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Valve Unveils Plan for New Dota 2 Pro Circuit

Donnie Chell  | 
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Valve will be moving Dota 2 esports from a Major/Minor system to a league format. (Photo courtesy PGL)

Valve has dropped a massive communication bomb on the Dota 2 community regarding the 2020-2021 Dota Pro Circuit. In a blog post, Valve has laid the groundwork and schedule for the entire next season following The International 10; in Stockholm, Sweden this August. This is a huge amount of upfront information that tournament organizers, teams and sponsors can now work with and plan around.

Regional Leagues

The announcement begins by acknowledging the need to foster a way for talent to organically develop and feed into the top levels of play. To accomplish this, the Dota Pro Circuit will be moving away from the current Major/Minor system and into regional leagues. Each league will play three seasons over the course of the year, culminating in a Major. This reduction of Majors to three and scrapping of the Minors is a return to the inaugural DPC season. Each Major will be preceded by a six week season where teams will play Round Robin best-of-three matches to determine placement in the league.

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Seasonal Dota

Seasonal play will feature a $280,000 prize pool and consist of 16 teams divided into two divisions. The Upper Division pays out for all eight placements in a very flat structure and the top five will earn DPC points that go towards qualifying for The International. Additionally, Upper Division teams will be able to earn slots at the Major based on their placement in the division. At the end of each season, the two lowest ranking teams in the Upper Division will be demoted to the Lower Division.

The eight Lower Division teams will also play a full six weeks of Round Robin matches to fight for two promotion slots into the Upper Division. The Lower Division will pay out the top six placing teams while the bottom two will drop out of the Division and have to play open qualifiers for a chance to rejoin the league.

One of the most interesting and exciting parts of this seasonal structure is that Valve has already announced a calendar of when the league matched will take place. This structured approach to competition in Dota should afford a much more stable structure for teams to plan around and guarantee exposure to sponsors. Reliable exposure and team stability have consistently been two of the biggest complaints about the Dota ecosystem, from a business perspective.

The Return of Valve Majors

A major complaint, no pun intended, of the current DPC format is that the Major tournaments have lost the weight of importance that events such as the Boston, Shanghai or Manila Majors held. It appears that Valve will be increasing their involvement with the Majors this time around and trying to revive their previous prestige. In the 2020-2021 DPC season, Major attending teams will have a shot at part of a $500,000 prize pool and hundreds of DPC points. Only the top eight teams will earn anything and the top 12 DPC point earners over the entire year will claim a spot at TI.

Valve has also gone as far as announcing the competitive structure of the Majors as well as the slot allocation for each region for the entire season. This second point, in particular, is interesting considering how volatile professional Dota has been. In previous DPC seasons, Valve has had to continually adjust which regions receive extra slots due to wildly inconsistent performance from tournament to tournament so it will be an interesting issue to watch.

Storylines and Salaries

With the new league structure, Valve will be doing away with open qualifiers for The International. 12 slots will be earned through DPC points and the remaining slots will be determined by qualifiers for the eight highest ranking teams in each region who did not qualify through DPC points. While it removes the ability for a random stack of friends to play against pros for fun, it will allow established teams to make a “Cinderella” run if they can get hot at the right time and stick together through the whole season.

It is clear that this is a main objective of the league structure Valve have laid out. In the current DPC, any team that just misses a Major tournament or even places poorly at one has a huge risk of shuffling players or outright disbanding. The new league would make this kind of behavior much more punishing while rewarding the teams that stick and grow together. The top 14 teams from every region will be able to reliably earn at least some income to further incentivise staying together and trying to improve.

At the other end of the money spectrum, Major attending teams have a lot less to fight over. In addition to halving the prize pool of a Major from the current season, only the top eight teams earn any of the prize pool. While teams will earn slightly more than a current 9th-12th placement just for qualifying to a Major, it will also require six weeks of consistent work to do so. There have been plenty of concerns regarding player burnout over the last couple of years and the proposed league system doesn’t appear to really fix any of them.

The Fog of War and What Lies Ahead

The newly proposed system has clear benefits and some fairly clear drawbacks as well. Shifting from a wide open tournament driven ecosystem to a league driven one will be a big change for the Dota 2 community. Greater stability for teams could enable better branding opportunities while concerns about prize distribution, shrinking prize pools and a continued lack of an off season remain serious concerns. Though it is perhaps blasphemous to mention it, League of Legends has enjoyed consistent exposure and growth thanks to their regular match schedules and high quality production. The league model of competition has worked for just about every traditional sport as well and provides some real potential for growth.

This announcement has probably already drawn plenty of looks from well established esports organizations outside of Dota 2. With so many other esports leagues requiring multimillion dollar buy-ins, Dota has suddenly become a much more attractive investment opportunity. What really remains to be seen is how well Valve is able to coordinate what looks to be an incredible logistics puzzle and how many teams the Dota community can actually field in season one.

Donnie Chell
Donnie Chell
Donnie dove into esports in 2015 in an attempt to combine his passions for creative work, competition and coaching. After getting a shot to cover TI6 for LiquidDota.com he has produced thousands of hours of educational Dota content for several esports start-ups and his own YouTube project, Dota Alchemy. Esports is an incredibly exciting space to inhabit at this moment in time and Donnie feels grateful for the chance to help shape the future of the industry in some small way.