The sixteen best Dota 2 teams in the world gather in Seattle for the sixth iteration of The International, Dota 2‘s premier event (and possibly esports’ premier event, depending on who you ask). Outdoing itself in terms of prize money, viewership (probably), and just about any other metric you could possibly think of, The International 6 promises, once again, to be The Biggest Tournament Ever. Until next year.
When and How to Watch:
Don’t tell, but I’m cheating a bit this week; The International 6 (née The International Dota 2 Championships, but better known by the initialism TI6) technically started a few days ago. But with something like The International—the bonafide Biggest Tournament Ever™—these kinds of exceptions can and should be made.
It’s hard to overstate the influence of The International on the esports superego. Over the course of the event, perhaps 30 million unique viewers will tune in; if you care about numbers, that’s a couple million more than the World Series notches each fall. And some $20 million dollars will be distributed among the 16 teams that managed to qualify for TI6; dollar for dollar, more prize money will be won over the next week than every professional StarCraft II, Hearthstone, and CounterStrike: Global Offensive will win this year combined.
But there’s more to The International than money. After all, with the exception of horse racing and maybe the Masters, no one really talks about the prize pool of major sporting events (but if you’re curious, winning the NBA Finals nets a team about $10 million). The International’s symbolic value is just as important, especially to fans of Dota 2, but I suspect that esports fans of every persuasion would acknowledge this, however begrudgingly. It wouldn’t be quite right to call the international a bellwether—there’s absolutely ordinary about this tournament; indeed, as my colleague Justin Groot suggests, it’s seemingly manufactured to reflect and produce our idea of what extraordinary means—but it is a perpetually rising high-water mark, a sign of what esports can be when certain stars align.
Telling anecdote: back in 2011, when Valve organized the first iteration of The International (played at the convention Gamescom in Cologne to advertise, err, celebrate, the release of the Dota 2 beta), most players initially thought it was a scam. “A million dollar esports tournament?” they demurred, “it’s too big to be real.” But these days, a million-dollar purse, at least in Dota 2, can look rather quaint. What was once ludicrous is now quotidian, and more than anything, The International is a reminder of just how much we’ve come to expect out of esports.
There’s so many interpenetrating narratives coming into The International 6 that we’d need an afternoon together (at least) to sort through them all. But if there’s something to be gleaned from the games that have so far been played, it’s just how evenly matched these teams really are. And not just evenly-matched, but how outrageously excellent they are, with gambits laid with aeronautical precision, combinations of heroes and items pulled from a meta beyond comprehension, and multipart rotations planned minutes ahead. It’s just beautiful. It really is.
So, for my money—and $20 million of all of ours—this is the best Dota 2 that’s ever been played. You owe it to yourself to watch.