One of the many things that gaming company Valve is famous for is its flat internal hierarchy, which is devoid of managers. This week Valve is expanding that democratic philosophy to the professional aspect of its most lucrative game, Dota 2, by announcing a new tournament structure for the 2017-2018 season, which will commence after the conclusion of The International (TI) 7 in August, Dota's centerpiece event every year.
Not too long ago, in an effort to ensure higher production quality across its competitive scene and to encourage teams to stick together, Valve rolled out a series of so-called Majors: tournaments officially endorsed and funded by Valve itself. It was a top-down approach to the problem, offering a consistent $3 million prize pool and a high standard of quality expected from production partners like PGL. Valve's incoming changes do away with the first-party Majors system, replacing it instead with "a more organic approach" wherein Valve will certify third-party tournaments as Majors or Minors depending on their prize funds.
Any tournament that wishes to qualify will have to include participants from all the big Dota regions around the world: North America, South America, Southeast Asia, China, Europe, and CIS. It must also have a LAN element to its finals, which leaves online-only tournaments out of this Valve scheme. The attraction for organizers, beyond Valve's endorsement, is in a nice bump in prize money: a Major tournament would be one that dishes out more than $500,000 in prizes, which Valve will match with $500,000 of its own; while a Minor tournament would offer $150,000 or more, with Valve again matching that baseline amount with $150,000 of its own contributions.
Valve will coordinate the schedules of Majors and Minors so they do not coincide through the course of the year, and — this is the cool part — keep track of Qualifying Points it rewards at each tournament. These points will then be used to determine who qualifies for TI in the summer. The current Majors system is also a big key to getting teams to The International, but the mechanics of which teams are chosen to be invited and which have to fight their way through TI qualifiers are opaque. The new points system promises to create a fun sort of pseudo-league competition through the year, and to give teams the ultimate incentive to stay together.
The International is the biggest event in all of e-sports, attracting a prize fund in excess of $20 million last year, and looking certain to comfortably eclipse that figure again in 2017. What Valve is doing now affects the pipeline for getting teams into the big main event, and the initial feedback from the Dota 2 broadcasting and fan community has been overwhelmingly positive. Like the e-sports Super Bowl, TI is the grandest tournament that every player wants to be a part of, so if Valve's changes have the desired effect, we'll see a fairer, more predictable system, which should also make for more competitive and watchable matches along the way.