It's disappointing to see how much Valve continue to ignore the good work of Dota 2 casters in Southeast Asia who have been putting in the time.
Let's be clear, SEA is one of the biggest and most competitive Dota 2 regions, with various degrees of play styles and lots of try-hards. It's also a fertile ground for finding new talent, with some of the best players coming from here.
So it's a surprise then, to find that the biggest Dota 2 tournament of the year (in this case, of the last two years) once again plays host to no new SEA casters.
It's not hard to feel sad for those who have put in good work the past year despite the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated restrictions. They had constantly cast all the regional qualifiers as off-site commentators, then either barely got featured or not at all in the main event.
Malaysia-based Bhutanese Dota 2 talent Pinda Rika Dorji, better known as pindaPanda, was among the first to publicly raise this point after Valve announced their list of talent last week.
To be sure, I checked datdota.com, a Dota 2 database site, to go through the list of games casted by SEA casters for major events, such as the Singapore Major.
Having gruellingly cast the majority of the group stages, Australian caster Mike "MLPDotA" Le Phoenix only got to shine in the first round of the lower brackets.
And to be clear, MLPDotA is very consistent in covering the SEA scene. From what I can see, he has cast a lot of SEA tournaments. Records on datdota don't quite go all the way back for his career, but since Dec 2020, he's cast a total of 1,441 pro games.
To say that he doesn't quite have the experience of the other casters selected boggles my mind. So, to set things straight, I asked him what he thought about the whole situation.
"To be fair to the people in charge of hiring talent, they did include talent that did work the SEA DPC throughout the year, mainly Lizzard, Lacoste, and Tsunami," said MLPDotA in an email reply to me.
I think the community was expecting talent that was, for lack of a better word, more native to the region, and perhaps had been around longer during this pandemic period, such as John (johnxfire) and I.MLPDotA
He blames his and Filipino John "johnxfire" Nathan Fernandez lack of invites to The International Dota 2 Championships due to a lack of experience casting at LAN, saying that there's no regional bias from Valve.
While I don't quite agree, since casting for online events shouldn't be any different from casting TI, MLPDotA has also worked with PGL Esports before — and they are the ones producing TI10.
"I dislike the narrative going around about regional bias affecting the talent hiring process. While I can assure everyone that we all really appreciate the support, and how vocal the SEA scene has been about this, if I were to go through the talent list of TI invites this year, I have no qualms with it," he added.
Thanks everyone for the kind words and support we've received today. @johnxfire and I will work harder, and get better next season; still very happy to see some of our peers finally get a shot after so many years!
— Mike Le Phoenix (@MLPDotA) September 17, 2021
One good news from this, though, is that he told me that other talents have reached out to him to find out more about the SEA scene, so they would be better prepared for TI10. I'm honestly hoping they name drop him and other SEA casters who can't be at the event, so as to bring more awareness for our region.
But, thinking about it from Valve's point of view, I can't help but wonder, is the lack of invites because there's just no demand for SEA despite the large player base?
Could it be because our region is so diverse, with so many languages spoken, we don't always watch SEA dotes in English?
Could that play a part in the lack of casters invited from Southeast Asian countries, or even Oceanic, like in MPLDotA's case?
I reached out to Singaporean caster and analyst Sean "Hades" Goh, who had called out the lack of viewership for SEA as the main reason Valve did not invite regional casters.
Some will prob think, nah no need to study EU or NA region > SEA region. Why study a lower tier team. This has not changed in ages. Thats why the SEA region will merely be a stepping stone for casters. To be fair, SEA is not the highest viewership and never really a priority. https://t.co/BmznIZ0cSQ
— Hades (@HadesCasts) September 18, 2021
"I wouldn't be surprised if soon we wouldn't see any more shoutcasters in SEA for Dota 2. An active region doesn't mean anything if nobody respects it. I've even had experiences with casters from different regions who spent almost an entire game saying how a team from another region would have done things better and you just had hundreds of viewers just agreeing how SEA is a lower-tier region," said Hades, who's currently founder and CEO of Elysium Esports, a new esports organisation managing streamers.
"This was casting a TNC game by the way," he added.
Hades further added that he felt that the level of competition had dropped, as there were not enough amateur tournaments now to allow newer talent to cast and grow.
And it's not like language is a barrier, either. For years, TI has enjoyed the analysis of Chan "WinteR" Litt Binn in his Malaysian-accented English. We also have had French, Australian, and even Dutch accents on air.
The lack of SEA casters led to some online suggesting an alleged "old boys club" in the casting scene, which I disagree with. The presence of new talent at TI10, some who are really new, obviously disproves this. Maybe there is a bias, just not regional. Perhaps Valve could be looking for talent who can create talking points (controversial or not), or draw in viewers.
Is that unfair to those who have put in the legwork? I'd say yes. But sometimes, hard work isn't enough. Luck and connections can also play an important part in getting noticed.
I asked Hades who he would love to see at TI10, and he called out MPLDotA, johnxfire, Matt "Danog" Joyce, and Lachlan "Ares" Williams as some of his choices. I agree, and hope these casters get their chance to shine in the future.
Valve really needs to pay more attention to the Southeast Asia region. The way SEA is going and turning to mobile MOBAs such as Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and Wild Rift, I'm worried.
The barrier of entry is lower, too. PC gaming could be a dying breed, especially in bigger markets such as the Philippines.
Selecting native casters could be just the thing to draw in audiences, especially when they know a fellow countryman will be on the global stage.
But I'm not Valve, and maybe there's a 4D chess game in play, yes?
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