TobiWan: "TI’s got to come back to Europe"
Before the new season of Dota Pro Circuit started, we had a chat with an Australian Dota 2 commentator Toby "TobiWan" Dawson, who is one of the most famous talents to ever work in the Dota 2 scene.
We asked TobiWan about his thoughts on the new changes to DPC, rivalry between Dota production studios in CIS, OG’s miracle run at the last TI, and a lot of other things. Also, he explained why The International should come back to Europe, where it’s all started in 2011 at GamesCom in Germany.
In the previous season, you talked a lot about Dota 2 problems. You made an hour-long podcast, lots of words were said on Reddit. With a new introduced system, did Valve change something or the problems are still there?
What Valve solved were the problems for the players. The schedule was just too heavy, so they needed to space it out, so the players were able to attend every single event and, actually, could compete without being tired. This wasn’t happening in the previous season because it was like everyone buys the respect and there was no time slot. This is a little bit more structured throughout the year. Of course, this is a great solution for the players, but it causes a whole bunch of other problems. Basically, there is less support for the infrastructure now.
Whenever Valve puts money into a Dota 2 tournament, it only goes to the prize pool, so the only side that benefits from it is the players. You then say now there is the space of the tournaments which could be on our timetable, so there is less tournaments: 5 Minors, 5 Majors. There’s less events throughout the year. This is great for players, but is this great for commentators? Is this great for organizers?
Okay, we still have to play by the rules. The exact rules may not be public, either. Before the tournament, organizer needed to raise $500,000 to be a Major and to get $1,000,000, [eventually], as they receive $500,000 from Valve, and it caused Minors to be lower than that. But they still had to raise that money, and that money has already been pulled out from other areas. Here is an extra flipside: money is now potentially not there because of [the $500,000 rule] announced. What if we keep the prize pools for Minors and Majors from before? It effectively removes battling for million dollars prize money from the players from the upcoming DPC season.
And, on the other side, because the tournament organizers are running many events with the prestige of a Minor or a Major, it just fires the schedule. It goes with very few windows to run a third party event inside of it. How then they are going to make their money to survive as a Dota production company? It just doesn’t exist. So the groups like, f.e. StarLadder, ESL, PGL, who do multiple games at the same time, they are able to space out their time, and that’s good for them. But I think the age of having dedicated Dota content is kind of going down the drain very quickly with the way it has the same setup.
And, talking about 10 tournaments, is it better or worse?
It’s better for the scene if it’s done right. It is worse for the scene if it’s done wrong. So if it’s done right, the qualifiers actually have proper coverage, teams get good exposure, and everything is professional. And we have good quality content around the entire year leading up to TI. This will be the best case scenario. But there is very little to believe that this will actually be the case because qualifier coverage is being equivalent to two people just sitting in a small studio. That’s the old-school casting which was acceptable 4-5 years ago.
But there is nothing that puts brands into. If someone gets there to ask: “Hey! Is this really good stuff?”, they will be getting “no”. I get a crappy microphone in a shitty place and, actually, I’m just watching BSJ anyway because he’s got more viewers. Because he is just more attractive streamer. [I could also] watch GrandGrant stream, and official stream just got no value. So, yeah, it’s good if the storylines are there, the quality is there, and the attraction for viewers is there. It’s bad if it’s not the case because then we just… Like it's "better quality, less quantity".
Talking about quantity and quality, in CIS we have a few studios. And when we are approaching TI qualifiers, one of them is separated. It causes a big race for the viewers and leads to a lot of quantity, having around 100 videos produced by all the Russian channels in total. What do you think of that?
It’s kind of funny because CIS is kind of going through what the English talents have already gone. This happened back when we had Moonduck, BTS, JoinDota, and whoever else wanted to pop himself upon the time, actually contesting for viewership. And this was very problematic because it created a split.
The International came around every year, and it was like: “Hey, everyone can do this!". There were no restrictions, no limitations until the main event happened. Valve actually had some level of control, but it never stopped anyone from doing more. For most of the qualifier coverage, you couldn’t actually find funding for it because there was too much competition as you were not exclusive. No sponsor wanted to put money into you. It was definitely a problem for the English talents.
