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The International: Taking Video Games To A New Level

Fans pack Seattle's KeyArena for last year's International. (jakobwells/Flickr)
Fans pack Seattle's KeyArena for last year's International. (jakobwells/Flickr)
This article is more than 4 years old.

There aren't many sporting events that boast a purse of more than $18 million, but here's one that most sports fans probably haven't heard of: The International.

It's the world championship of the video game Dota 2 and the largest eSports event ever. On Monday, it began at KeyArena in Seattle. Through Aug. 8, 16 teams will compete for the multi-million dollar purse and the sponsorship deals that await the champion.

The International

Sixteen teams from around the world are competing in the double-elimination tournament for the title of best Dota 2 team. Six squads come from China, two from South Korea, two from Russia, and one each from Ukraine, Malaysia and the United States. Three teams are multinational.

Here's how Dota 2 works: in each game, two teams featuring five human players square off on a virtual map. The ultimate goal is to destroy the other team's "ancient" or stronghold. Every human player controls a "hero" — chosen from more than 100 options — that competes on the screen.

KeyArena holds 17,000, but tickets to the event sold out in about 10 minutes. That’s faster than most concerts. And the seats aren't cheap: general admission cost $99. And the tourney isn’t called The International for nothing: fans are expected to fly in from across the world to watch live.

But for those who didn't get a ticket, the entire tournament will be streamed free of charge on Twitch.tv, YouTube, Dota2.com, and on ESPN3. There's also a special "Newcomer Show" broadcast daily that breaks down the complexities of the game for those new to the world of Dota.

And for Saturday's championship, more than 400 theaters across the country will show the match.

The Prize Money

Last year, the prize pool for The International was nearly $11 million. This year, it's over $18 million — and still growing. That's because the majority of the prize pool is crowdsourced. Valve, the company that developed Dota 2, puts down $1.6 million each year for the competition and promises 25 percent of sales of the 2015 Compendium — a virtual interactive booklet that tracks statistics for the tournament.

In pro-athlete terms, $1.6 million may not be much. After all, 287 NBA players make at least that much a season. But thanks to the 1125 percent in prize money courtesy of fans, the Dota team that takes first will earn at least $6.5 million — well over the average NBA salary.

The $18 million total prize pool makes this year's International the largest prize pool for any video gaming competition ever and shatters the previous record.

eSports

In recent years there's been movement to consider video gaming a professional sport. Valve released a feature length documentary, "Free To Play," in 2014 that tracks three professional gamers from around the world as they competed for the $1 million purse at the first International tournament. Just last year, the X Games welcomed video gamers to their event in Austin. ESPN televised the competition on ESPN3 and aired a special preview show prior to the grand final on ESPN2.

Players have spent thousands of hours honing their skills — training, reviewing tape, and competing — and now it could pay off, bigger than ever before.

Earlier:

Zoë Sobel Production Assistant
Zoë Sobel was formerly a production assistant in WBUR's newsroom.

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