Aug 13 2014 - 3:06 pm

Dota 2 is the richest of the big esports, but its players are the poorest

When Chinese professional Dota 2 squad Team Newbee won first place at the game's biggest tournament last month, they had a lot of reasons to feel relieved
Ferguson Mitchell
Dot Esports

When Chinese professional Dota 2 squad Team Newbee won first place at the game's biggest tournament last month, they had a lot of reasons to feel relieved. Newbee was one of many teams to form not long before The International, as the tournament is called, coming together in February. So it was hardly a given the team would advance to the finals, much less win them—and take home $5 million of a nearly $11 million total prize pool.

But had Newbee lost earlier in the competition, their winnings would have been substantially lower. And, like in the case of many other teams that competed in The International this year, not making it through the qualifier rounds would have meant going home empty-handed.

The International's record-breaking prize pool—the tournament was the largest-ever in esports, by a long shot—brought attention from big names in media. These included sports giant ESPN, which broadcasted the entire tournament online and aired a 30-minute special on ESPN2.

But what you won't hear on ESPN is this: The annual, one-off format of The International, and its merciless qualifier system, has created an imbalanced system that steamrolls teams and players who don’t perform to a certain level. At the same time, those that don’t make it have very little money to fall back on, because the prize money is so top-loaded and centered around that one event.

For a game that has given away more than $21 million in prize money, almost nothing is more important than supporting the up-and-coming teams and finding ways to make sure that they can be financially successful.

To get an idea a at the overall prize money income disparity within Dota 2 compared to other, modern esports titles, we took a look at the stats available at the excellent E-sports Earnings. Our comparison graph below looks at the prize distribution among the top 400 players for the biggest three esports in the world: League of LegendsDota 2and StarCraft. Note that this ignores team salaries, marketing, and other forms of income for pro players, such as streaming.

Infographic by | For the full data used in this article, see this spreadsheet.

Obviously, Dota 2 is ahead. Not only have the game's tournaments given away more prize money—about $10 million more than the other two games—but the top 50 players of Dota 2 have all earned more than their counterparts. Taken solely on the above graph, things don’t look so bad.

However, around the 61st player mark, something interesting happens. The other two games have caught up. Those players are earning exactly the same amount as the equivalent Dota 2 player.

Dig deeper, and it gets worse. By the 100th player, Dota 2 income has fallen significantly behind, by over $10,000. And the 400th player is making anywhere from 10 to 40 times less than their equals at other games. This graph gives a better picture of how the income disparity gets bigger as we go deeper into the ranks:

In fact, if you look at the total prize money available to the top 500 players of these games, Dota 2 provides a lion’s share of its prizes only to the top 10 percent of players in the top 500. The above graph shows that of the money available to players at the same level, Dota 2 players in the lower levels make far less money compared to those who play other games. From about 200th place on down, Dota 2 players are making peanuts compared to their fellow pros.

Also notable: only 419 Dota 2 players have brought home prize money, while players of other games at that level are still earning in the thousands.

This starts to have real significance when you consider the growth and stability of the pro scene. Obviously the top 50 Dota 2 players can make a real living off esports, but what about the rest? Many esports players are young, single and very likely in some stage of their education. What does it take for them to walk away from the traditional path and brave an esports career? How much prize money income would make that decision worthwhile?

The poverty level in 2013 in the U.S. was around $11,500. Among Dota 2 players, 114 make that much or more. Meanwhile, 177 StarCraft 2 players and 227 League of Legends players earned above the poverty line if they won all their prize money that year.

In short, if these players were all in the U.S. and living off prize money alone, about 50 percent more StarCraft players and 100 percent more League players would be above the poverty line.

Players make the decision to go pro based off potential income. Those decisions become much harder to make when earnings are low. Esports players, who are often young, have to make major, life-changing commitments: Putting school on hold or to leaving their jobs.

And right now it's easier to devote yourself to League of Legends or StarCraft 2, and not Dota 2, simply because there's more money available at the lower levels of competition. And that simple fact has huge repercussions when it comes to maintaining a healthy amateur scene that feeds into the upper levels.

This impact can be measured in a number of ways. One particularly useful metric is something I'm calling “team health,” or the overall stability of a team and its members. Here’s a snapshot of the teams that competed at The International 3 and The International 4 next to teams who competed in League of Legends’ Championship Series, a year-long league.

