Интервью с Deano: вендетты в NA, спонсоры, деньги, умирающая Дота
Крик о помощи с нижней палубы тонущего корабля под названием Североамериканская Дота
In 2020, outside the DPC season, EG had to move to Europe because, in North America, such a large organization had no opportunity to earn and compete: ESL One LA was canceled and, during the entire coronavirus period, there were no major tournaments in NA. The region lacked schedules. Medium-caliber squads played online for $20,000–$30,000 prize money, small teams had only to play for their own pleasure, streamers had to entertain their audience, and those folks dreaming had to let the grass grow under their feet.
The year became an inextricable ring of troubles: no tournaments meant the departure of large orgs and strong players to Europe, which led to a small number of capable players and teams staying in the region and even fewer tournaments and prize money. Players began to prefer streaming to esports: silently clicking a mouse in front of several thousand spectators allows you to earn much more than just grinding and sweating in unknown tournaments in pursuit of a thousand dollars for first place.
It's hard to imagine what it's like for the younger generation of Dota players who grew up watching EG's iconic TI victories and other American roster successes. Now there is practically no place to earn big money. The DPC is closed for access if you could not break through the qualifications, and there are almost no tournaments anyways. The last more or less large championship where one could earn extra money or make a name was the North American part of OMEGA League; the Divine and Ancient divisions.
The Pace University stack placed 3-4th in the lower division, while not even being a real team. They practiced very little and got together a few weeks before the tournament. After participating in OL, the players broke free. Two of them are now playing in the top DPC division for 5ManMidas, two have disappeared without a trace, and only Deano, the last of the five, the hard-support player, remained in the middle of the situation, occasionally streaming and having convos on Reddit.
Dean is 18 and working on finishing school and sent applications to major universities among the world’s top-50. He still has to choose his direction: engineering, mathematics, etc. Dean hasn’t received any answers yet, but he says that he loves exact sciences and likes numbers. Like almost any techie, he loves chess, although he modestly admitted that his local MMR did not rise above 1200 in the chess.com ratings. These days, Dean is not thinking much about Dota: good grades also affect the chances of entering, so he is completely focused on his studies.
Vendettas, toxicity, and other NA issues
It all started with Dota 2 for him, and he didn’t play the first part, although Dean notes that the teachers at his school played the Warcraft 3 mod, unlike himself.
“I've played a little bit of League of Legends, but just to play with friends. Dota's a much better game, and I'd play that if I had more friends that played it. But when you're high rank, you can't really play party games: it's impossible to find party matches unless you smurf. And then that's not very fun as it's like when you play against players of lower skill and just win every game. That's not fun at all. So I've pretty much never play party, only if it's in a competitive setting, qualifiers, and official tournament matches. Those are the most fun, the best by far. Pubs are miserable, more or less.”
Deano’s MMR is around 7.7k, yet he never reached 8k. In his view, there’s a huge difference between playing supports/carries, surely, but it depends on the mission, “I was playing support back when I played in OMEGA League. And I still play support competitively. Although, in pubs, I’m mostly playing as carry.
“In pubs, it's a lot easier to play to win when you play carry, and you can feel more in control of the game, but in terms of practicing, when it comes to practicing support heroes, I don't think it's really necessary. I feel I learn a lot more about both roles by playing both roles because when you play with carry and support, you know the needs. When I play carry, I know exactly what I want from my support. I know what I want them to be doing; I know the limits of that hero. If I played ten games with Troll Warlord, and then they go play a game as Bane, and I'm laning with Troll Warlord, I’ll know exactly what we're capable of in that lane. And when I play support, and because I've just played carry, I know what my TW wants. It's a lot more enjoyable in my opinion to play carry in a pub. And in competitive, it's more fun to play support because you have a better player usually, and you're more in sync with your laner.
“So, when I played games with ItalianoGangster or Lies, one of the best carries in NA easily, it's like you're just so synergistic and you just add and flow and everything meshes together. And when you have that perfect game, it feels amazing. And in pubs, it's more of an individual experience. And because it's an individual experience, playing carry is a better experience.
