Lately, we have noticed a clear absence of certain teams from LAN events, such as EG from the $650,000 prize pool WCA, or Team Secret from The Summit 4, while OG seems to have been present at every single possible LAN they could fit into their schedule (excepting WCA, they did not exist during this qualifying stage). Fans expect these high profile tournaments to be infused with top talent, almost like we get TI over and over again. We are disappointed when a well-produced LAN (such as The Summit) is missing the team we want to cheer for and see crush the competition. Are teams just getting lazy? Or are their schedules becoming saturated?
Every week I browse Reddit and Twitter in a frantic attempt to stay on top of all the tournaments that are popping up everywhere. We have seen a massive increase in tournaments and prize money since the release of Dota 2 as its own engine. The number of online and LAN events increased with every passing year, with LAN events often having a large online time requirement. DatDota lists over 150 tournaments (including online qualifier portions of LAN events) in both 2014 and 2015, with total prize money available in Dota increasing over 1700% since 2011.
We all know that a large portion of prize pool increases are from The International, but we are also seeingan increase in LANs prize pools. Organizers and sponsors are stepping in to offer more and more money, with the percentage of LANs with impressive payouts increasing. In 2011, Dota 2 saw 6 LAN events, with a peak at 42 in 2014, and the distribution of the prize pools for these LANs has swung to over 60% having total prize pools of over $100,000 USD.
All of these stats are interesting, but also fairly expected. What does this mean for the scene in general? Dota requires an immense amount of preparation and mental ability. Players need to be well rested, and captains need to study every opponent and determine the best strategy to win. There doesn’t seem to be a massive skill gap between players, with games usually being decided based on team coordination and drafting strategy. Oversaturating your schedule with LANs (and their online qualifying components) could be incredibly detrimental to your ability to perform well as a team. OG had more games on the 6.85 patch than the teams they faced there, and it was evident as they launched themselves forward to win the first majors. Since the Frankfurt Majors, they have struggled to replicate their success falling short at The Defense 5 and The Summit 4. On the couch at The Summit they said that with playing and travelling so much, they can’t practice new strategies. Any teams that go up against them know exactly what to expect, and they have had the time to practice for it. On the other hand, Team Secret is swept a few LANs leading into the Majors, but are now struggling. They very rarely play in events, struggled in the Starladder online qualifiers, and they were knocked out of WCA group stages without even getting a shot at the main event. Chinese teams are falling off, and many cite that players can make more money by streaming than by practicing. More money is a great thing for growing the scene, but it may also bring more problems as teams and players need to decide their priorities.
The increasing money may create scheduling conflicts at the top tier, but the various “tiers” of competitive Dota are flourishing under the explosive growth. Earlier in the year, the team union announced their teams would not participate in online only events. Many people were outraged at this, but should a top 8 team in the world that can have their pick of tournaments play in a small tournament for $10,000? These online leagues are (and should be) for less experienced and unsponsored teams to have a shot at a highly competitive environment and some money.
People like to say there is an “over saturation” of tournaments, but it really seems like we are experiencing booming growth. The Majors system will force top teams to prioritize their schedules for high value events while giving newer teams some breathing room to compete for the smaller tournaments. We are fortunate to be able to experience so many teams all playing at such a high level of Dota that they all cannot be at the same event, and just enjoy that we have so many more events to experience.