The three events I looked at were:

- If a team had been formed or bought within the same calendar year of the competition.

- If a team had significant (3 or more members) roster change in the four months following the event.

- If a team has been disbanded/rebuilt following the event.

The evidence is quite illuminating: 72 percent of teams that competed at The International last year no longer exist. On the whole, The International has some trends that indicate teams build around it, then break apart if they lose.

Even if we look at this year only, eight teams have already undergone major roster changes—16 percent of the competition has already kicked the bucket.

More instability is likely in store. Many teams that lost in the qualifiers have social media accounts and Facebook pages that have gone dark in the days following their losses. As the end of the year nears (and the next round of pro teams get ready), you can expect many of these teams to announce similar roster changes—or perhaps worse, to never post an update again.

China’s New Element, for example, has a rich match history leading up to and including the Chinese International 4 Qualifiers—where they lost and thus failed to reach the main event in Seattle. Following those matches in May, the team’s home page has been abandoned, and they’ve played no professional games. Despite this, they’re currently ranked on GosuGamers as the 10th best team in China, and 56th best in the world.  (Sidenote: as 56th best, their players should be around the 280th prize-ranked players. In League, they’d be earning $8,000—in Dota 2, just $568.)

Like New Element, many teams have gone radio silent.

But what of teams that make it through qualifiers? Every single one is still intact. And while I expect there to be some roster mobility in the coming months, so far there have been no major roster changes among the top 16 teams outside of a few retirements and personnel upgrades. The solution for having a pro Dota 2 team is clear—make it to the International or bust.

Perhaps the scariest fact is simply how many teams build around the event. In 2013, 31 percent of teams formed leading up to The International 3. But this year, that number rose to 50 percent. It stands to reason that continuing to open up more slots into qualifiers, which reward zero money of the ever-growing prize pool, would only encourage more teams to start up for a desperate shot at the finals. And if they don’t make it, they can just disband, because all they had formed for was a single event.

The solution at this point is obvious: Spread the money around! Dota 2 certainly has the financial resources to support its pro players, but there’s no point having such a large prize pool if it only supports the highest tier of professionals. Every competition needs a healthy roster of underclassmen to thrive.

And right now, those players are being trampled by an unrewarding and unforgiving format.

Special thanks to E-sports EarningsGosuGamers, and the Liquipedia for Dota 2 for their exhaustive statistical records.

Illustration by Jason Reed

Jan 16 2017 - 8:53 pm

2017 NA LCS Preseason Rankings

The LCS is back this weekend! We ranked each NA team heading into week one.
Xing Li
Dot Esports
Photo via Riot Games

Season 6 in the North American League Championships Series was something special. Play reached a new level as two teams basically ran the table in both spring and summer. And for the first time, a North American team made the final at a major Riot-sponsored international tournament.

After a hectic offseason, we are almost ready to dive back into LCS play. Before we start, Dot Esports took a look at the NA LCS landscape and ranked the teams for the Spring Split. Ranking teams at the start of the year is extremely difficult because of roster changes and a new meta, but that won’t stop us from trying.

With a couple strong teams choosing to keep their rosters together and a few potential contenders adding exciting foreign stars, Season 7 could be the best yet.

1) TSM

We start where Season 6 ended: with TSM on top. For most of last summer, nobody could touch them as they out-laned, out-jungled, and out-macro’d everyone. Nobody could match Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg in the mid lane, which unlocked the whole map for Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen to roam.

The big question for this team is who replaces Doublelift as a late game shot caller. We think it should be Vincent “Biofrost” Wang. Having an experienced lane partner in Jason “WildTurtle” Tran will also help him navigate the duo lane. But he will have to do better controlling vision and winning contested objectives. They’ll need stronger initiations that layer the abilities of all five members.

Deliver on that and TSM fans may be able to forget all of their 2016 disappointments.

Best case: Semifinals at Worlds

Worst Case: Semifinals in the NA LCS playoffs

2) Cloud9

After making it to the bracket stage at Worlds, there’s reason to believe that Cloud9 will be even stronger this year. Remember, the team initially struggled to integrate Jung “Impact“ Eon-yeong at the beginning of the Summer Split. Those memories were put to rest by Impact’s flashy “top die” plays at Worlds.

