Four days before its debut, The International Dota 2 tournament announced there'd be no live audience at this year's spectacle (opens in new tab). But while Valve has attempted to replicate the thrill of hearing a live crowd, fans aren't exactly cheering about the event's in-game applause.
Unveiled a day before kick-off, Spectator Cheering (opens in new tab) allows fans to send a virtual cheer to their faves by clicking on the team's name, either in-game or on Twitch. The number of these cheers adds to a virtual crowd roar, ideally increasing in intensity whenever a particularly spicy play takes place.
In practice, fans don't seem keen on these disembodied crowds. The Dota 2 subreddit (opens in new tab) is packed with complaints (many now deleted by moderators) about the crowds sounding artificial (opens in new tab), with a minority of fans spamming the cheer button and making applause gratingly persistent throughout each match. That there's no option to turn it off (opens in new tab) without turning off game sounds entirely also seems particularly rough.
That said, the cheering has its fans. Redditor TGSesa (opens in new tab) reckons the crowd helps lend more weight to the event, though admits it needs a lot of work and an option to toggle it off.
"I think TI needs to have some form of interaction to feel more special and the crowd thingy does that for me to some degree. It's not the real thing of course and doesn't feel the same, sure. However I like it more than just nothing."
The crowd discourse speaks to the fact that esports, like regular sports, have struggled with the lack of live events over the course of the pandemic. Dota may have hoped to follow the Call of Duty and Overwatch Leagues (opens in new tab) in taking tentative steps back to stadiums, but it's been forced into a corner by cancelling crowds at the last minute.
Valve might want to retain that stadium atmosphere, and there's still room to make refinements before the grand finals on October 17. At the very least, here's hoping it gives us the opportunity to turn off the applause.