NA has a specific mentality. People like to steal roles, and it's never fun to play with these people. You get a rank-3000 and a rank-2000. Guess who takes the midlane?
Speaking of the region’s bad habits and problems, Deano says that players in NA are pretty vindictive.
“I don't believe this is as much of an issue as it is in the EU, but people like to hold grudges, and they hold them on forever. So you end up having a few enemies. I don't think it's a point to name them, but a lot of them are streamers with a lot of viewers. And if you have them in your team and they don't like you, they will feed, ruin, AFK, break items, et cetera, et cetera. They will refuse to play the game. And there's a lot of players like that who aren't streamers and still hold these grudges and won't let them go. And everyone likes to think of themselves as the best players in NA, and it's very hard to deal with because you can't just make up and be friends or make up and not be enemies. They just will hold a grudge forever. And you end up having one choice to avoid them. Either way, every time you count them on your team, that's minus 30 MMR. And that's a very demoralizing thing.
“If you make any enemies at all, it's impossible to come back from just because of how small the player base is. Especially if you make enemies with the higher-ranked players, you're never going to find a team. Even if you make enemies with 10 of them, 10 of the top one hundred, you will never find a team because they won't let you on a team.
“I've tried my best to stay neutral. I used to be more toxic, but I've never broken my items or fed down the middle or anything like that. But I definitely have those enemies. There are a few players who really don't like me, and I really don't like them. And there's a lot of reasons for that. And some of them are pretty public. Others… I don’t know why.”
Pace University, OMEGA League, sponsors, and salaries
Getting back to that point when Pace University placed 3-4th at OMEGA League NA Ancient Division, Deano’s team broke into the upper Divine Division through the Qualifiers but eventually lost their games and dropped to the lower division.
“I was playing with Stars, Lies, Aikster, and we played with KingPotato after swapping from ItalianoGangster, since he wanted to play carry, not offlane. We got into the tournament from the college qualifiers under the name Pace University. We had two players at Pace, which was exactly what the rules wanted. And there was me, in high school, but we asked if that was okay, and they let us in. But in the Divine group stage, we got pretty much destroyed.
“There were a few close games that we could have won; we just weren't able to quite close out those games. And after that, we decided to have some fun, pick Techies, pick these troll lineups and just have some fun. Then we got to the Ancient and ended up 3-4thh, but could have placed higher.”
“What do you think you lacked to win?”
“I think we just hadn't played long enough with each other; it was like a couple of weeks, really. We hadn't practiced; we hadn't had many scrims at all. We didn't have a lot of time to practice in the first place. We were definitely a little lower MMR than the other teams. I think we were like an 8.2K average team, and the other ones were like 8.7-9k. And that definitely doesn't help. Our hero pools were pretty lacking as well. Our mid player could only play a couple of heroes, and he played them really well, of course, but when they are banned, well... And I personally can only play a couple of support heroes; I’m not really good on macro heroes like Chen. I wasn't a Wisp player either, so we didn't have, you know, too many cheese strats. As I only think if we had some more time to practice and work on expanding our hero pool and playing with some more interesting drafts, we definitely could have won some of those games to advance further into the tournament.”
This not only Pace’s problem, is it? Non-pro players don’t have a lot of time to practice, and the rosters are too unstable, but it’s practice and grind that makes the difference.
Speaking about Pace University, Deano said that they didn’t get any perks, and the naming wasn’t official. Also, he told about the sponsors and how they earned extra money.
“We were unofficially affiliated with Pace. To get through the Qualifiers, you needed two players from the same university, so we decided to play under that name. However, we were never actually officially affiliated with them. Esports and Dota are not very big in America, or NA for that matter. And so most of the teams are all unofficial, or they have like a club or something. They don't actually have any official university support mostly. In terms of the universities, though, I don't believe any of the teams are considered varsity as a proper sports team. So it's actually kind of lackluster. There's not a lot of support.