The real question is whether new jungler Juan “Contractz” Garcia can give the team better initiations and map control. William “Meteos” Hartman played a valuable role but didn’t have the mechanics to dictate games. Shot calling will be crucial now that Contractz doesn’t have Hai Lam, shot caller extraordinaire, next to him. Someone on this team will have to become its voice. We’re not sure who.

Coach Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu has a lot of work to do to make sure his team executes on their strategy and communicates effectively. He made great progress with the team last Summer, but can it continue?

Best Case: Contractz is the solution and they make someone nervous in the bracket stage at Worlds

Worst Case: Meteos is brought back in and they have to scrap their way into the LCS playoffs

3) Team Dignitas

There’s a lot of risk putting Dignitas this high. But the team has put a lot of thought into how to build this roster. It’s clear that they want to play around the solo lanes, where Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho and Jang "Keane" Lae-Young will benefit from Lee “Chaser” Sang-hyun’s pressure. Meanwhile, Benjamin “LOD” deMunck was quietly one of the better AD carries last summer.

How this team communicates with two new Korean players will dictate their place in the standings. The jungle especially requires special synergy with the team. Dignitas has said all the right things about playing together and identifying communication as a major early issue. Knowing those things is one thing; executing is another.

Ssumday and Chaser have a shot at being the best top/jungle duo in NA. But the team could take more than one split to jell.

Best Case: They make the LCS finals in their first year together and compete for a Worlds spot

Worst Case: Communication is an issue all year, they can only win hour-long slog fests, and they fall to the relegation zone

4) CLG

We’re now getting to teams with major question marks on the roster. For Counter Logic Gaming, it’s mid laner Choi “HuHi” Jae-hyun. We wrote about HuHi in our “Players to Watch” piece. Mid lane’s priority could increase in a jungle-focused meta. And the rest of the team is ill-suited to make up for HuHi’s shortcomings.

It’s been a while since Darshan Upadhyaha has served as a consistent carry. Trevor “Stixxay” Hayes is probably their most consistent damage dealer, but playing around the AD carry is risky with regards to meta changes. Coach Tony “Zikz” Gray’s team is always well prepared and has some of the best early-level strategies in the game. But they desperately need some mid-lane pressure to start exploring next-level strategies.

Best Case: HuHi figures it out, they play multiple winning lanes, and split people to death

Worst Case: HuHi is the same, the competition has leveled up, and they miss the playoffs

5) Team Liquid

There is a risk that we’re ranking Liquid too low. Stars like Chae “Piglet” Gwang-jin and Kim “Reignover” Yeu-jin can be terrifying. New coach Matt Lim is highly regarded for his work on Team Liquid Academy last year. They should have better communication with Reignover calling the shots. What’s not to love?

Like CLG, it goes back to the mid lane. It’s not clear who will start, but it will either be a Challenger player who’s never put it all together on the LCS stage (Grayson “Goldenglue” Gillmer) or someone who hasn’t even seen the stage in years (Austin “LiNK” Shin).

This is a roster that has the talent to win it all if a few breaks go their way.

Best Case: Things click between Reignover and Piglet and they break the fourth-place curse on the way to Worlds

Worst Case: They never find a solution to the mid lane and we get version two of the Donezo Manifesto (or Break Point, part two)

6) Immortals

We’re now getting to teams where the win condition is not immediately obvious. For Immortals, it starts with the jungler they basically traded Reignover for: Joshua “Dardoch” Hartnett. He can be a win condition in himself.

But there are more question marks than certainties. Top laner Lee “Flame” Ho-jong hasn’t really been at Flame Horizon level (+100 CS over his lane opponent) for some time. The bot lane is a mystery. Finally, there’s the potential that Dardoch self-destructs.

Best case: Flame and Dardoch click, Cody Sun stays alive, and they compete for a playoff spot. Dardoch keeps an even keel and their steady improvement gives fans something to hope for

Worst case: Dardoch blows up, everyone blows up

7) Phoenix1

This was one of the hardest rosters to rank.

P1 was ascending in the latter half of the Summer Split. Then they signed Ryu Sang-wook and No “Arrow” Dong-hyeon. Unlike other teams adding Koreans, P1 should have a better time integrating these two. Ryu has played in Europe since 2014. And AD carry is an easy position to integrate communication-wise, as long as there’s good synergy with the support.

