We were pioneers… We were unique… We were restless pursuers of our dreams… It was the year 2002, when Blizzard Entertainment released the strategy game Warcraft 3 along with a powerful editing tool that would allow players to create their own custom modifications. What started out as one game, turned into thousands. But it was only one of them that stood out. A young individual by the name Eul picked up on ideas of previous modifications and created his own. He called it “Dota – Defense of the Ancients”. Dota was a custom map to Warcraft 3. I think it went as far back as Aeon of Strife to Starcraft. So it was probably a lot longer than starting in 2003, but that’s where it started gaining popularity. Dota came from community which had a whole lot of different games. And then they just came up with this wonderful mode. It’s just the simplest thing in the world to have Fortress vs Fortress and a couple heroes in between. And when Dota Allstars came together, it was a combination of all of these different types of ideas people had around this game mode and put it into one big thing which was refined over the years. The idea behind Dota was adapted by many others, who created their own different versions of it. Some even combined the many into one. But each of them only worked on it for a short period of time, leaving it for others to continue. It wasn’t until 2005 that it rapidly gained popularity, when yet another individual called IceFrog, picked up the development and took the chance to devote his life to the game. But what made his work so successful as opposed to all the others who had tried their best before him? – He listened! Talking to hundreds of different people every day, asking questions, seeking advice, he skillfully condensed the feedback to produce the game that the community wished for. The one outstanding feature Dota has is that there’s this one guy working on it who is in very close contact with especiallythe professional scene but also has an entire team of betatesters, IceFrog. He has always monitored the competitive scene especially very closely to find out what works, what doesn’t’ work. And he continuously released these new updates to make sure the game is balanced, the game is fun, the meta game develops and everything. And I think that is a big integral part of why this game is so much more successful than a lot of other games, even though there was technically no developer behind it for the longest time, only for the past 4 years or so. And he still managed to get a bigger player base than most other titles. While the community around Dota grew into the millions world-wide, its commercial success remained in the dark. The hard evidence that these millions existed was missing. But the community kept believing and did its best to push the game towards becoming accepted by the public. Online tournaments at the time started to get interested in Dota and realized that there was a big market here that was unexplored, but it wasn’t an e-sport the same way as Counter Strike or Starcraft were. During DotA 1 days for tournaments? They were very very sporadic. I think that the only consistent thing that was out there was FARM4FAME and the Dota-League. But that was all European Dota. In South-East Asia we had Asian Dota Championship, which was played a lot. And that was probably two or three times a year. And it would run roughly two and a half months each time. Outside of DreamHack and then ESWC, there wasn’t many LAN tournaments. So when Dota-League announced Dota-League Masters taking place in Hannover, every team wanted to go, every top European team wanted to go, despite the fact that we only played for I think 1.000 euros. But that’s really how much the teams wanted to compete for. It was all about the passion for the game and wanting to be the best. It didn’t matter how much cash were on the line back then. So I think the true Juggernauts of that time Ks.int, SK-Gaming, MYM and others. There were teams from Czech Republic, France. There were teams from all over Europe. And it had the very best teams of Europe as well, just playing for you know 1.000 Euro for the first place, which I believe went to Ks.int. Some stars of today are actually from that team, or at least Kuroky is, I can’t remember any other players, may be Puppey as well, now playing for Team Secret. I took the second place with MYM, we had H4nn1, who’s been in Fnatic for the longest time. I think all the other players of that line-up are now retired. And then SK-Gaming of course with Loda and Akke. So there’s definitely a lot of high-profile players of today that were as good back then. They were on top then, they are on top now and they have stuck with the game for the past decade. Without a publisher and just a private individual behind it, no one in the scene was able to make any money. Community websites could make a few hundred dollars through advertisements, which was enough to pay the servers, but it needed hundreds of volunteers to keep them running. And especially the players who saw their chance in competing professionally were struggling. Well, back then there was no money to be made. I just played the game because I enjoyed it. And that was the most important thing. I don’t think you can go into something and like… you can’t go into the music industry and say: “I want to make money with it”. It’s not the way it works. The most successful people really love making music and then they just start making money with it. It’s just how it goes. The teams didn’t have big enough sponsors. eSport was never big enough that you’d have some big company come to you and say: “Ok, we will pay USD 2.000 a month to every player that has our logo as a badge on their shoulder”. These days that can happen. But back in those days it was almost impossible. By the time Dota 2 hit the community, I think I had my student loans for around USD 30.000. We made no money when we first started commentating. We spent so much. It’s not like these days when you have things like Twitch who will give you money for streaming. And they take care for all the server hosting and everything like that. And this is like: “Oh just keep playing adverts, and we will give you a share of the revenue, which is created”. The server costs back then were insane. Even for the audio servers you were paying a substantial amount per month just to have them even if you weren’t using them. And for the video servers you had to pay for the bandwidth. So the more people watched the greater was the fee. Cause, yes, the more people watching. But 20 people could suck your video server dry. And you’re like: “Ok… I have now just managed to spend like USD 10.000 in the space of two weeks, because people are watching my video livestream”… …where you would pray you can get USD 10.000 worth of revenue when people are watching your video livestreams these days. But money was not the only issue. The game’s technology had grown old over the years and IceFrog was limited to the Warcraft 3 engine, letting him improve and develop Dota only so far. It was hard times. When someone disconnected from the game there was no reconnect option like we have nowadays. So that was pretty tough. Something that, if you’ve been in the game