The summer is starting to zip by, which means Valve’s biggest and most beloved tournament of the year, The International, is quickly approaching. Now in its ninth year, the massive Dota 2 tournament has always been, by some measures, the biggest esports event of the year. With the in-person portion spanning nearly 10 consecutive days, the staged portion occupying massive stadiums for 5 days and prize pools blowing past $20 million, its mere existence is a spectacle. It’s an extremely fun affair, and even from home, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
It’s pretty easy to get lost in the excitement, grueling battles and humongous prize pool, so using my many years of TI-watching expertise, I’ve put together what you need to know about this year's competition.
When and where is The International?
This year, The International will take place from August 15-25. The off-stage group phase will take place August 15-18. Then, teams will take the stage for the main event August 20-25.
While The International has usually taken place on the west coast of North America, this time it crosses the sea into the massive Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China. The change wasn’t surprising to fans, as the game has a massive following in China, and Valve appears to be trying to earn favor with China and its businesses. Chinese fans travelled each year for TI and seated themselves behind the Chinese casters to root for their home teams, so regulars are expecting a pretty passionate crowd this year.
Unfortunately, tickets to the weekend officially sold out pretty fast. When available, the base prices were $73 for weekday bundles (Tuesday/Wednesday, Thursday/Friday) and $305 for the weekend, before fees.
How do I watch The International?
If you want a hands-on experience, each game of The International is available to watch in the in-game spectator client. As always, Dota 2 and its spectator client are free. Dota Plus users, who pay for upgraded features, have access to real-time analytics and winner predictions (the latter of which are always hilarious to monitor).
But Dota 2 always makes many of its nifty spectator features free: graphs, in-game casting, item drops and spectating and player-perspective cameras, with your favorites’ crazy fast mouse movements included. It’s super cool to watch this perspective if you have the opportunity.
Watching at work or home, or don’t want to miss a thing between games? Valve has their dedicated Twitch channel for TI set up each year—and if there’s a team you’re rooting for in group stages, keep an eye out for dedicated channels for those games. You can earn item drops here, too, if you link your Steam account to Twitch.
What’s the prize?
The prize pool is the largest in esports each year, with an annual crowd-funded effort through The International Battle Pass. This year, it has already surpassed last year’s massive $25,532,177 final total with time still to go, and there’s no telling where it’ll end up this year. It's passed $30M at this point, and you can check the current total here.
The winner usually takes about 45%, so last year’s winner, OG, took home over $11.2 million.
But to pros of all ages and backgrounds, a win at The International is genuinely about more than the money; it’s about placing one’s name in the history of a beloved hobby and community. (But, yeah, obviously becoming an instant millionaire is pretty freaking great, too.)
How does the Battle Pass make the prize pool this huge?
Since 2013, The International’s prize pool has been bolstered by the Compendium, which later became the Battle Pass. Twenty-five percent of each purchase related to the Battle Pass goes directly towards the prize pool for TI. While there used to be “stretch goals,” after so many years, the community’s pride has become motivation enough for the record to jump each year.
Much like Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding platform, The TI Battle Pass gives some serious incentives to anyone who either plays a lot during the season or buys levels. Each level earned or purchased gets you closer to rewards, including loot boxes, exclusive cosmetics and in-game taunts and actions. Plus, when the event arrives, you can put together a daily fantasy team using collectible cards, make predictions and create a playoff bracket.
The main driving force of the Battle Pass is that, technically, you can earn levels forever to try to earn super rare drops in loot boxes. Obviously, that’s great for Valve and the TI prize pool, since there’s no cap for levels nor the prize pool itself.
Who’s competing for that massive prize?
Eighteen teams are qualified for The International: 12 through the Pro Circuit, and six through Regional Qualifiers.
Throughout the year, teams battled through the Dota Pro Circuit, an open series of events that reward well-performing teams with points towards an invite to The International. Here are the 12 teams that emerged:
Team Secret - Europe
Virtus.pro - Commonwealth of Independent States
Vici Gaming - China
Evil Geniuses - North America
Team Liquid - Europe
PSG.LGD - China
Fnatic - Southeast Asia
Ninjas in Pyjamas - Europe
TNC Predator - Southeast Asia
OG - Europe
Alliance - Europe
Keen Gaming - China
Once all was said and done, six slots were kept open for teams of each region (including South America, which isn’t represented through regular season results) for the Regional Qualifiers. Some teams are invited, while some earn their way in by way of Open Qualifiers. This helps guarantee more diversity, and that each region’s pros feel supported. Still, even in the less represented regions, the competition is pretty hot. The six teams this year that battled for their spot are:
Royal Never Give Up - China
Natus Vincere - Commonwealth of Independent States
Chaos Esports Club - Europe
Forward Gaming - North America
Infamous - South America
Mineski - Southeast Asia
It’s not unheard of for a team to fight through Qualifiers for a decent final placement. Just last year, champions OG had to enter through Open Qualifiers as the seemingly-losers of multi-team poaching. In 2016, American squad Digital Chaos had a similar approach, but were invited to Regional Qualifiers; they took second at the event overall.
Are there any favorites to win?
I’m going to be honest with you: Once The International boot camp hits and the final gameplay patches settle, there’s genuinely no telling who’ll come out on top. In fact, much like March Madness, the Compendium has an in-game bracket contest for the main event/playoffs—and as far as we know, almost like March Madness, nobody has a perfect bracket. The one who got the furthest in 2017 couldn’t predict 2018’s winner.
Promise, this isn’t a cop-out. After all, last year, European team OG had three of its five players poached, yet the remaining two plus their coach ended up fighting through their Open Qualifiers and taking it all in an intense five-game Grand Finals. And top Pro Circuit teams Virtus Pro and Team Secret somehow never win the event, despite emerging as favorites during regular season the past few years. So who knows! Maybe it’ll finally be VP or Secret’s year? But I’m rooting for the Filipinos on TNC Predator and Fnatic.
My advice is: Just hop some bandwagons with your one obligatory obsessed Dota 2 fan! That’s what everyone else does, I promise, and there’s really no other way to enjoy The International all the way through.
What else happens at The International that I should look out for?
The International is Valve’s biggest event of the year, so they tend to pull out all the stops—for better or worse. In 2015, there was the infamous Deadmau5 appearance for the final act. Lindsey Stirling opened the show in 2016 with a violin medley. Artifact was announced during the 2017 event to mixed reception. In 2017 and 2018, there were show matches with the Elon Musk-funded OpenAI bots. And last year, they also asked a Filipino costume maker to dress dogs in costumes. (They were all good puppers.)
With the event now in China, Valve releasing Dota Underlords (and permitting Auto Chess) and OpenAI showing up better than ever, anything goes.