I think a lot of current casual Dota 2 players and viewers would cite Free to Play as their introduction to the game. The sport stories it wants to tell are well-established, and its cinematic animations are exciting and readable for new-comers. On top of that, Dota 2 ended its open beta phase in July of 2013, and the release of Free to Play coincided with—and fed back into—a surge of interest in Dota 2 surrounding The International 2014. The movie tells the stories of three players, Clinton “Fear” Loomis of Online Kingdom, Danil “Dendi” Ishutin of Natus Vincere, and Benedict Lim “hyhy” Yong of EHOME during The International in 2011, which is such a long time ago that only three or four of the sixteen teams involved are still around. Fear’s team Online Kingdom lost their loser’s bracket match to the Moscow Five. Third place in the whole tournament went to Singaporean team Scythe Gaming. The names of the game have changed quite a bit.
Free to Play coincided with—and fed back into—a surge of interest.
When the movie was released in 2014, the Dota 2 scene was more developed. At that point, Na’Vi had finished in the top three places at the first three Internationals—winning the first and taking second in 2012 and 2013. Since then, they haven’t finished in the top half of teams. Evil Geniuses, on the other hand, formed after The International 2011, have since tied Na’Vi for top three finishes, even winning once, in 2015.
At a glance, Valve’s new documentary series True Sight looks a lot like an effort to recapture that newness and popularity. There’s growing anxiety that player numbers have stopped growing and fear that The International 2017 will not beat out TI6 for the title of “biggest prize in esports.” On the other hand, the series is only available to folks who drop eight dollars on the Boston Major Battle Pass, and while the name’s a bit on the nose (“true sight” in Dota 2 allows you to see invisible foes), it might shed some light on their goals for the project. The meaning of “true sight” is clear to any viewer, but it means something specific to someone who’s spent some time playing the game. Free to Play was an introduction to Dota 2, but True Sight looks like a closer look at players we already know something about. In the first trailer, Syed Sumail “Suma1l” Hassan asks his teammates who their favorite singers are, then says his are “my boy Zayn, and then Bieber.” It’s probably funny if you don’t know who Suma1l is, but it’s funnier if you’re familiar with this neck pillow aficionado and midlane star.
Documentary that purports to allow us to see the invisible.
On Monday, player Jacky “EternalEnvy” Mao posted a seven-thousand-word screed against the player-run organization of his former team, Team Secret. Wherever Dota 2 is discussed—the r/dota2 subreddit, Twitter, The Meta’s Slack channel—there was discussion of EE’s screenshotted WhatsApp messages and security cam footage of his teammate Puppey throwing headsets. Even now, days later, some of the top posts on r/dota2 are headset memes.
Valve has very limited control over teams and events in Dota 2, so in a sense, True Sight is their best chance to come out ahead of EE. Until last year, when the Majors system was introduced, The International was the only event they held. They meet with players every so often, but it’s a much less regulated system than the League Championship Series, for example, where Riot maintains complete control over as many variables as possible. Valve is hoping they have some control over the image of the Dota 2 scene. Maybe by releasing a documentary that purports to allow us to see the invisible, they can turn some of these players from angry tweeters into fleshed-out sympathetic characters.
True Sight will be available to watch for Boston Battle Pass owners on October 14th at 6PM.