Screengrab via TSM

TSM may have signed its Dota 2 roster purely to please FTX

TSM denies the claim, but will the team stick around?

TSM’s entry into Dota 2 was an unexpected surprise to many fans when the organization signed Team Undying in January. But it appears that the deal may have been a bit of a surprise to some internal personnel too.

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According to a report by The Washington Post, TSM’s 10-year, $210 million deal with crypto exchange FTX deal ran into multiple “speed bumps” even before today’s announcement that it was suspending its partnership, one of which involved the very nature of the naming rights deal.

Riot Games immediately made it clear TSM would not be able to display FTX’s branding in League of Legends. As a result, one former TSM employee noted that CEO Andy Dinh and other TSM leadership started looking into esports that would allow the TSM FTX co-branding to be used. 

This reportedly prompted TSM’s move into Dota with the signing of the unsponsored Undying roster that had been making waves in North America throughout the previous and current Dota Pro Circuit at the time. 

“Prior to FTX, Andy and TSM leadership had no interest in ‘Dota,’” one former employee told WaPo. “[But] the FTX people love ‘Dota’ so much, and that’s why TSM got a ‘Dota’ team.”

TSM has since denied this claim, with TSM spokesperson Gillian Sheldon noting that the organization in no way “picked up a ‘Dota’ team for the benefit of the FTX partnership.” But that same former employee noted that leadership wasn’t new to investing time and money into areas that were viewed as key to certain sponsors. 

While TSM also denies that FTX was unhappy with the value of its investment and that stakeholders stated “on multiple occasions that TSM was delivering everything it promised,” another former employee claims that wasn’t the case and the esports organization needed to figure out ways to bring more value to the table. Hence, signing a low-investment, low-risk Dota roster that would give the team another branding opportunity in a massive esport. 

According to a former esports executive familiar with Dota who spoke to WaPo, the salaries for Undying coming in as an unsponsored roster with very few potential competing offers in a dry NA scene would cap out at $12,000 per month per person. Additionally, they would have an easy out to shed that salary as Dota is notoriously lax with its roster penalties outside of the DPC season rankings. 

Photo via Valve

Related: Dota 2 post-TI11 roster shuffle live tracker: All moves, signings, and more

The signing ended up working out for TSM, as its roster would be among the top teams in NA, going on to finish top eight in multiple tournaments including a second-place run at the Stockholm Major. And, while they did bomb out of The International 2022 in 19th place, they still racked up a total of $419,402 in just the organization’s first year competing. 

With TSM denying that it entered Dota to please FTX shareholders, the question now switches to if the organization will remain in the scene. 

As T1 seems poised to exit the scene for the time being and Evil Geniuses is making the move to South America, TSM has a clear shot at being the uncontested number-one team in NA heading into the 2023 DPC season. The roster will at least be going through a rebuild after parting ways with DuBu, but if the organization is as “profitable” and “stable” as it claims, then it looks like it will retain the Dota division as a whole. 

The suspension of the TSM-FTX partnership comes after a bankruptcy filing by FTX last week and additional issues surrounding the alleged misuse of assets. The organization said it will remove FTX branding from jerseys, social media accounts, and all other associations as soon as possible—something that started before this announcement

Update Nov. 16 1:58pm CT: TSM has provided a full response to Dot Esports regarding the report about its entry into Dota, noting that the move was made so TSM would be closer to competing at the highest level of every tier one esport. 

Dota 2 is one of the largest esports in the world, and the International is one of the most viewed and prestigious world championship esports tournaments,” TSM said. “Strategically, TSM wanted to participate in every Tier 1 esport. Team Undying, a North American free agent team, performed well at the International [2021]. We were very fortunate to sign the entire roster, and they became NA champions in their first year under TSM.”

Entering Dota was viewed as a move to compete in another big game but also a way to bring more value to all sponsors partnered with the org, including FTX, through maximizing the value of the TSM brand via additional exposure. 

With that strategy and the lack of immediate exit post TI11, TSM has confirmed its plans to remain in Dota for the upcoming DPC season as it gears up to dominate NA. 

“We have loved our time in Dota 2 this year, and have enjoyed working with our current roster of players. We aim to win NA DPC again,” TSM said. “It should be noted that TSM is currently the only major esports org remaining in the North American Dota 2 ecosystem. We plan to continue to support our players and team so they can best compete for championships.”

Currently, the team retains a majority of the former-Undying roster, Timado, Bryle, SabeRLight-, and captain MoonMeander along with head coach MISERY.


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Author
Cale Michael
Lead Staff Writer for Dota 2, the FGC, Pokémon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and more who has been writing for Dot Esports since 2018. Graduated with a degree in Journalism from Oklahoma Christian University and also previously covered the NBA. You can usually find him writing, reading, or watching an FGC tournament.