The Great MOBA War: every fan benefits from the battle between Dota 2 and League of Legends
This weekend, Valve hosted the finals of The International 3, and it was one of the largest eSports events of all-time. Over 900,000 people were reportedly watching Dota 2 during the finals match, as teams Natus Vincere and Alliance competed for a nearly $1.5 million grand prize.
While the tournament was happening, League of Legends' stream viewership took a hit. Normally there are upwards of 100,000 people online watching LoL streams and small tournaments, even if there's no major event happening. During The International it was a fraction of that size.
LoL is perhaps the biggest game in the world, and certainly the biggest eSport. Neither of those facts are changing any time soon. But those anecdotal stats from The International 3 are a reminder that the two games share a potential fanbase. The spectacle of The International lured LoL fans and streamers away from LoL for a weekend; all eyes were on Dota 2.
Dota 2 launched last month after spending years in beta, and The International 3 was a show of force from Valve. Valve has held The International twice in the past, but they took it to a whole new level with this fantastic, elaborate production. It was Dota 2's first major shot in what could be called the MOBA War.
Dota 2 has only been officially on the scene for weeks, but these two titans are going to be duking it out for years to come. One of them may lose that war, but millions are already winning.
World War MOBA
The discovery that eSports can actually be part of a healthy business model for a company, particularly for free-to-play titles, has yielded some incredible innovation in the field. Riot Games' League of Legends smashed the competition with the introduction of the League Championship Series, an ongoing LoL season similar to a professional sport.
However, now that we have so many new companies in the field, capitalism is running its course and its sparking even more innovation. There's no outright hostility between these companies, their games, or their fans, but the competition from rival games forces them to work harder to gain attention.
That's why Riot hosts their major LoL events in as flashy of a location as possible at the Staples Center or in a stadium in Shanghai, and it also means that production values and prize pools soar higher and higher as they look to wow onlookers and stay interesting to the largest possible audience. This isn't American football, where one league is completely dominant, as mulitple games and companies are competing to be the most spectated MOBA title.
Valve's response to this with Dota 2 has been calm and measured as they opt for techniques that build the fanbase in sustainable ways.
The result of Valve's innovation was the Compendium, a sort of interactive $10 eBook that gave info on the players and teams in the tournament and also featured a Fantasy league, the Dota 2 version of Fantasy Football. It was a great little product, but the real genius of the Compendium is that one quarter of the sale price went toward increasing the prize pool of The International 3.
By purchasing it, the fans felt like they were helping their game and their teams succeed and survive, and they got a neat product out of the deal too. Not just a neat product, but a product that helped grow their attachment to Dota 2 eSports by teaching them about the teams and players.
Valve may have actually made a profit off of the product as over 500,000 copies of the Compendium appear to have been sold given that $2.50 of the $10 sale went to the prize pool, and Compendium sales added over $1.2 million to the pool.
Beyond that, Dota 2 also has “pennants” that players can buy to equip to their character which directly support eSports teams and earn players free loot when watching their team's matches through the Dota 2 client.
Valve has managed to gamify their eSports offerings so that viewers feel invested, while earning in-game items to keep them interested. These tricks also allow them to fund these huge events and large prize pool using the audience itself. It's a brilliant, elegant approach to competing in what could be a costly war of events and tournaments.
Just yesterday we saw the latest in this string of innovative great ideas as Riot Games unveiled the League of Legends American Express card which earns players in-game points for purchases.
MOBA War II
On the horizon we've got a veritable sea of potential competitors hungry to get into the mix. Infinite Crisis has shown substantial interest in appealing to the eSports crowd through their Crisis Watch broadcast deal with MLG. EA is also working on a MOBA, Dawngate, and we can't forget that Blizzard has its own MOBA title in the works as well, Blizzard All-Stars. Plus a handful of smaller contenders hoping to sneak in as well.
While LoL and Dota 2 are tearing up the charts we also see StarCraft 2 finally beginning to decline. Black Ops 2 is growing wonderfully, but is nowhere near where it could be with more help from its publisher. Both games are still highly successful eSports, but they're being left in the dust because Valve and Riot are blazing new trails in competitive gaming.
Ultimately, no matter who wins the fight, eSports fans are the ones who are winning. The result of all this competition is a vastly more stable business with many more ways to interact and participate. It's not just a battle of wallets, as these companies are offering teams innovative ways to interact with their fans, and to fund and grow their eSports empires.