The choice between a huge TI and a healthy overall circuit is a false dichotomy

This week’s episode of We Say Things saw Synderen and Sunsfan discussing the harm TI is causing to the Dota 2 ecosystem. This isn’t a new idea — Will Partin wrote an excellent piece on the topic a full year ago — but it’s one that has been gathering steam as the DPC has started to settle a little and people have had some time to reflect on the state of Dota 2 as an esport.

Simply put, because TI eclipses every other event, every year, there are too many things that depend on this one event to allow for the ecosystem to develop into something that is broadly sustainable for the large array of relevant stakeholders. Every time a professional player doesn’t qualify for TI they are forced to seriously reflect on their career choice. Event organisers have trouble breaking even because Dota 2 events are tough to market when they exist in the shadow of TI. All of your favourite talents depend on being hired by TI to have successful financial years. It’s pretty much that or working a second job.

Developing the ecosystem

The suggestion that has been gaining the most momentum over the past year is that Valve should take some percentage of the money that is crowdfunded for TI and redistribute it to the overall ecosystem. Some people want prizes for qualifiers, others suggest more money for tier 2 and/or regional circuits, or that Valve put aside some money to directly subsidize smaller events. There’s lots of different ideas floating around but they all rely on the same fundamental premise: take some money that currently goes into the TI prizepool and use it for development goals instead.

But even though this idea has been gathering support, there are others who disagree. The most common dissenting view argues that it is essential to the identity of TI that it eclipse all other events, that it needs to be the biggest prize pool in all of esports, every time, and that fans might not even be motivated to spend as much on it if that nature was changed. Today both Twitter and Reddit have been on fire with a back and forth between people holding these two positions.

This dispute, however, relies on a false dichotomy. It is simply not the case that Valve have to choose between either putting on a huge TI or spending money on developing the scene. They absolutely can do both. Popular observer and layerth co-founder, JJ ‘PimpmuckL’ Liebig made a modest version of this case, when he tweeted that there would not be a significant difference for TI if it had a $30 million prize pool versus if it had a $20 million prize pool with an extra $10 million going to bolster the overall scene.

While I agree with JJ, I anticipate that his position plays into the same objection already raised above. A lot of people seem quite invested in TI being the biggest esports event ever, every time. We don’t actually have evidence to suggest what would happen if it, well, wasn’t for a change, but I’m willing to concede this point for the sake of argument because I believe there’s a stronger case that can be made.

Kansas City Shuffle

The stronger case revolves around what is really the elephant in the room. Valve take 75% of all the money crowdfunded for TI. Sure, some of it is used to pay for running TI, but most of it is just plain profit. To suggest that Valve need to either spend the remaining 25% on TI or broader development, is to completely ignore the other 75%. Valve would do just fine if, for example, they decided to allocate 25% to TI, another 25% to the circuit, and 50% for profit and costs.

Centering the debate around which matters more between a huge TI and broader development objectives would be like taxpayers arguing over whether or not the budget should prioritize healthcare or education while the government quietly spends more on private yachts and airplanes for employees than they do on both of the above combined. It’s nonsensical.

Now, I know what people are going to say, because it’s what they always say. Valve are a private, profit-driven company, and can do whatever they want with their money. Firstly, fuck you. Of course it’s trivially true that they can do what they want with their game, but we’re here to talk about what they should do. Secondly, as mentioned above, it would be very easy for them to allocate some of their 75% to development goals and still take home a handsome profit.

But third, and most importantly, there is a very real sense in which this is not their money. It is our money. All the money raised for TI — be it the 25% or the 75% — comes from crowdfunding contributions. Yes, it’s true that people are theoretically paying for shiny things but in reality we all know that most of the motivation for contributions is to build up Dota 2 and TI. The entire Dota 2 ecosystem is built around this idea. That the community wants the game to succeed, and thus forks out a ton of cash every year to produce a behemoth of an esports event. We pay to keep our game alive.

Thus, it’s perfectly reasonable for us, the community, to make reasonable demands of Valve about how they spend that money. It is reasonable for us to expect Valve to build a healthy sustainable ecosystem. And we are literally giving them money to do that. All we have to do is communicate clearly to them that this is important to us.

My request to you is this: please stop wasting time arguing about what matters more between TI and the rest of the scene. It isn’t an either-or situation and talking about it as one degrades the discourse, and blocks progress from being made.

Anthony is a former Dota 2 coach and commentator. He is currently studying towards his Masters in Public Health.