In case you haven’t heard about the happenings in game publisher land, let me bring you up to speed. Recently, Valve announced a tournament for their unreleased DotA remake with the confirmed first place prize of one million dollars (the total prize pool might be higher as that’s only the first place prize). A few days later, Activision, not wanting to be left behind, announced their own Modern Warfare 2 tournament with a prize pool of one million dollars.
Putting aside the fact that the amount of money mentioned is FREAKING HUGE, the interesting thing here is that Valve is putting up prize money for a game that’s not even released yet.
Granted, DotA has been around for a long time and the sequel will apparently be a straight remake of the original, which means that gameplay will be pretty much the same. But the fact remains that DotA 2 isn’t the same game as the original Warcraft 3 map. It will be released by a different company, with a different infrastructure and different distribution system. In that sense it’s a reboot of the game, which means that Valve are providing funds for something they are yet to put on the market.
Some people are inclined to think that launching a tournament with a prize pool this big is done with the intention of kickstarting a competitive scene and giving back to the community. That might partially be true, but I’m inclined to think there’s an ulterior motive. The fact that this is a reboot of the series, coupled with the fact that we are yet to see a glimpse of the game that is supposed to be released later this year, screams marketing to me, rather than eSports.
I mean sure, the even will probably kickstart a big competitive community (if that is even needed, the DotA community is already huge) and the guys who win the tournament will get an enormous cash reward for their efforts, but this all directly benefits Valve more than anyone else. I’m aware that people are fine with the investor getting their monies worth back, but please, don’t go thinking of Valve as the awesome hat selling deities of gaming, because they’re not.
As for Actilizzard, Blizzvision or whatever, the fact that the MW2 community is doing very well on the consoles just shows how their investment really is nothing but marketing. There’s no community kick-starting needed, the only benefit here is the entertainment from the tournament and the prize money going to people who worked for it. But don’t be fooled, the only thing ActivisionBlizzard care for is marketing their next Modern Warfarecraft and the accompanying shenanigans.
There’s an interesting aspect to this, previously unexploited way of marketing though. If you consider gaming to be an entertainment industry outlet (that by some accounts dwarfs the movie industry), then marketing by way of throwing tournaments with jaw-dropping prize pools is a gaming specific thing. No other entertainment outlet can involve the customer in the marketing process and entertain them at the same time. It’s killing two stones with one bird. Quite amazing when you think about it.
As an aside, let’s discuss the word “eSports”. If you’re one of the people who think that the word sport can only be associated with physical activities in which competitors need to exert the maximum amount of physical force (in one way or another) to win, then I’m sure you’ll agree that things like formula one racing, chess or horse racing aren’t sports. In which case playing games competitively isn’t a sport either. But these competitions draw huge crowds, require preparation, mental and physical fitness and a large amount of training. Clearly, they have a lot in common, so if you’ll allow me to group them, I shall call them Sitting Activities or SA. How about that?
There’s no denying that gaming draws large amounts of spectators (look at MLG, EVO, Dreamhack, WCG, etc…), that there is a large amount of sponsorship money involved, broadcasting rights, player contracts and that the competitions themselves are fierce, with only the best succeeding. These sitting activities sound like something you might have seen on the telly before, eh? No matter though, it’s not like they’ll be appearing at the Olympics any time soon, so any “real” sports fans won’t have to suffer such a disgrace.
PS: Blizzard, you must be be hitting yourselves over the head for not grabbing the exclusive DotA rights or taking advantage of the opportunity to monopolise the market. Not like you need to monopolise another market though, you can stay right there thank you very much.