“Later we were sponsored by Plasma, who paid us $50 a month. And that ended very quickly because the sponsor was going off on Twitter. It wasn't a good sponsorship. So the advice: if you're a new team, be very careful about who sponsors. Don’t pick them just by random, organizations, or people. Maybe organizations are fine, but not random people.
We were sponsored by a Chinese food place too. It was very strange. We've never heard of them, just a random Chinese restaurant in Montreal like literally Mr. Ho's Noodles or something. We didn't get any free noodles or anything, pretty unfortunate.
In North America, there's only EG who has a strong sponsor and who is financially stable, while there are dozens of teams who are just mixes: 5ManMidas, Black&Yellow, Undying, and all of them. Dean has a couple of points on why things happen this way.
“First, there are very few orgs that are big. Second, esports is small and not very popular in North America, not like video games. They're huge, of course, but they're not seen as competitive things. Video games are still seen as just games. They haven't yet been embraced as true sports like baseball and hockey are. In NA the support for esports ends at League of Legends, Call of Duty, and Fortnite.
“Call of Duty and Overwatch are console games. And even then, it's not huge. Fortnite is individual, right? So it doesn't work either. A big thing also comes down to the cost of living if you're going to support a team. Who do you support? The best? How much do they cost? If you're living in America, that will cost a lot of money. If you're not supporting the best, why would you pay them a lot of money? So it doesn't sense to ever really sponsor a team.
“Other than that, Dota is not a very popular game in NA. If you ask someone about Dota, they would not know. You’ll have to describe it as League of Legends because no one knows what it is. I don't think there's a single person at my school that plays Dota. The teachers know about Dota 1, but they don't know about Dota 2.”
NA Dota's current state, huge names, and Colin Kaepernick
Still, there are some huge names in NA that are quite recognizable: PPD, Fear, SumaiL, who are The International champions. There are also famous stacks, like 4Zoomers and Quincy Crew. But Dean says that they are also brandrisks.
“If you look at those players and the teams, yeah, they're great players. CCnC is amazing, SammyBoy is a good player, but they're brand risks. No organization really wants to be affiliated with these players. They don't try to make a name for themselves; just stream on Twitch. Maybe they have a Twitter, but other than that, no interactions on streams; they just play games and pubs. And that's it. A big thing for Dota is branching out outside of this really small dying community. And no one does that.
“The player base is just dwindling. There are fewer and fewer players every now and then, every year. I mean ‘dying’ not in the sense of the players, but in terms of the viewers for these Twitch streamers. I think to get a sponsor, for teams like CCnC’s or Quincy Crew, they need to branch out of Dota a little bit and try and involve both their community, their Twitch chat, and just try and branch out other games, reach out a little bit, see if they can like talk to other community members and in similar genres and similar games and just try and get their name out there. Maybe make some content that would form long-way sponsorships, but they don't create content. They turn on Twitch streams and play pubs. That's not great.
“And when you see them play pubs, they're not outstanding members of society. It's really hard for most companies to go ahead and sponsor a team when that team has players shouting slurs and obscenities every single day on the stream. And even if they're not saying those things, it's just their attitude and the way they handle themselves. And if you compare that to the EU, I don't believe it's a huge deal for you to have people that are slightly toxic. But in NA, it's very frowned upon. Of course, it's not fair to expect them to not react to their teammates who are also examples of poor behavior.
“It's why we had that big scandal over a football player kneeling during the American Anthem, Kaepernick. He lost his job.”
“But he became the face of the movement” – I immediately responded.
“Sure. But he lost his job. That's the biggest thing; he lost his job for basically nothing. And even if he became the face of a movement, he's still a martyr. I'm not saying that Dota players are martyrs and starting movements, but I just mean if that's a negative action, kneeling, look at the negative actions of the average professional NA Dota 2 player. How could someone ever respond to them? If people are going to be upset over kneeling, people are gonna be upset over players saying awful stuff in-game, or playing with bad attitudes, et cetera, et cetera. It's just not possible.
