The Year in Dota: Records broken, feelings hurt
Tim Masters takes a look back on a year of quality and controversy in Dota 2
ESL Genting saw Newbee take the title over Team Liquid, and was the first event streamed on Facebook under ESL’s new deal with the social media platform. It’s fair to say both Newbee and Facebook would have hoped for more from 2018 than they got, with fans unhappy both with delivery and discoverability and praying for a return to Twitch.
The event also saw Valve clarify their stance on stream DMCAs after some controversy over the matter, in theory for the good of the scene. Elsewhere, VJG.T won Galaxy Battles 2: Emerging Worlds to start the year off on a strong foot, beating Evil Geniuses in the final. The event took place in the Philippines, with a prize pool worth $500,000.
ESL One Katowice was the first massive event of the Dota year, with $1m on the line and all the big teams in attendance, and it was Virtus.pro who took the title over Vici Gaming in a tense final. The month also saw the retirement of Ben ‘Merlini’ Wu, a legend of the scene who had had both a successful playing and casting career, although he would return for a guest spot at TI later in the year.
Patch 7.09 was also released, which saw the game balanced slightly more in favour of support heroes and improving the experience of people who play them. With Dota, a game that is patched relatively regularly, this was not a massive change and came far enough out from TI to not annoy the competitive crowd.
There was another $2.5m available in March, with the Bucharest Major and WESG, which Russia took over paiN Gaming, who were representing Brazil at the event. The Chinese tournament exists in both Dota and CSGO, but the FPS version hasn’t always attracted the biggest names, or been taken that seriously by players, despite having the biggest non-Major prize pool.
There was some negative press for the game too, as Jose GianMarco 'gianDK' Durand Cornejo of Thunder Awaken was involved in a match-fixing incident that saw him released by his org. Penta Esports stepped away from the scene, too, having failed to break out of the second tier of EU Dota and make an impact at the top.
Although it wasn’t the best year for Chinese Dota, there was one bright spot, as the partnership that formed the team known as PSG.LGD won EPICENTER in Moscow, and would go on the be the dominant team from that part of the world over the course of 2018. With the likes of VP, Secret and OG in attendance, they saw off all comers and took down Team Liquid in the final to claim $500,000 and a hefty points bonus too, and would go on to make an impact at a number of other major events.
The OpTic team led by PPD also had a decent month, winning the Starladder i-League Season 5 invitational, beating VG.T, Vega and Fnatic along the way. Before 2018 was done, OpTic would have dropped the five, with PPD and 33 moving to Ninjas in Pyjamas as the European giants returned to top-level Dota.
ESL One Birmingham 2018 was won by VP. The MDL Changsha Major in China was won by PSG.LGD, beating VGJ.Storm in the final.
The world of DotA, and gaming overall also suffered the loss of John ‘TotalBiscuit’ Bain, who died after a battle with cancer. One of the scene’s biggest names, Jake ‘SirActionSlacks’ Kanner posted the following on Reddit in the wake of the news, a fitting tribute to a man who contributed a massive amount to many communities.
“When I was starting in DotA 2, I was streaming for like 100 viewers and all the sudden I looked down and had like 20k. For some reason, TB raided me. I had never spoken to him before, and to this day I have no idea how he even found me. It was a moment I have never forgotten, and when I started getting a following I remembered that feeling and tried to close out my stream by hosting people as well and spreading that positive vibe.”
“I never got to thank him, hell I have never even spoken to him. But I’ll never forget how a guy as big as that could do something for a nobody just out of the blue. It taught me that gamers and this world we live in can be great. I’ll regret not thanking him for that day for the rest of my life.”
“Rest in peace John.”
The China Supermajor was by Team Liquid. Valve announced the end of multiple team ownership for TI9, which was great news for all of Dota. For too long rich investors had owned multiple teams competing in the same events, leading to extremely obvious questions about potential conflict of interest, and Valve’s decision to step in showed a level of care for the esports scene that is encouraging to say the least.
