barely any TI content during the playoffs, and these only appeared at the Finals weekend.
Was the Finals Weekend better?
Speaking of which, the Finals Weekend, still lacked the soundproof booths (perhaps there is some new regulation because of the pandemic times we live in).
This meant that audio in the arena was somewhat muted, to ensure the players would not be able to hear the casters and impact the integrity of the game. But I guess that worked, since I could barely hear the casters at times.
Then you have the screens, which were a bit hard to read (and I swear it's not the fact I need better glasses, thank you very much).
And while I'm not even going to get to the All-Star match, we have to talk about the Grand Finals.
While those watching at the arena had non-stop action, audiences at home had to deal with a stream that went down during the third and final game of the Grand Finals.
I do wonder if Valve had managed to get the National Stadium as allegedly planned, would things have turned out differently?
OG's CEO, JMR Luna, told audiences at a recent talk at the National University of Singapore that Valve had to split the event into two and settle for the smaller Indoor Stadium due to Justin Bieber booking the National Stadium. Of course, no one expected Bieber to cancel his concert, so there's that.
While Southeast Asia's first TI wasn't the experience that most people had come to expect from previous TIs, it was still a great one – for the high level Dota, for the fact that Singapore's passion for esports is still there.
I just wish we had much better production.
Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at canbuyornot.com. Views expressed are his own.
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