“NA needs some kind of a martyr for Dota 2. I think that's important. I think it would be a good thing. Some of these NA players really need to be made an example of for their really awful behavior. I think that'd be a long way to improving the community and getting it out of this dark hole that it's currently in. Because everyone thinks it's okay to act the way they act, and no one's been told differently, and no one's been shown differently.
“In the EU, people just don't get upset over it. It's not a big deal there, but it is a big deal here. And I think the toxicity is at another level. It's very personal.
“I played a couple of games in the EU. People don't tend to give up; they call each other SUKABLYAD or whatever, but they say that, and they play the game. They keep playing, and they'll swear and whatnot, but at the end of the day, the game is over. They go next.
“I can give you an example. One player, after I had a game with him, said my parents deserve to die. Well, he's a very, very popular streamer and plays... I don't want to name him really because I don't want to make more drama, but he's on one of the top DPC teams. So, you know, how does that look?
In an order of issues, I think number one is brandrisking, number two is money, and number three is popularity.
“Speaking about NA-EU, it's just the culture too. Maybe the EU's more tolerant of people acting one way, more tolerant of bad behavior. But there's a lot of ‘cancel culture’ in NA.”
The community needs troubleshooting, and that point of view has been in everyone’s head at a certain point. But leaving it all aside, there’s a much more important part that is currently undergoing analytical surgeries: the Dota Pro Circuit. Deano doesn’t have much time to follow it since he’s trying to focus on studying, but he considers going but to pro-play when the chance comes.
“I’ll have some free time during the summer. When the next DPC season ends, I'll look for a team and see if I can play them. But for now, I don't have much interest in it. Even from a financial standpoint for me, playing in the DPC is not worth it: I'd make more money working a part-time job at minimum wage than taking first place in the Upper Division. It's just not worth it.
“I mean, if I was on EG, I would have made six grand over the course of a couple of months, and that's not a lot of money, but that requires so much; so many hours. And there's no guarantee of getting paid anywhere close to that amount. And so you really have to wonder, is it worth playing that long for the promise of so little.”
Finances and Making NA Dota Great Again
Financial stability is an important thing in setting up your life, but besides being signed by a serious organization, there are not a lot of ways to grind cash in NA.
“So there was OMEGA League, which was great. There is WESG every now and then, and that's about it. Other tournaments pay in the hundreds of dollars, not the thousands. You could've played Underdogs, which doesn't exist anymore. Or the old league that PPD had, and you could come first place, and you would take home $400 for spending hundreds of hours on that game. That's how little money there is. The DPC alone is 99% of the money in NA in prizes. There's no money for tier three players or tier two players. Even no money for tier 1 NA players.
“It was always like this, only maybe better in 2014, 2013, when there were third party tournaments, like StarLadder tournaments in NA, and everything. There's a bunch of tournaments as well, but the player base got older, so people moved out, and now they have to provide for sustainable living. That changes things too”.
This might be the reason why players choose to be streamers besides playing competitively and professionally. And Deano agrees on that.
“There's no reason for Mason to ever play competitive Dota 2. It wasn’t more enjoyable and worth losing thousands of dollars. You would make more money streaming in a day than playing a month of competitive Dota. That's just how it works. There's more money in it for him. And that's the same for every single other streamer for the most part. BSJ makes much more money from streaming than he would ever by playing competitively. So no matter how much he wants to be competitive, it's not the best decision.”
So what should Valve, or the community, or the streamers, or the players do to bring back NA Dota? For example, PPD went back to the USA and formed SadBois, who are currently playing in the Upper Division.
“Yeah, PPD is really smart. He knows a lot better than I do since, especially, he's been a competitive player. But in my opinion, I think the community needs to watch the games and support the tournaments. That's a huge thing. A lot of it just comes down from having larger view numbers. In terms of the player base, if Valve made a tutorial five years ago, that would have gone a long way, and they can still make a tutorial and revitalize the scene. I don't think Valve can just throw money at the scene and see it grow because it's just going to be the same players as it was five years ago, as it is now.
