From July 9th to July 21st the 16 best Dota 2 teams from all over the world competed in a tournament for their cut of the largest prize pool in e-sports history, 10.9 million USD. This tournament? The 4th International Dota 2 Championships.

But before I get into the tournament itself, for those of you wondering what Dota 2 is let me give you a brief explanation. Dota 2, a game developed by Valve Software, is the sequel to the wildly popular Warcraft 3 mod Defense of the Ancients. Commonly referred to as DotA. It is a 5v5 team based game where players select a different heroes to control, which they then use to attempt to destroy the enemies base and defend their own with the help of both teammates and friendly NPC’s.

Honestly I could go on and on about the deep mechanics and little nuances that take thousands of hours to master, but the topic of this article isn’t the game itself so I’ll have to skip it and move on.

Key Arena during TI4, it was pretty packed.

The International

The International, or TI as it is commonly called by the Dota 2 fan-base, is Valve Software’s yearly Dota 2 grand championships. You can think of it as the super-bowl of Dota 2. It’s the time of the year that Valve gets to show off their game, and they go all out when it comes to TI.

Every year they’ve ramped up TI, and every year it raises the bar for e-sports tournaments. Last year they introduced the idea of crowdfunding to e-sports by selling a digital compendium to accompany TI. It cost $10.00, a quarter of which went towards the prize pool, compendium sales managed to raise the prize pool that year to $2.8 million.

This year they have improved the compendium and added new features such as levels for your compendium, giving you increased rewards as you level up your compendium. You could increase your compendiums level by playing Dota 2, completing tasks (such as a Dota 2 fantasy league or filling out tournament predictions), or you could boost your level by purchasing “compendium points” which led to the prize pool reaching the previously mentioned $10.9 million.

The improvements don’t end there, with a new venue comes a slew of new additions to TI.

The workshop area, Dota2 workshop artists were here the entire tournament.

The Workshop

One of improvements this year was an area completely dedicated to content creators for the Dota 2 section of Valve’s Steam Workshop. It featured booths with TV’s displaying the artists in-game items, a podium where artists gave presentations throughout the tournament on different topics related to creating items for Dota 2, and even TV’s for watching the games live so that you didn’t miss out on a single piece of the action.

A small part of the line for the secret shop on the 2nd day.

The Secret Shop

Every year at TI there’s the secret shop, a store where attendees can get their hands on Dota 2 merchandise, but this year they introduced a new element to merchandising. In the weeks leading up to TI Valve opened a section of their steam workshop specifically for TI, allowing community made merchandise into the secret shop.

One of the many complaints by Dota 2 fans over the years has been the exclusivity (and thus price) of items sold at TI. This year though Valve decided to change that, they staggered the sales of the merchandise. Those attending TI would have early access to all merchandise which would then be later released for online sales, allowing those who couldn’t make it to the main event to still be able to buy some of that sweet loot.

A very large statue of Juggernaut, a hero in Dota 2. It was at least 6ft tall.

The Juggernaut Lounge

Although the tournament was hosted in a basketball arena, complete with giant screens and seating for thousands, Valve decided to include an area they called “The Juggernaut Lounge.” An area filled with TV’s and couches so that fans wishing for a reprieve from the cheering crowds could watch the game and interact with fellow fans in peace.

Not only was it a place for fans to hang out, but you could often times find some professional Dota 2 player or notable community member there signing autographs, and usually one or two cosplayers as well.

Oh, and there was a giant statue of the Dota 2 hero Juggernaut there.

One of the two main entrances to Key Arena for TI4.

The Main Event

Initially there concerns from the fans about moving to an actual arena for TI, the past two years it had been in Benaroya Hall in Seattle, a venue small enough that one giant screen could easily be seen from anywhere in the hall. But this year by moving to a stadium people were worried it would be hard to see much of the action, especially from the farther back seats.

Well Valve solved that issue. They had three giant displays, and with the exception of a few minor hiccups on day one they worked wonderfully. Even seated in the back seats of the 2nd floor of Key Arena fans could still see all of the action.

Not only did it look good, it sounded even better. The sound inside the stadium (especially in the higher seats) was amazing. You could feel it whenever Treant Protector, a large living tree hero, took steps. It made it feel like the characters were actually there. Which made the amazing games being played feel even more epic.

All of this combined to make TI4 feel like more than just a tournament, it made TI4 a Dota 2 convention. Between all of the professional players, cosplayers, events, and fans there was a sense of community that emerged. All of which was centered and built around the best of the best competing for the biggest prize-pool in e-sports history. Hopefully with TI5 we’ll see more of the same, but at least for sure we’ll see other tournaments and competitive games follow suite.

Oh, and if after reading this you want to watch the games played at TI4, which I highly recommend you do, you can find all of the VOD’s (Video on Demand) here.




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