The peculiar case of the Dota Pro Circuit
Esports icon and Luckbox ambassador Paul 'Redeye' Chaloner dreams up how his version of the Dota Pro Circuit 2018-19 would look
EDITOR'S NOTE: Valve has since announced its plans for the 2018-19 Dota Pro Circuit.
It was time for bed. I’d been awake a long time. I’d gained a pulsing headache, the result of fighting through hours of battlepass games spamming Jakiro and arguing with people about Windranger being a viable 5 position while transitioning to a core because they couldn’t do their job properly.
It had been a fun night, but a headache inducing one all the same. Having completed my final game of the night (an annoying techies game that ended with my entire team rage quitting), I grabbed a cool glass of milk before contemplating bed. Thought it did cross my mind, “perhaps one more game”.
For starters, the formats were wild from event to event
And then the phone rang. The shrill of the ringtone piercing the late night air and making me jump out of my skin. I hurried across the room to pick it up and save everyone in the apartment block from an early wake.
I glanced at the time, 3.55am and then the caller ID, “unknown number”. I answered with a croaking, “Hello?”
“Redeye, this is Gabe Newell”. My heart jumped. My head span. I had so many questions in those five seconds it took me to spit out “err, hi Mr Newell”. Why was Gabe Newell ringing me? Was I being fired? What could he possibly want from me at 4am? And how the hell did he get my number?
“You’ve been appointed director of the DPC, come up with a plan for season 2 and present it to me. You need to get on a plane to Seattle in the next 24 hours, we’ll be in touch."
The line went dead. More questions spinning around my head.
My email notification sounded on the laptop in the office, the PC waking the screen and lighting up the poorly lit room. It was travel documents for a flight out of Heathrow the following morning. Only, it wasn’t the following morning, it was in sven hours from now.
With a million thoughts running through my already cluttered, headache riddled mind, I sprang in to action and found my suitcase.
Seven hours later, seated in 7C of an Airbus A380 and sipping cheap orange juice, laptop plugged in, headache gone, I began writing up my thoughts on the Dota Professional Circuit (DPC). I had 11 flying hours ahead of me, plenty of time to come up with the ultimate “Gaben”-friendly plan for the DPC. One that would please players, fans and talent alike. It was a big ask, but I already had ideas many of us had kicked around all season.
A Major need for stability
For starters, the formats were wild from event to event. We need some stability in this area, if for no other reason than the players were raging when we had “best of one” matches or worse still, three groups with “best of one” matches.
We had to have “best of three” for majors. It simply wasn’t fair on the teams and players and while as a fan I thought it made events fun and interesting, it was obviously very random and lead to many teams going out of a tournament they probably shouldn’t have.
It was all very well saying “best of three” but it had some practical issues. For one, it would make the events longer, perhaps too long for some organisers to support it all the way through, but hell these were MAJORS, they should be hard to run and hard to win.
Keeping in mind that Valve currently didn’t insist on a specific format, we’d have to convince anyone who wanted to run a Major that they would also have to adopt the DPC standard format. If it was part of the criteria in applying to hold a Major, this shouldn’t be a problem, but it meant Valve would need to be more hands on than previously, something I’d have to persuade Mr Newell on.
I settled on GSL format for groups, it avoided tie breakers and was considered fair enough if played through in “best of three” by the teams. I also wanted to ensure “best of three” in the knockout phase too, but then I remembered even The International had one lower bracket round of “best of one” and as long as all the teams qualified from the group stages, this seemed ok.
I’d also insist that all Majors were 16 teams. Eight teams for a major just didn’t feel right, to fans or players, even if it did make life easier (and cheaper) for organisers. There didn’t seem much wrong with the prize money, though the distribution was a little top heavy in my mind.
Sure, the teams who won loved it, but those fighting lower down and trying to keep up with the top teams were falling behind. This was a circuit, not a one off tournament, it needed to sustain teams for an entire season where they could focus on playing, practicing and competing, not worrying about paying their bills or taking second jobs to make ends meet.
Credit where it's due
Likewise, I felt the points system could be tweaked a little, to make it more exciting and reward teams for reaching at least the top six, rather than the top four.
I wasn’t keen to keep the points awarding to the players, rather than the team organisation. Partly because it could cause issues where a team could, in theory, qualify just by taking two players from another team rather than the teams results over the season.