Valve has an open video policy, which means that anyone can create their own content from the game. If Valve wants to hire a Russian talent to be on their side, does it mean you have to go there? No, it doesn’t. In fact, the Chinese talents actually said no to going there because they wanted to stay and make more money by streaming on their platforms. People use local platforms for a personal stream. Like Bulldog, who doesn’t go to events. For the English talents, they started getting invited, and one of the proper reasons for that was so they wouldn’t stream that damn event. And then BSJ starts getting invited because he was trying to stream an event. You are actually creating your own thing and organizers are buying a talent to attend these events just so there is no competition in streams. But when a studio stands against it, it’s a lot harder.
With Valve’s tournaments, it’s obviously different. Anyone can cover TI. Any studio was allowed to cover it. Video policy recently got "adjusted" to basically say that no studios can broadcast another tournament organizer’s thing, but that doesn’t stop unbranded studios from appearment. CIS actually had that too because V1lat did it himself, streaming on his personal channel, and he could stream whatever the hell he wanted to on it because that’s what guys from Valve allowed. This is the world without the broadcast rights, and it’s chaotic. Especially as more companies are trying to establish themselves and really control the market.
This year Dota TI’s prize pool was increasing but not really that fast as Valve thought. They made a 30k milestone in the compendium, but they couldn’t raise it. Valve had troubles last year as well, so they came up with a Portal theme Io Arcana. This year they also made a Gabe announcer when they were having that lack of prize pool money. At this point, does it seem like Valve is doing something for the community only when they have lack of money?
Well, Valve have never had lack of money because it’s Valve. No matter what happens, the Steam Workshop and Steam Sales are going to make them more money than anything else. But money inside of Dota 2 itself decreases. This happens because the player base decreases. They dropped around 100,000 users between TI8 and TI7, so those people disappeared with their wallets.
If Valve need to pump up the prize pool, all they have to do is just to change [commission’s percent of the compendium] from 25% to 40%. They lose less of their cut, but they keep saying: “We still reach the same level of price pool!”. We don’t know if they do that, but it would be the wisest thing for them because the one thing you never want to do as a tournament organizer is to move backwoods. As soon as it happens, you will get more questions asked.
There are already a couple of questions to be asked about the player base, but if The International reaches the same prize pool those questions wouldn’t mean that much because, at the end of the day, they can say: “The hardcore Dota 2 fans didn’t leave us, they are still here”. As long as they keep their image up, then Dota is fine.
Next question is about OG at this TI. They were a "dark horse" this year, they weren’t doing so well the last season...
Yeah, but we can't even claim them like that. You had OG coming, and they had 2 players from Major's victories (actually 3 because Ana came back into the team), but it was a big stress for them when S4 and Fly left. No surprise it was a Cinderella story. Like the dreams were charted, and now we are going to pull all back together and try to make it work. It’s unbelievable what they did.
And no one took them seriously, coming up from the European qualifier because the EU qualifier by itself was a joke. Like, you look at China, you look at Southeast Asia, you look at North America - it was really damn close. And then you look at Europe, and you're like: "This doesn't feel close". It doesn't look close at all!
They played one strategy with two small tweaks, and that's it. It was nothing more than that. So, when OG came into TI, they were at the bottom of the ratings, being like 18th. And, at the time, you can't blame people for doing that. But OG played very well. They performed very well, and they deserved their victory.
When you are winning a lot all year, like VP did, you become the main antagonist. People start to try to beat your tactics, they prepare for you more seriously. And no one did this for OG because no one took them seriously. Does a team benefit from being a dark horse at TI?
Obviously, you want to go with confidence. You want people to underestimate you, to not take you seriously. That's definitely an advantage. But, at the same time, it's really problematic to say like VP had what they wanted going in, so did Team Liquid and a lot of teams at TI. I think as far as preparation goes, no one could prepare for what OG did because OG just played really well. Their strategy was well-thought-out, and they were very focused against other teams. There was less data for people to work on with OG but that was probably the biggest thing. They had a lot of fresh blood.
Topson came from nowhere; but how hard is it to have a player who can come to TI, on that stage, with that level of pressure, and actually perform as well as Topson did. To perform as well as Ana did. And to have a very little known about them apart from “[Topson] played on a Finnish team a long time ago and didn’t manage to qualify for TI”. It’s ridiculous. You don’t have those type of situations happen every single day. That’s why the grand final and the winner’s bracket final were such a beautiful story. It would be very difficult to replicate this ever again. TI will have a very hard time living out of TI8.
It is also announced that TI is now moving to Shanghai. Is it a good change to move the main tournament, like it happened with Majors before, or is it better to have a capital that every Dota player wants to visit?
