Three Lane Highway
Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.
One of my favourite memories of The International 2013 was the phenomenon of the hidden Valve developer. Back then, the company seemed to regard the event as a cross between a holiday and a giant hobby project. Aside from the staff of Benaroya Hall itself—most of whom looked by turns delighted and baffled by what their concert venue was being used for—there were very few contractors involved in the running of the show. Valve employees swarmed in from Bellevue and picked up any jobs that weren't covered by venue staff or the external team of casters and analysts.
This was also the last year that there was a voice actor signing booth. It was popular, and I knew that a couple of the guys organising the queue worked at Valve. It's not the kind of thing you'd notice if you weren't already aware: just a group of dudes making sure that nobody skipped to the front of the line. Fans came up, got their stuff signed, and had their pass scanned for a chance at special in-game items. Nobody looked twice at the person holding the scanner, even though he happened to be the guy who wrote Half-Life.
I bring this up chiefly to highlight the way that the International has changed. 2014 was different—KeyArena, unlike Benaroya Hall, is designed to ferry large numbers of people from arena to food hall to merchandise stand and back to the arena without much external intervention. Venue staff picked up the rest. The Valve guys I recognised were either watching the show in one of the upper booths or working on the Secret Shop. It was a larger, more professional operation, as I imagine this year's will be.
I've been thinking about this in the wake of the rumour—via this Daily Dot article from Richard Lewis—that Valve plan to run the three Dota 2 Majors by itself. If you're unaware, the Majors were announced last month. They're seasonal tournaments designed to stabilise the professional Dota scene by providing players and spectators with milestone events to look forward to throughout the year, culminating in the International. The existence of the Majors suggests that Valve are interested in taking a more direct hand in steering Dota 2 as an esport. This is particularly visible in the introduction of 'trade periods', which will prevent dramatic last-minute roster shakeups for participating teams. This is better for spectators and showrunners but worse for teams, and therefore it's the kind of thing that only Valve have the power to enforce.
In the initial announcement, however, Valve made it clear that the Majors would be held around the world by third party showrunners operating on Valve's behalf—and given that Counter-Strike GO works this way, there's already precedent for this. Yet Lewis' article suggests that something has changed, and that Valve intends to move the entire thing in-house.
As Lewis notes, this could have significant consequences for independent tournament operators. It also, however, signifies a substantial philosophical shift on Valve's part.
It's not that Valve couldn't afford to run tournaments around the world—of course they could—but that previously, they wouldn't. The company's structure heavily discourages hiring people for a specific job or whose skills are not broadly related to game development. This is how that 'wheely-desk' thing is made to operate: everybody at Valve can, ostensibly, wheel their desk over to a different project and arrive with enough skills and experience to make themselves useful. It's not a system that easily accepts the addition of a whole new discipline or skillset, which is why the company's approach to support and community management has always been so spotty—hiring a dedicated crew for one or the other goes against this basic philosophy.
The reason Dota 2's writing team was looking after a queue at TI3 was partly because it was fun, but also because that's the only way that role can be filled within Valve's current structure. It seems unlikely that said team is now planning to spend their time running esports events around the world.
This means that Valve are either planning to outsource the running of the Majors (in which case it'd make sense to contract a third party that already does so, and Lewis' sources are wrong) or they're hiring an events management team. Unless they find a bunch of event managers who are also programmers and concept artists, this seems like a big leap for them to take.
For that reason, I'm taking the rumour with a pinch of salt. I'm not even particularly sure that it's necessary for Valve to run the Majors in order for them to have the desired effect: the professional Dota community will fall in line around the new events regardless of who is taking tickets on the door on the day. Nobody is going to opt-out of the new roster formation system if it means losing a shot at the International. If Valve really are running the show themselves from now on, then, it's a change driven by something other than practical necessity—one that implies that the company's perception of itself is changing. That, in and of itself, is just as exciting as a new set of Dota events. What's next? A Riot-style community management team?
Wait, never mind. That'll never happen.
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