This would be like Manchester United playing two thirds of the season with the same team only fail to qualify for the Champions League because three players left during the season and went to Burnley, who then qualified. It might also help with the constant changing of players during the season too, but more on transfer windows later.
The points needed to change a little too; they were far too high to follow during the season and artifically made it look like teams only needed one Major win to get in to the top eight places for The International. Indeed, at the final Major of the season a team with no points could still qualify for The International, despite not playing in the previous 21 events.
It hardly rewarded consistency or comittment to the circuit of events and it would be like Lewis Hamilton being able to win the world championship in F1 by simply winning the last race of the year even though Ferrari had won every other race before.
I also wanted to make it easier to follow so employed a simplified scoring system per event. There was a bigger chance of tie breakers for 8th place in the overall standings, but I figured there’s a way to break that pretty easily anyway.
Redeye's Dota Pro Circuit 2018-19 format
Sixteen teams. GSL Group Stage x 4 groups all matches Best of Three into Double Elimination bracket where top two teams from each group entered the upper bracket and bottom two teams entered the lower bracket. Round one of the lower bracket would be Best of One, the rest all best of three.
$1 million split as follows:
- 1st - $300,000
- 2nd - $150,000
- 3rd - $100,000
- 4th - $80,000
- 5/6th - $60,000
- 7/8th - $40,000
- 9-12th - $27,500
- 13-16th - $15,000
Points per tournament
- 1st: 100
- 2nd: 70
- 3rd: 40
- 4th: 20
- 5-6th: 10
In addition, I’d also award the top three finishers in the DPC at the end of the season with bonus prize money of $1million for first place, $500,000 for second place and $250,000 for third.
This ensured there was something to play for all season long no matter the qualification for The International (which would remain as the top eight getting auto invites). I’d also award a trophy as the DPC Champion.
Day 1: Four matches simultaneously across four streams for opening matches in Group A and B, followed by the winners match, losers match and final match in each group across two streams. A hub would be employed at the panel to keep track of the matches and results. Think Scorecenter or Sky sports news.
Day 2: Same again, but for groups C and D
Day 3: Two upper bracket matches plus two lower bracket best of one match
Day 4: The final two upper bracket matches plus two lower bracket best of one match
Day 5: Lower bracket Round 2 - 4 all four matches
Day 6: Upper bracket Semi finals + Lower bracket round 3 matches
Day 7: Lower bracket round 4 and 5 + Upper bracket Final
Day 8: Lower bracket final and Grand Final
On reflection, eight days seemed a lot, but it was by far and away the best system and this was about finding the best format, not how much it would cost or how practical it was. Besides, I had a plan that would allow the 8 day format, still allow a media day before hand and allow talent and teams to fly in two days before that, effectively making the entire event last 11 or 12 days for the organiser and those working it.
This would also allow production builds and set design on site at each event. Organisers could decide themselves which days would be played inside an arena or from a studio and we’d likely have to run two steams on the days where four lots of “best of three” matches took place. It was a compromise for sure, but one I felt was important for the integrity of the competition.
I’d also need to figure out how minors and majors interacted and who was eligible for each. One of the issues of the first season of the DPC was that all the big teams still took part in Minors and this lead to packed schedules, tired players and some of the lower ranked teams missing out on important chances to play at tournaments, gain experience and valuable prize money (critical to keeping them alive in some cases).
I decided early on that the two circuits needed to be independent of each other, but with a promotion of sorts from one (minors) to the other (majors). This would be tricky as timing would be crucial, but if the two circuits worked in tandem, it could work.
Essentially the idea would be to hold the minor circuit alongside the major circuit, stopping teams who wanted to play in both from doing so and instead forcing the big teams to work harder for the major tournaments and giving the smaller teams a better chance to compete.
The minor circuit would have fewer restrictions and be able to be run by any organiser on any format, much like the first season of the DPC. It would however offer NO DPC points, but instead offer prize money up to $100,000 per event (paid by Valve) and a place in the next major for the winner.
To stop teams dropping down on purpose to the minor circuit, a restriction on how many finals you could get to would be put in place, so if a team finished in the top two positions three times during the season, they would not be eligible to compete in minors for the rest of the season and instead would go through qualifiers for majors. Likewise, any team who finished top-6 at a Major would not be permitted to compete in any minor event for the season, in other words any team who gained DPC points.
