Waiting in the Wings: Why “Lower Tier” Dota Still Matters

So let me start this off with a bit of a disclaimer: I’m not trying to make any straw men with this post. I can’t speak to the popularity or prevalence of this perspective, but it is one that I have personally encountered on multiple occasions. The opinion circulating in some circles of Dota players and fans is one of general apathy or disinterest towards so called “low-tier” Dota. In other words, some fans don’t care for smaller leagues and tournaments that feature lesser known teams and may not have the same level of “importance” as more popular competitions.

To a certain extent, this lack of enthusiasm or interest in these smaller Dota competitions is understandable. Not every fan has the time or desire to watch Dota that falls short of the top tier of the professional scene. When fans tune in to watch a league or tournament, they more often than not want to see the best players on the best teams competing for the largest and most prestigious prize pools. It can be difficult to attain the same level of interest and investment in a match when one isn’t familiar with the contestants in the first place. Leagues and tournaments within these lower tiers of competition suffer from these hindrances and more, of which the most prominent are as follows.

  • Smaller prize pools
  • Overshadowing by larger concurrent tournaments
  • Lack of “top tier” teams and players
  • Lack of impact on top-level professional scene

These concerns are not new to the Dota scene, as they have been observed throughout the professional landscape from its inception. However, this recent pre-TI tournament season has given us perhaps a textbook example of a tournament contending with these perceived weaknesses. The Final Match 2017, hosted offline in the Peruvian capital of Lima, boasts a $50,000 prize pool and a roster of 8 teams, 5 of which hail from the South American region. It is one of, if not the largest Dota 2 tournaments in South America, and should be looked upon as a landmark event for South American teams and players, as well as a major step forward by Dota fans across the globe. Instead, the event has received tempered levels of interest and enthusiasm from the Dota scene at large, due in no small part to the concerns listed above.

First, there is the matter of the available prize pool. $50,000 is an impressive prize for most, but the sum does fall short of the money up for grabs in larger and more prominent tournaments. In fact, under the provisions outlined by Valve for the implementation of the new system of Majors and Minors, the prize pool of The Final Match comes up to only one third of the requirements to qualify as a official Minor tournament. The Final Match also suffers from an unfortunate conflict of schedules, as the LAN runs concurrently with the Mars Dota 2 League in China. MDL is a far more prominent tournament than The Final Match and will, intentionally or not, draw some interest and potential viewership away from a smaller competition. The level and fame of the teams participating in The Final Match do the event no favors either. Of the 8 teams playing in Lima, only 1 of them (Infamous) will be attending The International in August. Aside from Infamous, Alliance is perhaps the most notable squad participating in The Final Match, and the current iteration of the Swedish team is somewhat far removed from its former glory and prominence. To the final point outlined previously, one looks at The Final Match and sees a tournament which will have little to no impact on the top level of the professional scene. With this years iteration of The International fast approaching, and the new system for Major and Minor tournaments set to go into effect following its end, it seems unlikely that a performance in Lima will generate much notoriety or momentum for a victorious team. And so we are left with a tournament occurring simultaneously with a much more prominent one, with a prize pool too small to contend with major events, with teams that are talented but not popular or established enough to draw in large audiences, and without a significant enough impact on the global Dota scene to be particularly noteworthy.

So perhaps these “lesser” tournaments and events cannot contend with their more prominent peers. Not all tournaments are created equal, as some sponsors will have more resources to spend, some organizers will have higher production quality, and some names will always carry more weight and prestige than others. However, it is a great disservice and mistake to claim that these smaller events somehow “don’t matter” within the larger theater of the professional Dota scene. Revisiting the four points that often hinder smaller tournaments, one can come to the conclusion that these so called “weaknesses” need not be perceived as such.

Speaking of the first 2 points, those of prize pools and conflicting schedules, there is not much that can be done or altered. Financial constraints will always result in some tournaments being unable to post top level prize pools. To a certain extent, this is not truly a weakness, as these smaller tournaments and their proportionally smaller prize pools grant opportunities for lower tier teams to compete and experience some degree of financial success. Without these smaller tournaments and the opportunities they provide, fringe teams would have little to no chances of showcasing their talent and play styles. Without the results and examples of a team’s skill stemming from these minor tournaments, sponsors and organizations would feel significantly less confident about backing a lower tier squad. Professional Dota does in fact cost money to operate, and these smaller tournaments are vital for lesser known teams to put themselves on display both for potential fans and investors. On the matter of scheduling, there is even less that can be done in all honesty. Tournament organizers abide by no real set of rules with regards to when their events take place or even when the dates of an event are officially announced. Barring an unprecedented level of communication and cooperation between tournament organizers, a significant decrease in the overall number of tournaments, or a sudden random increase in the amount of days in the Gregorian Calendar, the current scheduling conflicts in the Dota scene aren’t going to go away anytime soon.

