Clash of the Esports Heavyweights

In 2018, Epic shocked the world when they reported that they would be allocating a total budget of $100 million to competitive Fortnite for the whole of 2019. The prize pool for July’s Fortnite World Cup finals alone was $30 million, which would seem adequate to set the precedent as the largest ever single esports event — however, there is another contender that has been very much part of the rise of esports over the last decade.

Dota 2: A Profile

Dota 2 is a free to download game and records more than 10 million monthly active PC players. The hugely popular Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game requires two teams of five players attacking the other’s base, whilst trying to defend their own. As soon as a player dies, they re-spawn after a few moments, with the aim of destroying the opposing teams base first. The game itself requires a great deal of skill and strategy and can be hard to follow for the uninitiated.

The International 2019 (TI9)

When: Tuesday 20 August 2019 — Sunday 25 August 2019
Location: Mercedes-Benz Arena, Shanghai, China
Where to watch:

The International (TI) is an annual event and has been the undisputed largest esports tournament in terms of prize pools. With Dota having a huge fan base in China, it is no surprise that TI9 is being hosted in one of the most mature esports markets globally. For the first time since its inception in 2011, The International this year will be hosted in Shanghai’s 18,000-seat Mercedez-Benz Arena. TI has been hosted in three locations prior to this year’s event: the first, in Cologne in 2011, then in Seattle, where it remained for six years. Last year, due to construction works in Seattle’s Key Arena, The International was hosted in Vancouver, Canada.

You can see the schedule for TI9 by following the link below.

The Format

TI9 will consist of a group stage, which started today at 09:00 (Central Standard Time) and will last until Sunday 18 August. Of the 18 teams involved, they are divided into two groups, each playing a best-of-two match in a round-robin format (teams will play each other twice).

For the main event, the bottom team in each group will be eliminated, while the top four teams in each group advance to an upper bracket; the remaining eight teams will form a lower bracket.

From here, teams in the lower bracket will be progressively knocked out the tournament, while teams that lose in the upper bracket will be relegated to the lower bracket.

On Sunday 25, the upper bracket finals will commence around 10:40 (CST), and the winner of each bracket will subsequently face each other in a best-of-5 match from 14:00 (CST).

Race to the Largest Esports Event!

By the end of June, the total prize pool had already equalled the previous year’s, and was just under $5 million away from equalling Fortnite’s World Cup mammoth prize pool.

TI has dominated esports events for years, but faced stiff competition from Fortnite’s $30 million prize pool this year; yet simply comparing the two prize pools is not as straightforward.

At last year’s TI8 event, Red Bull sponsored OG claimed first place, receiving a staggering $11,234,158 (44% of total prize pool). Suggesting that the winning prize pool was split equally, this is slightly less than this year’s Fortnite World Cup winner, Bugha, who received $3 million. Unlike Fortnite, Dota has not been able to command the same mainstream attention despite consistently offering substantial winnings.

This year, the winning team of TI9 will receive a total of $15 million, which collectively, is five times the prize winnings that Bugha received. Notwithstanding, like Bugha, each player is set to receive $3 million each, again considering that the prize is split equally amongst the five players. That said, as an individual, Bugha, alongside the winning players of TI9 will become esports’ highest-ever earners from a single esports event.

“You meddle with powers you cannot comprehend!”

Thanks to community crowdfunding efforts, TI has never failed to transcend previous years’ prize pools, setting benchmark after benchmark each time — and this year was no different.

Now, for the seventh year in a row, TI9 has smashed its own record with a total prize pool of $32.9 million! With an increase of 29% from last year’s prize pool of $25.5 million, this is the largest year-to-year increase TI has witnessed since the prize rose from $10.9 million in 2014, to $18.8 million in 2015.

Earlier this year, Valve confirmed that a quarter of the revenue from the game’s battle passes would be added to the tournament prize for this year. On 26 June, when Valve announced their Battle Level sale, offering battle pass levels at a usual cost of $120 for $30, almost $4 million was generated in the subsequent days!

Free-to-Play: Micro-transactions as the New Model

Battle passes, loot boxes and in-game micro-transactions are becoming an increasingly important revenue stream for game developers and tournament operators. Much of Fortnite’s success can be attributed to this. An astonishing $2.4 billion was generated through the purchasing of in-game cosmetics, skins and battle passes last year, so relative to their revenue, a prize pool of $30 million seems insignificant when compared to Dota that rely more on their community.

With market reach of 2.4 billion gamers, according to Newzoo’s global market reports, this provides somewhat of a justification to the rising prize pools on offer — engagement is astronomical and streaming platforms have evolved the way we consume content. Despite the opportunity for substantial revenue to be generated through in-game purchases, more game development companies continue to play active roles in the promotion of their competitive circuits. This, alongside the attention their title’s receive by featuring in top tier tournaments, will support game sales and player acquisition, whilst simultaneously retaining existing player communities.

Making History — Again

Last year’s winner’s, OG, will be one of four teams battling to make history of becoming the first franchise to win back-to-back championships in the series since it started in 2011.

If you didn’t know what esports was, I bet you do now!

In the late 90s, esports was very much a niche hobby; in the competitive scene, there were fewer than 10 esports tournaments held, with participants competing for fun, pride, or the occasional crate of beer! 21 years later, there are currently over 3,000 esports tournaments worldwide, which is a massive increase.

As gaming communities and spectatorship grows and further brand investment enters the industry, tournament organisers are able to offer more tournaments, which subsequently results in larger “life-changing” prize pools on offer. We are beginning to see these prize pools completely change players’ lives, and so, are witness players now setting the trend for a wave of “new” athletes.

Like Fortnite, and much with the current trend of top esports events now, the prize pool for TI9 eclipses many prestigious sporting event winnings. For example, this year’s prize pool for the US Open for the Men’s single and doubles equalled $24.7 million combined. What’s more, the winning prize for the US Open at $12.5 million, and this year’s Indy 500 at $13 million, combined, also record a lower prize pool than TI9, where the top team will receive almost $15 million.

Esports is on the rise and will not slow down, which is why large brands continue to join the competitive landscape. At a time where entertainment is evolving and much of our attention is being redirected towards fast-engaging content, the stage is set for esports to solidify its position in the mainstream.

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