This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Seventeen million dollars is a hell of a lot of money. With that kind of cash, you could buy Calvin Klein's Miami home, or even bribe FIFA to secure the World Cup Finals for your home country and have change left over. But $17 million ($17.2M at the last count, actually) isn't just some random number—it's the current total prize pool for what has become the world's biggest eSports tournament in terms of money on offer, The International 5.
Sixteen of the best Dota 2 teams in the world will compete at Seattle's KeyArena, from August 3 'til August 8, for a total sum of money that's bigger than last year's pool by over six million dollars. And it's simply too much. The winners will walk away with over six million to share between five players and the wider team they represent, which is great for them, and could set them for life assuming they don't start taking a shine to solid-gold gaming peripherals. But for the teams that don't finish at the top end of the table, it's a very different story.
At The International 4 last year both Arrow Gaming and Na'Vi North America walked away with no prize money whatsoever after finishing in the bottom two. Both teams have since disbanded with a couple of players leaving competitive play for good. To put it bluntly, a bad performance at The International can literally end a career, whether it's through the choice of the player not wanting to play in such a high-stakes environment or because they can't get into a team after showing themselves up at the biggest event in the Dota calendar.
As a result players and teams focus so hard on The International that the overall competitive Dota scene suffers. Since the conclusion of ESL One Frankfurt in June there has been almost no top-level competitive Dota as teams are practicing in private boot camps in preparation of The International. While this is understandable, it's to the detriment of the fans, who've had nothing to watch for a month now.
This is the exact opposite of traditional sports, such as soccer, where the last month of the season is nonstop with the end of the Premier League swiftly followed by the FA Cup and Champions League finals. Imagine if once the Premiership was done there was practically no top-tier soccer until a month later. It's unthinkable, yet this is what us Dota fans have to put up with every year.
Even the tournaments that do try to have high-level competition during this unwanted "off-season" struggle as teams regularly pull out of events in order to focus on The International. Team Secret, one of the favorites to leave Seattle with the Aegis of Champions, pulled out of Dota Pit Season 3 a few weeks ago, despite being just four games away from taking the lion's share of the 34th biggest prize pool in eSports history. When teams would rather pass up winning up to $126,000 in order to focus on winning a tournament that is still a month away, you know there is a problem.
It's no secret that League of Legends is considerably bigger than Dota 2. LoL regularly boasts over 27 million daily players, while Dota 2 can only manage 11 million in a month; but the prize pool at the end of the LoL season is miniscule compared to that of The International. Last year's League of Legends World Champions Samsung White took home $1 million, while the total prize pool was $2.13 million. Compare that to this year's International and there's quite clearly a massive divide between the potential fortunes to be made in each discipline.
The imbalance isn't without reasons, though. For one thing, League of Legends makers Riot support LoL teams across the LCS season, effectively offering salaries to players directly, which may add up to a greater spend in total than The International's prize pool. Secondly, Riot wants to keep every aspect of League of Legends sustainable for years to come, and make sure that the eSports side of things keeps growing—the same is impossible to guarantee with the crowd funding model that the Valve Corporation has employed for Dota 2.
When the prize pool for a future International fails to break the total of the previous year, it'll be considered a disaster, and could signal the beginning of the end for competitive Dota. But as of right now that shows no sign of happening—the rewards for being amongst the Dota 2 elite massively surpass those in any other eSport. Take Counter Strike: Global Offensive for example. Each of its majors features a $250,000 prize pool, and these are the biggest events in the game's calendar. If you tell someone who has a passing interest in eSports that there is this amazing tournament happening, but its prize pool is 66 times smaller than that of the International, they are going to probably ignore you and the competition in question.
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While $17 million (and growing) is a phenomenal amount for an eSports tournament, especially when you consider where eSports was just five years ago, it is a warning that The International has become too big, too quickly. This is growth reminiscent of the dot-com boom, and we all know how that went. If something isn't done to cap The International's prize pool, we can expect a broken eSports scene before we know it, one that places too much pressure on a single event and makes every other competitive game look pointless by comparison. I don't know about you, but personally I can't think of anything worse.
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