“Other than that, people need to reach out and expand their communities to not just be focused solely on pubs 24/7. A lot of streamers could go a long way. I think EG could go a long way if they were involved and had some community outreach. You know, Abed or Arteezy stream every week, and that doesn't go a long way. And it needs to be some level of community outreach and community involvement.
“He has a fan base because he's such a great player and an entertaining person, but he doesn't interact with this community and provides for Dota 2. How does that feel? The most popular streamer gets 30,000 viewers, and you can do so much for the game, but you don't; you stream your game, you talk to your Twitch out a little bit, and you end there. But you could do so much more. He could have gone on numerous news interviews and all that; the organization could have set them up with that. I think it would be pretty huge to just get the name out there and get Dota out there. And it didn't happen. Dota gets one article a year because TI is the biggest prize pool. And then that's it until next year, when, again, maybe CBC or CNN or something says, ‘Oh, esports, a 50-million tournament, Dota’, and then that's it. And they don't talk to any players. That's why it was so crazy to watch this interview with N0tail”.
“It was some level of player involvement. True Sight was really good for the game because it was community involvement, a little bit of a connection. This isn't happening on other sides. You don't get this looking at Secret's or EG’s Twitter. There are no events or funny YouTube videos. You look at LoL teams, and they have all these funny skits and everything. And they involve their team, their community members, they talk to them, and they host games and sub-games and all this stuff. And they do all these great things with the communities. And then EG says, ‘Buy our merchandise, buy our sweatshirts,’ and then they have RTZ stream every month.
“I'm not super educated; I’m not on EG, I'm not a pro player. But I think that would help.”
Contrary to NA Dota, CIS and EU are full of sponsors and contracts. Car brands are entering the scene in haste, taking the niche; there are good old memes like RAMZES666 and Head&Shoulders ad and others.
“It was awesome to see Mercedes get involved with the media, it was funny, the E-Class sedan becoming a huge meme. I think that sponsorship did so much for a Mercedes. But there's just not enough people though to outreach if they did that in NA, in comparison.”
Comparing the Сompetitors: Dota vs LoL
Since we started comparing things here, I asked Deano about League of Legends.
“What is League doing better than Dota that we can copy and develop to become better? And what is Dota doing better than the League that we should be proud of?”
“The biggest thing is community outreach and involvement. The people in the community is a big one too. You have a lot of very big names and streamers that out from their community and involve other communities, which kind of almost brings them to the game, but also brings other people. They're big names, not just small players. You have players like T1, and you know what, they do a lot of LoL, but you also see them elsewhere. OTV started playing League of Legends, and they're huge. They're huge. They're probably worth like a quarter of a million dollars by now, if not more. And they started playing LoL, and they branched out from there, and they involved the media and everything like that.”
“And the big thing there is both on the developer side supporting them, but also just having these likable characters. It's not just a game. You watch them play the game, watch for them. And you feel like a part of the community in that way. You can look at YouTube and find dozens and hundreds of thousands of content for LoL. And you won't find that in Dota. You see, there's a bunch of videos of Tier 1 players one-vs-oneing his subs. I've never seen a top-rank streamer to play with subs, like genuinely. Bulldog does some games, but that doesn’t count. And you know, there are players like SirActionSlacks, but that doesn't count either. I'm talking about RTZ having those one-vs-ones. It just so meme, just having a laugh.
“League has much better developers’ support. It's so much better. They’re constantly including brands, and they're making skins, but that's because they're trying to make money. I think in Dota, they're trying to make a game, not so much make money. I think if they're trying to make money, they wouldn't even bother continuing to make Dota because Steam makes so much more in that sense.
“Dota is a game of passion, not work. That's why it’s better: it's a game of passion, a game soul, you know, sweat and blood. League isn't really; it’s a game of just a lot of work being pumped out and a lot of money being pumped in. But there isn't a lot of soul behind it. But you know, again, with enough money, it really helps. And I think that's just the biggest thing. I don't think the game is necessarily better; it’s definitely a lot more approachable. It's a lot more popular too, but there was a long period where Dota could have taken that place. It still can happen. Definitely still can happen.”
