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Dota 2

Dota 2’s On-Screen Talent Opportunities Are Drying Up

Michael Hassall

The start of the 2021 Dota Pro Circuit is here, but already the true downscale of casting and commentating has been revealed. Overall, Dota 2 on-screen talent roles have been reduced to just a dozen for each region. In some cases, a massive reduction since 2018-2019, the last full DPC season. Many casters, some of whom had become staples of our broadcast scene during 2020, will now miss the DPC entirely.

dota 2 stage talent

On-screen talent has helped drive some of Dota 2's most epic moments. But the opportunities seem to be drying up. (Photo courtesy Valve)

As early as December, we knew that many Dota 2 broadcast talent we’d come to expect would be missing from our screens. Casters and analysts such as Robson “TeaGuvnor” Merritt and Admir “lizZard” Salkanović were absent from the list announced for the DPC. This pair, along with others, had become staples of the casting scene over a tumultuous 2020 period. (Note: lizZard was eventually revealed as a commentator for the Perfect World China Upper Division on January 15th.)

Change for the Better?

In 2020, travel restrictions from COVD-19 had created a unique casting and commentating landscape. With a multitude of online events springing up to fill the gap in LAN tournaments, a huge variety of opportunities arose. In most cases, this widened the pool of casting talent, as remote commentating became the norm. In some cases, on-air talent found themselves living temporarily abroad, which was the case with many of the WePlay! events. Joined by a rotating team of remote commentators, events such as the Epic League and WePlay! Pushka League set a high bar for quality.

Before this, during the 2019-2020 DPC and prior seasons, talent varied between each event. With tournament organizers rarely hosting more than one or two of the various Majors and Minors in a season, variety was ensured. However, the individual opportunities were far smaller in number. In particular, tier two events often found a dedicated core of casters and didn’t switch. One of the hopes for the new-look DPC season in 2021 was that the league format would bring greater opportunities. After all, with six separate regions, and two divisions under each, surely the number of spots would grow?

Instead, a worst of both worlds situation has arisen. Organizations such as ESL have used a similar format to WePlay! in Ukraine last year, with talent heading to Stockholm. However, this roster will remain static for the entire league. What’s more, with ESL’s staff covering both the European and CIS leagues, the number of casting opportunities have shrunk rather than expanded. While this was fine for the jointly produced online events of 2020, for 2021 this surely leaves gaps in production.

Off to a Shaky Start

The massive issues with coverage and lack of opportunities were on full display during the DPC qualifiers. Qualifiers, open and closed, were woefully under covered. In some cases it was acceptable for some qualifiers to have no official coverage of minor qualifier games. However, when it came to crucial Decider Tournaments there was a massive lack of broadcasts. Europe specifically was barely touched by tournament organizers ESL. Only Russian language streams were available for one of the most important events prior to the start of the league.

The issues only increasea when you consider than no English, Russian, or Spanish speaking commentators had been announced for the SEA or China region just days ahead of the start of the region. When talent was finally announced on the evening of January 15th, it was still a greatly depleted number of casters.

Things get far worse in the lower division though. There, it wasn’t immediately apparent that commentators would be paid at all for their contributions.

It was later clarified that almost all of the Lower Division leagues would pay their casters. However, at the time of writing SEA Lower Division still had no coverage outside of community casts. This would mean the league wouldn’t be paying anyone who casted the games.

Solutions Creating More Problems

Ironically, the casting issue has been exacerbated by Valve’s own reaction to the restreaming issues which Dota 2 faced in 2020. What started as an issue of broadcast exclusivity has now become its own separate issue. Would-be independent casters now have to jump through hoops to present games in alternative languages.

While sometimes presented as an opportunity for amateur casters to start their own coverage via DotaTV, Lower Division broadcasts have instead become a free-for all. In some cases it’s an great chance for new casters. But it’s also another way in which Valve and the professional Dota 2 scene as a whole has failed the second and third tier of events. Community casters face rebroadcasting games with 15-minute delays, no chance of remuneration through advertisements, with unpaid obligations to sponsor promotion, and adherence to social media guidelines. Additionally, rules for rebroadcasting were not released until the day of the event. This gave little chance for pushback, negotiation or preparation.

Beyond the DPC, the opportunities for other casters have all but been strangled out. There are now just a few chances a year for first and second tier independent events outside of the DPC. As a result, there’s no place for tournament organizers to stage the kind of events which proliferated the Dota 2 scene last year. Events which in many cases brought local regional casters to the forefront.

Far from the rosy opportunity for on-screen talent and commentators, the new league system already looks like it could force the talent pool for Dota 2 casting to shrink even further.