I'm very happy to see TI move around. I've been a big advocate for it to actually do so ever since TI4, where I was feeling like it was nice that we were coming to Seattle, but... It started in Germany out of the GamesCom. Then we all went to Seattle because Valve wanted to be close to it. When we went to Vancouver this year for TI8, we still knew it was only two hours drive away from Seattle. It was really easy for Valve to bring staff to solve any possible problems.
But it's very essential that you still give the service that The International remains "international", and not just because we have the international teams section there. You still need to go around the world and give the regions, which still have huge player bases, the respect they deserve. Don’t just lock into one timezone of coverage every single time. We went to North America for the last seven TIs! You got to feel sorry for every European who is asleep, and everyone from SEA or China who have to wake up early! Now you've got China: games will begin in European Prime Time and then transfer to North America Time. Isn't it so much nicer?
China maybe is not the best place to go. I understand why they chose it: the Chinese player base is so huge. Also, the money in China is easily going to help fund all of this. But, at the same time, there are a lot of events coming up in China, and the attendance has really dropped. The Supermajor had like a thousand-seats hall and it wasn't full. The Chinese teams got knocked out before the Grand Final, and it went down to like 30-35% full. It was very disappointing. Also, people there tend to cheer only for their home teams. Even Chinese casters will normally never promote a Western team when there is a Chinese team in there because they get a really bad reaction for it.
Having more neutral locations would be better. I had my money on Stockholm, England, and Singapore. These are three places I would prefer to see it go. South-East Asia is a lot more independent, but, unfortunately, that didn’t happen. We are going to China, we know the reasons why. That's it.
After China, there will be that jubilee International which will be in 2020. Do you think that Valve will surprise us on the 10th International? Which region deserves the most to have it?
It's got to come back to Europe. If you are doing it in China right now, it doesn't make sense to come back to North America again. And the only reason I see it happening is if TI9 goes horribly wrong and Valve decides: "We have to bring it closer back to where we are". That's the only reason that would happen. I think it has to go to Europe because it's the biggest base next to CIS in terms of how many people play Dota, and Russians can at least travel over. Find a good European country with easy Visa laws, and we are good to go! That's should be the plan.
There was a small break between tournaments, so we had a reshuffle season. In that period of time, it was announced that Dendi leaves Na'Vi. Did you ever expect it to happen?
I knew something like this was going to be inevitable. Na’Vi has failed for so many years now. They had failed leadership. If anyone believed that Na'Vi is back, they would be just kidding themselves. They would be back for a couple of days, and then they would fail. They would get a single victory and then they are gone again. They just were never able to stick and have a roster that actually has something synched together.
Dendi has gone through years of crap. He's such a nice guy. He was there trying to steady the ship and to keep everyone together, and that's only for so long that you can take that before you basically say: "Okay, why am I doing what I'm doing?". I'm not surprised by seeing him stepping down. I think he will probably come back. I don't think he lost his fire to play.
It's sad, there are a lot of big brands in Dota 2 which are starting to leave as well. This is almost back to where we started this whole interview: as things start to degrade, brands will start to leave.
A lot of teams and a lot of players made fun, writing on Twitter "LFT" like Noone did. Which teams actually should make some changes in their rosters to show their best in this season?
That's a very open question. Especially, when most of the shuffling is already happening. I would focus more on the positive side of things; on teams that shouldn't shuffle. I think Liquid, VP should stay exactly as they are. EG is actually in a really good spot as well if they can just refind things.
There are too many players that just think: "I'm just going to quit and try to find greater possibilities on the other side", only to get the same wall of shit. They have to keep "jumping". It destroys the brands inside the scene. It makes it very difficult to follow, and it would be really nice if we had more than 3 teams that can remain without a roster change for 12 months. It just seems to be almost impossible these days. In that way, fans would be able to follow them, to know what's going on and who you are following. You know who the players are, you know the color skins of logos as well. Don't change those anymore. Thank you, Virtus.pro.
Do you think there is a possibility of any team holding the Aegis next year for the second time?
You never know. Like everyone thought maybe Liquid were going to do it this year, and they came pretty damn close to it. But TI is a different place. You can talk about how Virtus.pro had such a great run up to TI, but it falls apart when you get there because the meta will change. You don't know what type of the competition you land up playing, and it only takes one Bo3 to lose. If you are in a lower bracket, you are under the pressure, or when you have a bad group stage performance... It's very hard to ever predict TI.
Do you have any player you truly cheer for to get that Aegis?
No. Not anymore. I have learned my lesson, and now I just cheer for any team that gives me high-quality Dota in an entertaining way.