With $10M in prizes, ‘Dota 2’ tournament is bigger than the Masters

More than $10 million are now on the line for one of the biggest sporting events of the year

Image via Valve

More than $10 million are now on the line for one of the biggest sporting events of the year. And it’s not played with bat or stick or boot, but with a mouse and keyboard.

The game is Dota 2, a battle arena where teams of five players duke it out trying to destroy the other team’s base. It’s one of the most popular esports out there, along with games League of Legends and Call of Duty.

The event is The International 4, a massive yearly Dota tournament hosted by Valve and primarily funded by the fans of the game and its players, whill run this year in Seattle on July 18-21. Over the last month, fans have contributed over $4 million to bring the prize pool to eight figures.

Professional video gaming is on a meteoric rise. More people watched the League of Legends world championship last year than the World Series. YouTube may be placing a $1 billion bet on esports with its rumored acquisition of video game streaming platform Twitch. But even in that environment, a $10 million prize pool is still a shocker.

The International was already one of the most valuable sports tournaments in the world when it had a $6 million purse last month. It’s now in even more rarified airs. More money will be awarded at The International than at golf’s most prestigious tournament, The Masters, which featured a $9 million prize pool this year.

That hefty chunk of cash is mostly funded by community contributions through sales of The Compendium, a kind of interactive virtual ticket that allows fans to receive rewards for interacting with The International. Each Compendium costs $10, and $2.50 of that goes to the prize pot.

Similar to a project on popular crowd-funding vehicle Kickstarter, Valve offers stretch rewards to the Dota 2 community for prize pool benchmarks, incentivizing fans to contribute and fund the development of new features for the game.

For example, when the prize pool hit $5 million, Valve unlocked a one-on-one matchmaking mode for all Dota players. At $8.8 million, Valve promised a live broadcast of The International 4’s afterparty, featuring Darude of Sandstorm fame.

Hitting the $10 million tally unlocked the final announced stretch reward, something called a “Victory Prediction Taunt” that keeps track of how successfully you predict the outcomes of your own games.

A $10 million project would rank as the second largest Kickstarter project in history, behind the Pebble watch, which drew $10.2 million in funding. Before it’s all said and done, The International may even top that mark, which would place it third on Wikipedia’s list of the highest crowdfunded projects. That’s even ignoring the $7.50 of every Compendium sale that don’t go directly into the prize pool.

One month ago, just after hitting a $6 million prize mark, Valve announced a new set of stretch goals aiming for the $10 million total. Valve clearly believed eight figures was possible, but perhaps didn’t have the hubris to reach for it in their initial offering. But now they seem prescient. And with nearly 20 days until the tournament begins, there’s plenty more time to tack on another million dollars or two.

Not that the tournament really needs it. The International 4 has not just broken records. It’s shattered them. And run over the pieces with a bulldozer.

The highest prized esports tournament before TI4 was the last version of The International, whose $2.8 million prize pool seems like peanuts compared to what’s being offered up this season.

It actually makes more sense to compare The International 4 to the prize money dished out for entire esports games, or esports event circuits, than individual tournaments.

The richest esports game so far is League of Legends, but by the end of July it will have relinquished that spot. League’s total $12.6 million prize estimate only just beats out TI4. Same with the $11.3 million awarded in Starcraft 2, and the $10.3 million handed out for Counter-Strike.

In fact, The International 4 will feature more prize money than the rest of Dota 2’s history, worth $9.7 million, including Valve’s previous million dollar events.

Some of the biggest event circuits in esports are worth chump change in comparison despite some of their decade plus histories. Major League Gaming has featured more prize money than any other circuit, with just $6.4 million. The World Cyber Games, esports’ now-defunct version of the Olympics, put up $4.2 million. The Intel Extreme Masters, the premiere event of the Electronic Sports League, has only handed out $3.7 million during its seven years to date.

While Valve has yet to announce the prize distribution for the tournament, it’s always fun to speculate. If they keep the same breakdown as last year’s event, with 50 percent of the purse going to the champion, every member of the five-man winning team will walk away from Seattle a millionaire.

To put that in context, the highest earning player in esports history, Lee Jae Dong, has pulled in about $522,000 during his impressive career. It’s safe to say that esports highest earning players will be Dota competitors in one months time, especially considering players like Danil “Dendi” Ishutin already rank third on the list thanks to Valve’s previous tournaments.

The International 4 is obviously a historic event in esports, and so much so that it’s hard to contextualize. It’s bigger than some of the biggest sporting events around, much less esports. It’s drawn more community funding than almost any other crowd funded project. It will change the lives of its participants. The International has already exhausted the superlatives left to describe it, and it’s prize pool is still creeping higher. And higher. And higher.