Open qualifiers would also be held for each minor, thus allowing any team from grassroots through to semi professional to compete for a place at the minor event, keeping regional restrictions in place and not allowing any direct invites to the minors.
For the Majors, only the top eight of the previous major would be invited to the next one (removing any invite system employed by the various different organisers and in the process removing any doubt about who should be invited), allowing seven spots to be filled from qualifiers (6 regional) and 1 from the winner of the last minor.
And, finally, the last spot at each major would be given to a locally run qualifier to promote local talent and give opportunities to regions not usually eligible for whatever reason. This would be run alongside the regular qualifiers and offer one spot in the Major but only be open to teams from that country or local region not already running standard regional qualifiers.
The criteria for the 16-team Major entry would thus look like this:
- Eight teams – The previous Major Top 8 teams
- Six teams – The winning team of each regional qualifier
- One team – The winner of the previous Minor
- One team – The winner of the local qualifier
Dota Pro Circuit Calendar
Scheduling was also a big headache in season one with teams either playing in numerous qualifiers simultaneously or stopped from playing in them due to being at tournaments and with the proximity of some tournaments, often flying around the world from one stop to another with no breaks.
Major events would have a gap between them and no organiser would be allowed to run one back to back to keep the schedule free for teams to rest and allow the fans to look forward to a major every few weeks, a bit like a Formula One schedule of Grand Prix races. The season could be mapped out much clearer and be easier to follow while not draining fans, players, team members or talent.
My ideal world would see Valve announce the circuit with 12 to 16 stops through the season
Ideally, I wanted to see Majors around the world, with no city or country operating more than one major per season, but this might not be practical in the second season due to dates being aquired for venues.
To book a stadium, usually means you have to scope it, and book it more than 12 months in advance, though some can be booked with shorter notice, it can also be very expensive. If we wanted organisers to stay involved rather than Valve take over the entire running of every event (not practical) we would have to remain reaosnably flexible.
My ideal world would see Valve announce the circuit with 12 to 16 stops through the season, all leading up to The International. Valve would announce the countries that had been given a Major slot and it would be up to organisers to apply for each slot.
PGL or ESL or StarLadder or Dreamhack or whoever wanted to run an event could apply for as many events as they could cope with in different countries.
I was also keen to give a second, later transfer window along side the Christmas / New Year break to allow later changes.
The dates would be worked around breaks and transfer windows along the way, so a dummy calendar would look something like this:
Post TI8 Free Agency Period: August to September 14th – Free agency and transfer window signings
Round 1: Kiev Major - 23rd – 30th September
Round 2: Bucharest Major 7th – 14th October
Round 3: Hamburg Major 4th – 11th November
Round 4: Stockholm Major 25th November – 2nd December
Round 5: Cape Town Major 9th – 16th December
Transfer Window: 17th December to 11th January - Teams can change up to two players without losing their points
Round 6: Kuala Lumpur Major 20th – 27th January
Round 7: Katowice Major 10th – 17th February
Round 8: Moscow Major 3rd – 10th March
Rond 9: Shanghai Major 17th – 24th March
Final Transfer Window: 25th March – 19th April - Max two players changed
Round 10: Dubai Major 28th April – 5th May
Round 11: Birmingham Major 12th – 19th May
Round 12: Sao Paulo Major 2nd – 9th June
The International Qualifiers: 30th June – 14th July
The International: August
Dota Pro Circuit Major Event Organisers
Each event would be independantly run by an organiser and they would be able to produce the show however they wish, gaining their own sponsors and profiting from ticket sales and concession stands.
There would be only one stipulation: The main stream must be on free-to-air Stream platforms and no broadcast rights could be sold by anyone other than Valve. A partnership share would be paid to each organiser based on any deal brokered by Valve on the sale of the rights to air the complete circuit for a season or more. Likewise, teams would also benefit from this broadcast deal in monetary value; however a percentage would be paid to the teams and organisers of the total profit of any broadcast rights deal. Valve would also cover the prize money for each tournament completely.
Dota Pro Circuit transfers
I’ve already covered windows, but the criteria for teams would be important too. I proposed to allow up to two changes in the first window and as long as teams hadn’t changed more than one player in the first window, another two in the second window. Thus, between the two windows, teams could change up to three players and still keep their organisation team DPC points.
