What's wrong with the NA Dota 2 scene?

By Kenneth UtamaOctober 9, 2020
The professional Dota scene in North America has been in a state of flux for a long time. In the age of the global pandemic, its cracks have really begun to show. NA teams are struggling to keep their teams together due to the global pandemic with the exception of Evil Geniuses. Teams like CR4ZY have disbanded their team despite consistently placing second-third in various tournaments. The team that is doing the best and has the most homegrown NA talent, Quincy Crew, still does not have a sponsor despite winning seven tournaments in a row. So the lack of growth in NA is not because of a lack of talent and has more to do with its infrastructure.
Let's look at three main problems the NA dota scene faces:

Lack of proactive marketing

Social media and Dota 2 have never really mixed well; pro players are notoriously difficult to get to market on their social media.
Reinessa goes in-depth on this topic in her Twitter thread reacting to the departure of CR4ZY from the NA scene. She talks about how certain deals that make players and the organizations money rarely bring money for the salesperson working on the deal, and that their commission is not worth the time they put into the deal. She also brings up the fact that a lot of the NA talent does not put the time in to market themselves, and provides alternative sponsors that aren’t organizationally based. An interesting suggestion she brought up was that Dota players could hire their own agents instead of selling themselves as a team/unit. I encourage anyone interested to read through the entire thread.
In order for a scene to grow, there needs to be investment from the outside. Currently, NA Dota personalities are not a great investment. When I talked with notable caster and Moonduck managing director, Andrew “Zyori” Campbell about the topic, he asked the question “why is PPD an anomaly, when he should be the norm?”. Peter “PPD” Dager seems to be the only NA dota personality who consistently markets himself to the public. He does this through his constant replies on Twitter about esports outside of Dota, the fact that he uploads and streams content that he himself sets up (inhouse leagues with high-level NA pros and players), or even just promoting his brand on his social media. Every single Dota pro should be doing it too.
Trust me, it isn't that Dota content isn't good, it's just hard to find.

Dota is harder to sell in NA

There are several factors making it harder to sell Dota 2 in NA.
The first and most obvious factor is that NA has a smaller player base compared to regions such as Europe. There are fewer people interested in the game, which leads to less popularity. In an article on Reviews.org that lists in which states a video game is popular, it is shown that Dota is most popular in California, Washington and Alaska. There's a reason why ESL has not held a US-based event since New York in 2015, and when they did it was in Los Angeles earlier this year. It does not help matters that California has some of the highest costs of living and operation in the world.
Most tournament organizers run at loss when holding these events; a prime example is the Captains Draft 4.0 LAN held by Moonduck Studios in 2018. It was a full-blown Dota Minor that included teams like Team Secret, plenty of good talent, and alternative content on the side. It barely broke 1000 attendees. According to Zyori, they needed around 2000 attendees to break even on the tournament. This situation represents what tournament organizers have to do to even make small tournaments happen in NA.

Lack of development infrastructure

Here is caster Benjamin “Bkop” Kopilow having a conversation with Murielle “Kips” Huisman about the number of developmental teams that existed in China just a few years ago in order to keep growing talent in their region. In contrast, the NA dota scene seems to reshuffle its veterans every year. Maybe one up-and-coming player gets lucky like an Artour “Arteezy” Babaev or Syed “Suma1L” Hassan, being added to a top tier team that is willing to grow their talent. However, this method of picking a few people from the top of the ladder is not consistent and depends more on who the player knows in the scene rather than just their skill.
The lack of development infrastructure in the scene means there is barely any transfer of knowledge between pro players and high-level pub players. On the BananaSlamJaron podcast, Jaron “Monkeys-forever” Clinton brings up the issue that a player trying to go pro has no access to how to communicate in a pro game, and it takes a lot of time for a player to develop communication that is adequate for the professional level. This is something that developmental infrastructures provide — a buffer between a pub player and a pro player that helps shorten the gap and develop proper talent.
A lot of the issues that have been stated above are not easy fixes, and are really defined by the fact that the NA Dota scene currently is not a good value proposition from a business standpoint. There aren't enough guarantees over the long term for anyone to invest money into it.
While the EU as a region is doing better than NA, Dota’s life as an esport is under threat because of the lack of guarantees from Valve about the DPC system. The global pandemic has changed the landscape of several esports, but the lack of response from Valve is concerning due to how many things have changed for the worse in the last few months, several teams have lost their investments, and many players have lost their livelihoods, affecting NA and the smaller regions disproportionately more. It is on Valve to define the future of NA Dota and all the other regions by providing stability and infrastructure to the scene.
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