What it's like to attend a gaming competition that's as big as a rock show

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Image Credit: Suzi Pratt/FilmMagic

One of the biggest events in competitive gaming is underway this weekend, and unless you knew where to look, you’d miss it entirely.

Organized by acclaimed game developer Valve for four years running, The International is the annual championship tournament for the wildly popular multiplayer game Dota 2. Abbreviated from Defense of the Ancients, Dota 2 organizes players into two teams of five tasked with defending their home base (the titular “Ancients”) whilst simultaneously trying to take down their opponent’s base on the other side of the in-game arena.

It’s a fast-paced genre mashup that reads like a greatest hits of video game favorites—equal parts Diablo, Warcraft, and any one of a dozen tower defense games—yet the result is something entirely new. What results is called a MOBA—short for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. It’s arguably the most widely-played genre of video game, and tournaments like The International are a big reason why.

Over at Kill Screen, Darren Davis writes about what it’s like to attend The International with no prior experience in either esports or Dota 2. 

“Fleets of limos pull up along the courtside entrance and these kids step out. Not sexualized 12-year-olds or a gosling row of haircuts and electric guitars. Just kids … And when they arrive, it’s like the thousands lined up around the block collectively decide to become jacked up preteens at a Justin Bieber nude unplugged set. The crowd is so happy to see them. They just want to get inside and watch teams who are really, really good at playing Defense of the Ancients 2—until one of these teams wins $5 million dollars.

Five. Million. Dollars.

The International is straight up crazy.”

Even though The International currently has the biggest prize pool in esports history, Dota 2 isn’t even the most widely-played game in the world. That honor goes to its chief competitor, League of Legends, which boasts 27 million daily players. Dota 2, by comparison, tops off at around 800,000 a day on average.

It’s not hard, then, to find enough fans to fill an arena.

Davis goes on to compare the event to a rock concert, and the comparison as apt. A jam-packed arena, pumped fans, and overpriced concessions are all part of the package. While the rules can be quite complicated and challenging to follow for newcomers, Davis argues that it really doesn’t matter, because if there’s anything that esports has in common with regular sports, it’s this:

Cheering is really contagious.


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