If teams changed more than their allowance, they would immediately be removed from the DPC table, all points would become null and void and no changes to any other team would be made (teams would not gain points as a result of other teams losing their points). This would hopefully promote teams staying together better or at least maintaining the core team throughout the season and stop teams from being inelligible in the last few majors of the season.
For example, if a team broke up in the final transfer window and reformed a brand new team, they would still be eligible to play in the last few majors and gain points as the newly formed team, thus giving them a shot at making the top eight positions in the DPC, though unlikely with the new points system.
It would also keep the season interesting for ALL teams and not lose seven or eight teams from contention as happened in the first season in the last two majors. The second transfer window would also be much later in the season meaning it would likely be the last changes teams would WANT to make before The International.
A wake-up call
My head jolted, my neck creaked a little and my body rattled as the wheels of the A380 crashed in to the tarmac at Seattle airport. I’d fallen asleep again. But now I was very much awake, alert and ready to face Mr Newell.
After a short ride in to the Valve offices, I was greated by a nervous looking Bruno. He was, as ever dressed well, though wearing his customary crazy suit, this time an Argentinian flag covered suit in both jacket and trousers. He’d usually greet me with a joke and a smile, but he looked worried. Worried for me? I wasn’t sure, but I headed inside, up the elevator in complete silence and out in to the lobby of the Valve offices.
A short, nervous wait and I was ushered in to a meeting room. I was asked if I was ready, I really wasn’t, but I replied with a confident “yes, ready”. “Please, show us what you have,” said the man in the dark at the back of the room.
I ran through my presentation, pointing out important areas and explaining my reasoning for some of the changes. I thought it went ok, until the man in the dark rose from his chair as I finished my final sentence.
“WAKE UP YOU IDIOT”, I heard the shout pierce my eardrums
Out of the shadows, filling the room, Gabe Newell stood before me. “You think this is what we want?” he said in a quiet voice. “You think this is what I meant by fixing things?” in a now more raised voice. “YOU ARE INSANE” he boomed, “YOUR FIRED, YOU'RE AN ASS AND WE WILL NEVER WORK WITH YOU AGAIN”.
Before I realised what was coming next, he had moved towards the table, grabbed the keyboard from it and swung it violently towards me. I didn’t have time to react, my old bones not capable of avoiding the inevitable, bone crunching connection of keyboard on face and with that thought, I felt every single key slam in to the side of my face, leaving indentations on my cheek bone as I fell to the ground as the world went dark.
“WAKE UP YOU IDIOT”, I heard the shout pierce my eardrums. “WAKE THE F&%K UP”.
I opened one eye, the one on the opposite side that had been crushed by the keyboard. My computer screen blinked and the screen light filled the dark night of my office once again. My neck ached and my head was in an awkward position with my left cheek firmly planted on top of my keyboard.
I rose my head slowly and painfuly and rubbed my face, indentations of keys clearly felt on my cheek. Bleary eyed, I looked around to see Capitalist standing over me. “You idiot, you lost us the game, I thought you were going to finish it, not be like Jack and fall asleep mid game.” “I.. I… what?” I mumbled. We’d clearly lost the game.
It was a dream. A nightmare, even. Thank God I hadn’t incured the wrath of Lord Gaben. Praise be to the king, I was saved. It was 4.30am, time for some proper sleep. And then the phone rang…
Open for debate
For those of you out there thinking the above is actually true, it’s not. This is purely fictional. A bit of fun, with a serious set of ideas for consideration and debate.
Some of the ideas are a little wild and perhaps go against the inteference Valve seems to want to avoid. I don’t expect every idea to resonate with everyone either, but I hope some of the ideas connect with you, the dota fan and player.
I do believe, however, that the DPC can be a world-class circuit that helps benefit players, teams, organisers and Valve and at the very least pleases and enthuses fans around the world.
With that said, the Dota Professional Circuit has had a very good first season and I see no reason why it wouldn’t continue with some small changes, in particular to the points system (perhaps extending it to the top six at a major perhaps), the qualification to minors and some guidance on formats for organisers.
Overall, I still believe Valve wants to “communitify” their regular events rather than franchise the scene and while that is a different approach to most in esports, it’s also a welcome difference too.
I do however think there is a hybrid model not yet explored which falls between the two, which would retain much of what Valve like about community delivered events, but also offers a more commercial led approach, but that’s for another column.
For now, I hope you enjoyed a piece of fiction from the brain of a Dota fan and an esports fanatic.