E-Sport of the year: Dota 2

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Welcome to the PC Gamer Game of the Year Awards 2013. For an explanation of how the awards were decided, a round-up of all the awards and the list of judges, check here .

One glance at the Steam player statistics will hint at the popularity of our E-sport of the year. At one point today 609,248 were playing Dota 2 concurrently, more than five times times more popular than the second runner. The International proved that Dota 2 has tremendous potential as a spectator sport, but beyond the realms of professional competition Dota 2 has collectively absorbed more hours of our time than any other game this year, and it's only set to grow in 2014 and beyond.

CHRIS My hands were nowhere near a keyboard at the time, but being in the crowd during the final of The International 2013 was the single most powerful gaming experience I had this year. Those final clashes between Alliance and Na'Vi have become legendary, and with good reason – they represent exactly why the game is so exciting as a sport. In addition to principles of technical mastery that it shares with StarCraft II, Dota 2 allows for both virtuoso creativity and epic metagame strategy. It is both mechanically and psychologically complex in a way that brings personality to the fore, but it doesn't just create rockstars: it creates leaders, strategists, rivals and friends.

It's also excitingly international: no single region has a monopoly on the best players or strategies. This was Europe's year, but 2014 could well belong to China or the nascent South Korean scene. Malaysia had a phenomenal showing in 2013, drawing deserved attention to Southeast Asian gaming. Who knows – 2014's International could even go to the USA. It probably won't.

Valve have pioneered new ways for e-sports teams to reward their members, laying the foundations for a stable professional sport that isn't as reliant on sponsorship and prize money. The International's crowd-funded prize pool was a stroke of genius that has since been adopted by the MLG for its own Dota 2 tournament, and the arrival of team and pro player-branded cosmetic item sets in the store has given players a way to display their affiliations while generating financial support for the sport itself.

EVAN One of Valve's achievements remains making Dota 2 so much more visually readable than League of Legends. The scale of the roster and the fact that some of its mechanics are based on Warcraft III engine limitations would limit accessibility, you'd think, but all of Valve's effort to use lighting, silhouettes and colour saturation to convey clearly what's happening on screen is brilliant artistic and technical work that happens to make for an incredible spectating experience.

CORY What Chris failed to mention is that he's spent more than 300 hours playing Dota 2, a number that just knocks me out. I admit that I'm personally terrified of the game. The few times I've played have left me frustrated and embarrassed by the sheer amount of things I don't know how to do in it. And yet, I want to learn more. Watching good players play is unbelievably exciting. My goal for 2014 is to keep learning how to play. If I get as addicted as Chris, however, please arrange an intervention.

CHRIS Not 'more than 300 hours', Cory. More than a thousand. By my calculation, I've spent 8.2% of my life playing Dota 2 since June last year.

Dota 2's insane complexity is what makes it so enduringly fascinating to people with an eye for the stories that emerge from systems. I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. I've seen Reverse Polarity-Skewer-Glimpse accidents teleport entire teams into the fountain. I've seen Wisp Tether-Relocate- Blink escapes that'd make a grown man cry. I've seen a ghost fight a bear in a hat. All those moments preserved in time, thanks to a robust server-side replay system.

Time to Dota.

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