Our current Covid-19-impacted Dota 2 professional scene has isolated most of the regions. Some of them are thriving (I’m looking at you, Europe), but others are not faring so well.
Let’s take a look at what’s happening in South America.
South America, so far
To quickly recap the history of the region: prior to 2017, South America competed with North America in an Americas region. North America got the better end of this deal as it typically had ping advantages as well as better support from team organizations.
In 2017, Valve split the Americas region into North America and South America for qualifiers to the Kiev Major 2017. Subsequently, South America received one or two qualifier spots at The International, Valve Majors, and Dota Pro Circuit events.
Valve’s mandate put South American Dota 2 on the international stage, figuratively and literally. South American teams received spots at Valve-funded events, giving them valuable opportunities to practice and compete globally. The advantages included:
access to larger prize pools
greater potential for sponsorships
ability to practice with and compete against the best teams in the world
(At least, they were able to do the latter when they’d traveled to compete somewhere on LAN.)
South American teams have risen from last-place finishes to seventh-eighth place finishes at international events. That’s a significant improvement for a region that had previously struggled just to qualify for these events.
When Valve announced the latest iteration of the Dota Pro Circuit, to begin in September 2020, it seemed like a reversion of all the possibility that had so recently been given to South American teams. Though the three planned Majors still included teams from each of the six regions, the majority of competition was intended to be regional.
While this might seem like a positive--less travel for teams, more time at home, more opportunity to develop rivalries--it will have the negative effect of re-isolating South Americans. This region is particularly impacted by the isolation over other regions because the teams here were still experiencing a lot of growth and the “big fish” in the local pond is still significantly smaller than the big fish in, say, the European pond, for example. Teams regularly playing Team Secret, the best team in the world right now, are likely to improve more than teams playing Thunder Predator or beastcoast. The skill ceiling is just higher currently in regions other than South America.
The money factor
One thing holding back South American teams has been financial stability. There haven’t always been very many reliable organizations hosting teams in the region, and player earnings have been low without supplemented wages and access to big prize pools. Low earnings means players need to take on other jobs or cut corners when it comes to the quality of their conditions.
Will sponsors come forward for the South American DPC regional leagues? It’s unclear whether they will or if tournament organizers will run the region at a loss in order to have Valve award them more profitable regions.
During the global pandemic, tournaments have lumped South America together with North America in online events. Happily, South America is not ignored but unfortunately, it’s certainly not equal.
To begin, North and South American events have had smaller prize pools than other regions, particularly Europe and China. Compare the OGA Dota PIT prize pool of $25,000 USD for the Americas and $170,000 for Europe & CIS. Also consider the upcoming ESL One Thailand tournament: $65,000 for the Americas, $135,000 for Asia.
The teams in Europe and China are arguably more competitive (perhaps driving larger viewership and drawing in bigger sponsorship dollars) than the Americas, which could justify some of the prize pool differences. But remember that without financing, no team can focus on practicing and improving.
And South American teams already face unique challenges due to the local infrastructure.
The Internet and ping
In 2018, Valve aired a short video during The International that featured Jorien “Sheever” van der Heijden and Peruvian player Enzo "Timado" Gianoli O'Connor. Timado gave Sheever a tour of LAN cafes in Lima, Peru. During the video, he talked about the importance of the cafes for providing access to PCs and internet access due to how expensive they were for anyone to own individually.
With the global pandemic sending people into quarantine, LAN cafes have been forced to temporarily close, cutting off access for some. We’ve seen the effect of inconsistent and unstable internet connections play out as various South American teams have struggled to consistently field their full, official rosters.
In addition, the teams are back to playing these mixed NA/SA events, which adds ping issues to connectivity ones.
I spoke briefly with Grant Zinn, CEO of beastcoast, last month. He told us, “Before Valve had SA qualifiers, all SA teams were forced to play through NA quals, and they consistently got destroyed because of the ping and server disadvantage. That’s what’s happening now in all these NA/SA online events.”
Obviously, Valve never intended to remove South America as a region. Tournament organizers have lumped them together with North America while we wait for an official Dota Pro Circuit season to be scheduled. And while on one hand, some might be grateful to see South American teams in action on a regular basis, I think these squads deserve more.
I hope that when third-party tournaments get started on LAN post-quarantine, during a new DPC season, South American teams are given the opportunity to attend. We’ve seen so much competitive growth from squads in the region over the past three years, it would not surprise me to see South American teams contending for first place at international events in the very near future.
Once, you know, those events are permitted again.
The path toward a stronger South American region relies on continuing to embrace these teams internationally. While the global pandemic means we all need to make do with some difficult circumstances, I hope Valve has an eye on how to support the SA region as it recovers from its current setbacks.