Whether Arrow and Adrian can develop synergy is the primary question. Adrian was able to do some great things for the carries on Immortals in 2016. But his champion pool was also called into question and his duo lane was not usually a strength.

Best Case: Inori and Ryu stand out with flashy plays, Arrow is the second best ADC behind Piglet, and the team makes it to the LCS semifinals

Worst Case: Arrow and Adrian never jell, they get beat in the macro and late game, and head to the promotion tournament

8) Echo Fox

Echo Fox has two star solo laners: Jang “Looper” Hyeong-seok and Henrik “Froggen” Hansen. Beyond them, the roster is a complete mystery. Not that players like Yuri "Keith" Jew are unknown—we just don’t know what their true talent level is. It’s not clear how many players on this team are really LCS-level.

Then there’s the question of shot calling. It’s anyone’s guess how this team coordinates. You can’t turn every game into a farm fest (though Froggen would surely prefer that). At some point, someone needs to go in with Looper and start fights.

Best Case: The make a surprising run at the playoffs behind unstoppable play from Looper and Froggen. Who needs a jungler?

Worst Case: Froggen sets another CS record, but Echo Fox can’t survive the promotion tournament

9) Team EnVyUs

This team started out strong in their first LCS split last summer. Behind stellar play from top laner Shin "Seraph" Wu-Yeong, they went 5-1 in series before other teams started figuring them out.

The team will need to regain their footing in 2017 and play more patiently around Seraph. New jungler Nam “lira” Tae-yoo may help, but his addition results in a strange situation with three Koreans in the solo lanes and jungle and two native English speakers in the duo lane. Can they figure out how they want to play and stick with it?

Best Case: They don’t get relegated. The duo lane follows the Koreans around and Seraph and Ninja put their carry pants on

Worst Case: None of that happens, they make too many mistakes, and there’s not enough talent on the roster for Seraph to carry

10) Fly Quest

It may seem obvious to stick the new team at the bottom. But this decision was not made easily. The reason? Hai.

We don’t know how teams like P1, Echo Fox, or even Dignitas will communicate. Not so for Fly Quest, who should continue relying on Hai’s impeccable shot calling. There’s a lot of value to a team being on the same page and knowing what to do as a unit. Just ask TSM about their experience with that last spring.

The problem is, it’s unclear what Hai is working with. Stomping on Challenger squads is completely different to facing LCS competition each week in best-of-three settings. Teams are going to identify Fly Quest’s weaknesses quickly and pounce repeatedly. It’s just hard to find winning matchups anywhere on this roster.

Best Case: Hai’s shot calling allows the team to grind out late-game victories off of superior macro play. They go .500 in the regular season and get a game in the playoffs

Worst Case: It becomes apparent that they just don’t have LCS-level stuff anymore. They go back to the Challenger Series where they romp

All photos via Riot Games

Jan 16 2017 - 6:06 pm

Third-person health bars make competitive Overwatch easier to spectate

And Blizzard has added them to the game's public test region.
Nicole Carpenter
Dot Esports
Image via Blizzard Entertainment

Thank you, Blizzard! Overwatch in-game spectators can now toggle on third-person floating health bars for both teams.

It's a feature that's going to make Overwatch esports much more pleasant to watch—and it'll have a positive influence in caster analysis, too. Blizzard quietly implemented floating health bars for spectators in the latest Overwatch public test region patch, though the feature is expected to make it to the live server soon.

"I think this is going to help casting quite a bit in some of these bigger fights," OGN Overwatch caster Erik "DoA" Lonnquist said in a video on the feature. "You call tell the narrative of the fight a little bit more. You can kind of see who is getting lower."

Previously, this information was only available in the third-person perspective by looking away from the fight and to the team lineup bars at the top. And given how chaotic Overwatch can be, looking away for any amount of time could cause confusion.

Third-person health bars are one of the features fans and casters have been clamoring for, with Blizzard promising that increased spectator functionality would continue to roll out. "I think it really shows that [Blizzard] is listening to us," DoA added. "They're looking at what needs to be done in spectator mode. They're taking the steps they need to make it better. Props to Blizzard for putting it in there."

Blizzard has not commented on when this feature will hit Overwatch's live server, but we're guessing DoA wants it before he starts casting season two of the OGN Overwatch APEX on Jan. 17.