Unfortunately, the conduct of players once again created headlines that were only bad for esports, as Team Liquid’s MinD_ContRoL showed a distinct lack of control of both his mind, and his mouth. After some extremely offensive comments made in Twitch chat, he apologised for his actions but the stain on his reputation was already set.
Fans' favourite event Dota Summit 9 took place in July, a tournament that always generates more headlines that you would expect, given the relatively modest prize pool of $100,000 and Evil Geniuses defeated Fnatic to take the title without too much bother.
With TI8 approaching, headlines centered around the prize pool, and the potential for it to once again break records and become the richest event in esports history.
TI8 was the centrepiece of the Dota year, as is always the case, and it’s fair to say very few people expected the eventual result. Seeded around the 15-16 mark for the event, OG shocked everyone to win their first TI title, break the Chinese prophecy, and grab redemption for a group of players that had gone through some tough times to get where they were.
The early part of the event was plagued by production issues on the first days, which is surprising for a tournament with a budget of that size, that was held in Canada. Valve also used TI8 to also tell teams they should no longer sign deals with betting companies, although a number of teams had just entered partnerships prior to that event, and had long-term deals. Post-Major, Valve announced some balancing to the game as well, and the introduction of two new heroes, Grimstroke and Mars.
The end of a marriage is often a sad time and, after eight years, the most famous man in Dota finally decided he needed a new bed. Danil ‘Dendi’ Ishutin, the man who starred in the documentary that introduced so many to competitive DotA, Free To Play, as well as Na’Vi’s talisman and one of the world’s best, left the black and gold to start afresh, after things had admittedly become a bit stale.
In the immediate aftermath, it’s fair to say Na’Vi struggled, while Dendi has appeared as a sub for a few orgs but not found a new permanent home yet. The organisation are beginning to find their feet again now, with a project built around Akbar ‘SoNNeikO’ Butaev, but Dota will never been the same without Dendi being a part of Na’Vi.
Team Secret won ESL One Hamburg in impressive fashion, beating Vici Gaming in the final, and winning the lion’s share of $300,000. In the post-TI8 meta, Puppey’s men looked inspired and took their opponents by storm with a novel drafting system not before seen at this level, which promises a fun and varied DPC season going forward too.
In less positive news, a tweet by CyborgMatt meant DPC event organiser GESC took some serious flak for allegedly owing over $750,000 for events that took place in Indonesia and Thailand. While esports is improving yearly, the incident served as a reminder not only of the ‘bad old days’, but how far we still have to come, and the challenges facing talent in esports, be it playing or production.
Virtus.pro took the Kuala Lumpur Major, beating a Puppey-inspired Team Secret in the finals, who have somewhat revolutionised DotA with their whacky drafting style, but it wasn’t the story that came to define DotA at the end of 2018. Two Philippine players, Carlo "Kuku" Palad and Rolen Andrei Gabriel "Skemberlu" Ong, were found to have used racist language against Chinese opponents in-game, and worse still, it transpired Kuku’s team had attempted to lie to cover up his transgression.
The state of the game on the server was less of an issue, with the 7.20 patch released to largely positive acclaim. It has continued to be updated, with the mammoth task of keeping the game fresh a never-ending one, and managed to change the game without annoying the majority, which is incredibly rare in a world where fan complaints are never far away.
The story broke in November, but it wasn’t until the start of December that the Kuku and Skem saga really came to a head. Skem and Kuku were both punished for their use of anti-Chinese racist language but the damage had already been done, with CN players somewhat isolated from the rest of the scene due to the perceived double standard when it comes to such incidents.
Whichever side you landed on when it comes to the incidents and their subsequent punishment, there is no doubt different cases have seen wildly inconsistent levels of reaction from Valve and other organisers, which sends a potentially harmful message to players worldwide. Kuku and Skem should be punished, but the likes of iceiceice and MinD_ContRoL faced far less reproach for arguably way worse transgressions.