Let’s shift focus over to the final 2 points, those dealing with a lack of “top tier” players and teams and a lack of significant impact within the pro scene. These two points go hand in hand with each other, and essentially constitute two halves of the same coin. The highest level teams and players are often times the ones that have to largest and most visible impact on the professional scene as a whole. While these points may seem to carry some weight at first glance, a look at the wider picture shows that these two concerns are often times exaggerated or shortsighted. It is true that most of the lower tier tournaments cannot attract the big name teams and players to compete in them. Teams like the EGs, OGs, VPs, and IGs of the world aren’t keen on competing against lower level competition for smaller prize pools than they are used to. However, as cliche as it may sound, the point must be made that everyone has to come from somewhere. Top tier teams, and by extension top tier players, do not simply spring up overnight to be plucked on to a roster by the first team to notice them. Even the greatest of teams and players have to start somewhere, and more often than not the places where they get their chance to grow and succeed are these so called “lesser” leagues and tournaments.

Take for example the Chinese team CDEC Gaming circa 2015. From the perspective of many Dota 2 fans, particularly those in the West, this team came out of nowhere to make a run at TI5, finishing in second place only behind TI champions Evil Geniuses. Of course, CDEC didn’t actually come out of nowhere, no team ever truly does. The Chinese squad had been competing and making a name for themselves in various leagues and tournaments within the Chinese Dota scene. However, these lower tier levels of competition were largely under the radar of the average Dota 2 fan, and so many were surprised to see this relatively unknown team enjoying such high levels of success against the world’s best teams. One year later, Wings Gaming essentially copied the same formula, showing success within the Chinese region before exploding onto the international scene with massive amounts of success. This model doesn’t just apply to teams as a whole though, as many of today’s most skilled and popular players rose from humble origins within “lesser” levels of competition.

If one looks at the leading players within the Dota 2 scene today, a litany of names arises. Players like SumaiL(EG), Arteezy(EG), Ana(OG), Miracle-(Liquid), Ramzes666(VP), Paparazzi(IG.V), and Ame(LGD) are among those that can be considered to be popular stars within the professional scene. Each of these players have something in common in that they all came up through the ranks of “lower” levels of competitive Dota, making a name for themselves before being picked up by top tier organizations. Sumail and Arteezy both had extensive experience within North American in-house leagues and competitions such as NEL prior to their breakthroughs on Evil Geniuses. Miracle- famously made his breakthrough onto the Dota scene by virtue of his status as a European pubstar, having climbed his way to the top of the EU MMR ladder in 2015. Ramzess666 took a similar path to prominence, rising through the MMR ranks before bouncing between a bevy of CIS squads prior to landing with Virtus Pro. As for Ana, Paparazzi, and Ame, their rise to Dota 2 fame came through the lower tiers of the Chinese pro scene, particularly the CDEC League. Ana moved to China to participate in the league, showcasing his skills and serving as a substitute for Invictus Gaming for a time before being recruited by OG. Ame similarly worked his way through lower tier competition in China, spending about a year with CDEC.Youth before finding his place as a cornerstone of the LGD Gaming roster. And, surprise surprise, Paparazzi also got his start with secondary tier teams in China, playing for teams like Immortal Magneto Gaming and Fantuan before being picked up by the IG organization. These players, and many more like them, have come to have a monumental impact on the Dota 2 professional scene, but they all got their start by working their way up through these “lesser” tournaments and competitive leagues.

The fact of the matter is that these low-tier levels competition are actually the foundation upon which the entire Dota 2 professional scene rests. Today’s stars can often trace their origins to these introductory and mid-level competitions, and even TI level teams need to start somewhere. So you can say that these “low tier” leagues and tournaments aren’t as exciting as the big time events. You can say that you don’t want to watch players you don’t know on teams you’ve never heard of play for relatively small prize pools. However, you can’t say that these events don’t matter, or that they have no impact on the Dota 2 scene at large. The greatest players and teams, the ones that draw the large audiences, participate in “real” tournaments, and have the biggest impact on the scene came up from the depths of “low tier” Dota. In the end, no one can make you watch these tier 2 or tier 3 teams and players, but know this. The next big thing in professional Dota, whether it is a breakthrough star player or the next team to make a miraculous, Cinderella-esque run, is going to get their start in these “lesser” events; and that definitely matters.



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