Dean mentioned SirActionSlacks. He's the character that is trying to get NA Dota back on top in his own way: building that Arkosh Gaming roster is more a show than real competitive gaming.
“It's pretty cool what he's trying to do, and he's trying to make a genuinely likable team with a bit of a mystery. It's sort of a WWE thing. But other than that, Slacks is a pretty likable person. I met him at TI, and he's hilarious, a really nice person. But he also involves his community. He had his community literally watching his wedding, which was huge, crazy, really cool to watch. He's a part of the community, and he talks to this community a lot; he has sub-games and everything. I think that's really good. And you know, as a community manager, Slacks could be the right person. He could do a lot of good for the game if Valve got him there, got him on some news, and just had him talk his head off. I feel like he’s a great person to be a Dota community manager.”
“There are no others who do it. BSJ... In terms of YouTube, which is a huge market, Dota never really had a basis there. We have DotaCinema, which was big six years ago. We have DodaWTF, which was huge six years ago, is pretty big in SEA right now still. But it's kinda like the same stuff. And that's about it. Purge did stuff, but now it’s just letsplays; he just kept doing that and never changed; he does patchnotes also. We had some PyrionFlax videos earlier. That's how I got introduced to Dota by watching these PyrionFlax’s videos. He's still in the community; he’s a really nice person. But that's it. And they stopped making content. That's all we had. We are heading to the moment when we are just in the small, dark little corner of gaming that no one could see because no one could find it.”
Slacks is the only content creator who actually makes content.
NA Dota's future and what-can-dos
But there's light. For example, the new DPC system with the divisions and the chances, the leagues where you can build your roster and go through the ladder, through a real ladder, is how it should work. There’s a feeling that everything will be fine, and after all, Deano agrees.
“It's a step in the right direction, and it's all more work that needs to be done. But if we keep going from here, it should be good. It should be really good. I hope to see Valve not abandon something again like they've abandoned a lot of things. I personally think it all comes down to community outreach and content. What if we did something like True Sight for every single DPC region? With the tier two teams, maybe not TrueSight, but that quality level. We had some minor interviews here and there with the players and the teams; we had someone adding together montages and, you know, all that stuff, not just caster cast their games live and then upload that VOD TV. That's pretty lazy, yet no one wants to sit through a 60-minute long, well, actually three-hour-long broadcast. No one has time for that anymore.
“We can watch streams when we dedicate our time to that, and say, Hey, it's Saturday, I'm gonna watch EG play 4Zoomers for the next three hours. Maybe I'll do something else while I watch it. But what if after you could watch highlights and not watch a three-hour-long broadcast with a hundred views on it on some random Twitch or YouTube channel. I think the DPC could be a huge step in the right direction. I think it's a good stimulus, and it'll keep Dota from falling. But we need to like; it can't just be this and then nothing else.
“As I said earlier, it's not a lot of money for NA at least, but for other reasons, it's great. I mean, SA has had literally no support in it since Dota 2 really came out, zero support from Valve, there were no tournaments. The region only recently started to get tournament invites. SEA got a lot of support now too, and they've been a huge region for growth, but it took them a long time for Valve's support, the Majors and Minors. And since the COVID thing, DPC is really good at keeping those regions fresh with talent. Although I am worried that after qualifiers after the DPC league is settled and you have these free three months, you might see some players bleed off the game because they didn't qualify.
“I think a lot of players might get demoralized if they spend all this time working up to get in, and they don't make it. But in general, it's very, very good.
“Most of the players I know are just focusing or should focus on school and are much better off doing so just from a life standpoint. I know Stars, my former midlaner, he's focusing on school, he's going to become some big shark in the business world, Wall Street, whatever. Most players would just be a lot better off focusing on that. And hopefully, DPC might make it feasible to stick with Dota because everyone gets older every year, and eventually, they have to move out, live on their own, and pay the bills."