Esports get compared to chess a lot. It’s a fair comparison sometimes, in that esports, like chess, tends to involve tactical unit positioning and arm movements. But the comparison is invoked to excuse or elevate esports in some way or another. There’s an old Source Filmmaker movie (well, esports old; it’s from 2014) called “Dota 2 – Like a Game of Chess” makes this comparison explicitly. The resulting clip, created by Lozeng3r, feels more overtly dramatic than any game of chess I’ve seen, and it also starts to upstage Dota 2, where the action is designed more with the player’s experience in mind, rather than that of the spectator.
It’s designed for someone who knows how to play Dota 2.
Dota 2 has one of the most feature-packed spectator modes running. From the in-game UI, you can pay attention to what’s happening directly on the field with the camera angles the commentators are using or any other you may prefer, and you’ve got easy access to all sorts of statistics you might feel like tracking. At the same time, it’s very clearly designed for someone who knows how to play Dota 2. You have to understand the significance of comparing last hits or GPM over time, you have to know the less obvious routes around the map in order to be ready to watch a gank that could happen in a couple seconds. It’s even fair to say that spectating a game of Dota 2 is its own cultivated skill, separate from knowing how to play—understanding vision and camera positioning is so integral to the game that there are professionals, like Jonathan “PimpmuckL” Liebig, whose job it is to stay behind the scenes and frame the action so viewers get to catch every exciting piece of the action.
In advance of The International 6 this week, the Compendium Update on Wednesday introduced the Dota 2 VR Hub, a new way to watch Dota 2 games if you’ve got a head-mounted display. It has a theater mode that puts the game and all the stats in front of you, but the real draw is the option to jump into the game and watch from there. In theory, you’re in the court-side seats and you’ve got an eye-level look at the monsters and wizards duking it out on whatever we call Dota 2’s version of Summoner’s Rift. If you take a look at this video, though, it’s less like watching a hyped-up chess match from the board, and more like peering into a very foggy snow-globe with several other people pressed up against the glass.
Dota 2 isn’t actually made to be watched from up close.
The draw distance hasn’t been changed, and there’s no skybox, so this purplish fog ends up covering most of your field of view, and other viewers—as represented by the giant heads of various heroes—fly around the landscape. The biggest issue is that Dota 2 isn’t actually made, for now at least, to be watched from up close. The character models are textured and animated so that they can be seen and identified easily from a distance, and particles and abilities are designed to be readable from above, not side-on, or through trees.
At a traditional sports stadium, you’re in a sea of other fans as loud and excited as you are, and even if you can’t see exactly what’s happening on the field, you’re there for a communal experience heightened by your proximity to the action, but also to other people who care as much as you do. Watching The International from home doesn’t work like that, not with Twitch chat or with giant hero heads. Dota 2 is designed to be played, and DotaTV is a well-crafted, if information-saturated way to watch a game. The VR hub is novel and even promising, but it’s much better at showing you a VR view of Dota 2 than it is at providing an exciting alternative option for spectating.