for a long time, you can definitely remember… …the atrociousness of having to play on a server located in New York for instance, when you’re European and you play in 2005. That would be a horrendous experience. It wasn’t until October 2010, five years after IceFrog had picked up Dota, that the loud calls of the community would resonate through the internet. IceFrog and VALVE announced the successor: Dota 2. It meant the world to everyone involved. I think the most important change that Dota 2 brought with it was the recognition and acceptance outside of what Valve was doing. Suddenly you had all these eSports organizations that wanted to pick you up. There were tons of sponsors with a keen interest in the game. Just because the sheer publicity and the fact that Valve, one of the biggest publishers in the world, suddenly is developing the game. So everyone one was jumping on the Dota train. So Counter Strike was talking about it. Warcraft was talking about it. Starcraft was talking about it. Everyone was talking about it. And I felt that it was a monumental point in my career, when I could finally well you know… …be proud of the game I played and show the world that this game deserves every bit as much recognition as any other title in the eSports hemisphere. While the community and professional players were used to Dota 1 for almost 8 years, Dota 2 was just over a year and a half into development at Valve. The new visuals and gameplay had a different feel than the original Dota and the community’s first reactions were mixed. So a lot of people were disappointed: “Oh, my hero doesn’t look like he should”, or “These things in the map should be a little bit different”. Or “I’m disappointed with this, this and this”… at the beginning the game got a lot of criticism, and people seemed to not liked it. A lot of people said: “I would never switch to Dota 2, this is not like our good old game”. I remember the Skeleton King was the most hilarious one. His Hellfire Blast ability was literally a skeleton farting. Like that was his first ability icon. And they had so much fun with these initial things. I actually kind of like these initial joke ones they made more than I do the current ones right now. It was really funny, those Valve placeholders. It was quirky, it was funny, it was always kind of jazz. When I first got a beta-key, I was sitting in my studio in Cyber Arena in Kyiv, and I was not allowed to show the game to anyone. I signed NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement). But I showed it to our stream director, Alexander. And we were sitting together downloading Dota and we were in closed studio and we launched Dota. It was like wow! The first game I played. I started the game and chose Leshrak. And it was like… Oh my God! It was so terrible. All the trees were so bad, all the graphics was so bad. I played for 15 minutes and closed Dota, like… …”ok forget about it. It’s a bad game and they’re not going to make it much more better.” But you know, 1,2,3 more months, more weeks and before TI 1, it was actually playable and even watchable. But the announcement that Valve made in August 2011 swept everyone off their feet. One million Dollars in prize money for the first place of a computer game tournament. It felt like it was Valve’s way of saying “thank you” to the community that worked so hard for so many years. They had turned Dota 1 into Dota 2 and showed it to the public for the very first time. “The International”. The International really grew out of a conversation between people on Dota 2 team. IceFrog thought it would be a good idea if we tried it out. We tried to think of how to reward for the different things they bring. It seemed like the professional players were generating a lot of value for the community. So The International 1 grew out of the idea of how can we return to them some of what they hadd already given to the community. I can kinda remember a meeting where we were like “How are we going to show the game off to people, now that we’re ready to ship it”. And then somebody probably said: “I wonder if we could run a tournament.” and then somebody probably said: “Let’s make the prize pool really big”. And it just kind of grows from there. Next thing you know a designer is coming up with a name for it and building graphics, then we’re on the plane to Germany. When I first heard about The International, there was like a sense of euphoria. Because it wasn’t just, you know… Even if it was USD 50.000, I would be like: “Wow! That’s really really cool. I can’t wait to play for this”. Then they announced it was 1,6 million dollars and you were just like: “What?!” There was literally no money to be made and suddenly there was millions to be won. It was crazy back then. I remember people went crazy over it. It was huge money in eSport. Nobody could even understand that’s for real, that’s real 1 million. So for me it was something incredible. I needed 2-3 days to actually believe it. I think the most enjoyable part was not the annonucement of it or the fact that we had something to look forward to. It was participating in the actual tournament that really stood out to me. Because of the attention it got, but also the treatment we received from of Valve. And everything war run smoothly and professionally. The first International was at Gamescom and you had everyone just standing in huge amounts of crowds outside of the booth… …just trying to get a glimpse of this 1 million dollar tournament but also the new title that was coming up from Valve. Well it is flattering to think, that people would think that we actually knew what was going to happen. We absolutely didn’t. We looked at it reasonably simply. This was a really fun thing for us, our fans seemed to really enjoy it. “Let’s just keep investing in it and see where it would take us.” As we met more people from the professional scene, and kind of watched the Dota 2 scene building up, gave us inspiration and ideas. We are really watching the community and pulling all of our inspiration from that. And trying to build on to the next event. A lot of people, who come in to it now, might not realize, because they see these tournaments and they’re like: “Wow! There’s so much money! So the players are playing for living” which of course we are at this point. But back then for us it was a hobby we took to the next level. Right now, there’s so many more avenues. It’s not only teams providing salaries which is of course really good for the players, because they’ve got this safety net even if they’re not performing very well. But also they can create item sets that net people money. Item sets can get six figures, if something does well. Sometimes some players could potentially make more money out of selling items than from winning prize tournaments. So from that you can get a sustainable income as well. Dota started as an idea, a custom idea, which developed into a community, which then developed into competitive community, which has now developed into an industry. Nowadays you can actually make a living out of it. Player, organizer – whoever you are, if you want to be part of eSports, if you are ambitious, you can actually make a living out of it nowadays. It’s definitely a success.