eSports players

Earlier this week, Valve announced changes to the Dota Pro Circuit that will change the landscape of Dota 2 esports. A decade into the life of the title’s competitive ecosystem, the scene will now feature a system comprising of regional leagues.

So much is changing. So many aspects of the industry stand to be affected. But who are the true winners of the new Dota Pro Circuit system – and who stands to lose out?

How DPC changes will really affect Dota 2 esports
Photo credit: Valve

What’s changing?

The most important changes of the new system can be boiled down to a few bullet points:

  • Minors are gone in favour of six regional leagues, each with two divisions of eight teams, which offer DPC points to the top teams
  • The year will be divided into three seasons, each ending with its own Major event
  • A new weekly broadcast schedule has been introduced

The year will still end with The International, which will still have the same enormous prize pool. But with a large chunk of the funding previously allocated to Majors moved to the regional leagues, the rest of the ecosystem has become a lot less top-heavy. (For more information on the new DPC system check here, or read Valve’s original announcement.)

So, what are the implications of these changes?

A new viewing experience

For starters, there will be a lot more Dota 2 to watch.

With the standardised league format of a six-week round robin, each league will feature five best-of-threes a week. For both divisions. That’s a total of 60 best-of-threes for each week of the competitive season – or around 180 hours of broadcast programming, half of which will be from a studio environment.

There are 168 hours during a week. The sun will never set on Valve’s new empire.

Fans at TI9
Photo credit: Valve

Of course, most fans might only be interested in following their favourite team or their native region. But with the new international schedule, you’ll always know what time your local league is on, which is bound to make audience retention more attainable.

“There is one big winner from these changes and that is the Dota viewer that wants constant games to watch,” Toby ‘TobiWan’ Dawson, a caster venerated in the scene, told Esports Insider. “The scheduling ensures you will have a mix of region and quality level throughout the whole week.”

“The devil will be in the execution details to see if, overall, this is a positive change for the Dota scene.”

On the flip side, there’s less potential for regional juggernauts to face off in international competition. With so much action, very real fears of viewer burnout come into play, but the new competitive format promises something to play for in every game, with clear high points throughout the season.

“The devil will be in the execution details to see if, overall, this is a positive change for the Dota scene,” cautions TobiWan, but regional leagues certainly stand to give a new lease of life to Dota 2 fans everywhere.

An even playing ground

For organisations – and players – competing in Dota 2, the affect of the DPC changes is a lot more nuanced.

The whole picture of the competition has drastically changed. Although there are some differences in Major qualification between regions, the prize pool allocation (both in USD and DPC points) is completely uniformed across the globe. A portion of each league’s $280,000 (£217,000) prize pool is handed out to teams that finish as low as sixth in the lower division, ensuring that the top 14 teams from each region are able to take home a share of the pie. For smaller organisations based in developing nations, that money is sure to go a long way.

OG celebrate wiining TI9
Photo credit: Valve

“The changes will allow tier 2 teams and players to generate income, which has been impossible in Dota for many years,” Peter ‘ppd’ Dager, a veteran Dota 2 pro and former TI winner, explained to Esports Insider. “This will have a chain effect, enabling players to commit more time to improving as both players and teammates, which will raise the level of competition for the top teams who currently dominate their region.”

ppd, who outlined his initial reactions to the news in an insightful YouTube video, is an advocate of the change. There are those that are more apprehensive, especially regarding the Majors, however. Reduced funding for Majors will likely see the very top teams take home less prize money overall. Not to mention that a jam-packed new calendar allows very little downtime for successful teams, though that concern is slightly alleviated by the granting of byes at Majors. In addition, only the top eight teams at the Majors will earn any prizing whatsoever, which might put off weaker qualifying teams from even taking part.

The biggest problem for organisations, though, likely won’t be related to the Majors, but the leagues themselves.

Overall, the introduction of regional leagues should be a massive benefit to teams; not only can you standardise a schedule for practice and play, but with much more regular screen time and more predictable audience sizes, the figures that organisations can present to potential sponsors become much more attractive.

“It’s important that we stay fluid and willing to change to a rapidly growing industry that is searching for responsible monetization.”

However, there’s sure to be a sizeable gap between audience interest in the upper and lower division teams, and teams below that will enter a de facto Wild West. Add those facts together with the announcement that there will be no playoffs between the bottom two teams in each division and what lies below, just direct relegation, and suddenly those stable audience figures become a lot more unreliable. That simple uncertainty is sure to stunt what would otherwise surely be a period of strong sponsorship growth for teams.

Without league-wide revenue sharing, it may be difficult for some teams to compete as player wages rise in the new system. Riot Games implemented implemented a regional league system into League of Legends in 2013, and in 2017, H2k Gaming – a team which, at the time, competed in the EU LCS (now LEC) – released an open letter addressed to the community, stating that, due to inflated costs, the team incurred “annual losses of over €1m” (£840,000), and asking Riot Games to provide further financial support to teams. In 2019, the LEC finally established long-term partnerships with select teams.

It could be the case that Valve opts to explore the possibility of franchising individual leagues further down the line, but until then, some teams are likely to encounter financial struggles, particularly in more expensive regions such as Europe and North America. And without the financial incentives of a revenue sharing system that rewards competitiveness and viewership, Dota 2 fans could be deprived of some excellent content.

The big picture

Overall, the changes to the Dota Pro Circuit are still a big step in the right direction, even if the final goal is some way off.

“I see change as good and necessary,” says ppd. “It’s important that we stay fluid and willing to change to a rapidly growing industry that is searching for responsible monetization.”

The stage at TI
Photo credit: Valve

At the end of the day, it’s still going to be the Dota 2 that we know and love. There will be fewer Majors – and fewer windows for third-party tournaments – but the same game, many of the same players (even if many of them may swap regions to get the best shot at TI), and the same ultimate goal of earning DPC points and winning esports’ biggest jackpot at The International.

The new DPC system will help nurture developing talent, build stronger local communities around regional broadcasts, and provide a vast number of new opportunities for fresh casting talent.

It’s a world ripe with opportunity, and ppd is optimistic. “My hope,” he says, “is that these changes will lead to a more realistic sustainable system that enables Dota to be a career for players, talent, and staff for another 10+ years.”

Perhaps he’s right. Perhaps Dota 2’s story is just beginning.

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By lecrab