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With no light from Valve, the Chinese Dota 2 scene is fumbling in the dark

Those directly involved in the Dota 2 scene are used to Valve’s way of communicating. But, that doesn’t mean that the competitive scene is thriving. Having little to no clear future perspective, and only moving forward with the belief that Valve will not let the game die, doesn’t make it appealing to new competitors, new players, new sponsors. The fact that the player base is continuously declining directly affects the odds of having new talent coming into the scene.

For example, the situation is so dire in China, where Dota 2 seems to be losing in front of so many other titles, that Team Aster’s CEO, Guo “Zhili” Zhili went on predicting publicly on stream that the Dota 2 server in China is going to be shut down.

Mister Zhili, who is also a Chairman in the CDA association, joined the other day Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei’s stream where the new Aster roster was revealed to give a bit of insight in the organization’s choice for the new team line-up and stated the following:

“When I met Monet I told him about my plan and thoughts. I told Monet that I hope he and Xxs can play with us until the Dota 2 server is shut down. No matter when it will shut down, I hope they can play with us until then.”

Taken out of context, Aster’s CEO words announce a tragic ending for the game in one of the biggest markets in the world. However, what mister Zhili was emphasizing was the absolute silence from the game developer regarding the future of the competitive activity. This was clearly an unprecedented outburst fueled by frustration that built throughout the past year. Valve operating in the fog of war is slowly driving the Chinese organizations to the edge of their patience. 

Let’s paint the background of this explosive statement by retracing Valve’s communication strategy for this competitive season.

Regional Leagues were announced by Valve late February this year. The news was received with a lot of excitement by those directly involved in the professional scene. Team owners, CEOs, managers and players alike saw this new approach of a much more structured Dota Pro Circuit, with a true opening towards the tier two and tier three teams, as a huge step in the right direction for a sustainable competitive ecosystem.

A yearlong schedule with Regional Leagues coming with weekly broadcast exposure and the possibility for a long year plan for a spot at The International 2021 looked extremely appealing. Tournament organizers were invited to submit applications for each of the three seasonal Leagues and Majors and were given just one month to present their plan. Submissions deadline was March 31, Valve stating that they will assign the Majors and Leagues no later than 21st of April 2020.

However, as good the year was painting out to be, only a month later the world got hit by the coronavirus pandemic and everything became more uncertain than ever. The already ongoing DPC season was paused, but although all Majors and Minors are Valve sponsored tournaments, the communication with the professional scene and the fans came from the third party organizers who were supposed to run the events that got canceled or postponed and it was rather sporadic.

Valve’s first and only announcement came on the 30th of April when they brought an update regarding the 10th edition of The International, which was supposed to take place mid-August in Sweden. In its brief blog post, the Dota 2 developer announced that the biggest tournament of the year is “likely to happen in 2021.” Valve also ensured the scene that in the meantime they are working on “restructuring the DPC season for the fall,” and that they will provide more information as soon as they have it.

The new season is supposed to start on October 5, but Valve went back to their habit of not communicating, and although we are about six weeks before the new season should start, nobody really knows what is going to happen.

During the whole six-month period since the DPC season was halted, Valve has done nothing to help the competitive scene survive. All the online tournaments that unfolded March-September were organized and fully sponsored by third party organizers. ESL One, One Game Agency (Dota Pit) and WePlay! Esports, being  the most proactive organizers, hosting multiple events across all six regions during all this time.

With no news coming from Valve and no perspective for the whole season, eight of the biggest organizations in China joined their efforts to create their own regional league giving a platform for the Chinese scene to keep the training session at a high level until the Dota Pro Circuit would resume.

After the first season of CDA China DOTA2 Professional League, Mars Media also joined the project, and the Chinese competitive scene continued to run a “self-care program”, giving a platform to the entire competitive scene in the region, tier two, and tier three teams also being included in their league.

Europe and CIS took their example and came with a similar plan. The currently ongoing OMEGA League was put together by a coalition of eight of the biggest Europe and CIS teams who also partnered with WePlay! and Epic Esports Events to provide the fans with the best production possible for an online tournament.

However, while the Dota 2 fans have something to watch every day and live under the impression that everything is fine, behind the scenes, Valve’s lack of communication is creating this time around a big divide between the developer and the community.

What Valve does best is keeping the game fresh by constantly updating it with patches that most of the time reshape the meta, keeping Dota 2 extremely enticing for the already existing player base and, of course, for the competitive scene. However, the poor new player experience has been criticized for years now and it never got truly better.

We are all going through dire times, the pandemic spared nobody. This special circumstance magnified Valve’s usual lack of transparency. And while the western scene has always created its own competitive archetypes, the Chinese scene needs structure and certainty in order to properly function. It certainly is a mentality difference, but Valve’s strategy should encompass them all, it should strive to cater to the whole scene.

For the entirety of its existence, the Chinese scene functioned on nurturing new talents in so called secondary rosters or varsity teams. It’s their tradition and their strong belief that this type of practice helps build a healthy ecosystem. There is no shortcut to the tier one professional status. Stories like Miracle, SumaiL, Ana or Topson, who were recruited straight from the public match-making and brought straight to The International stage, have never happened in the Chinese scene. Even the breathtaking Wings Gaming team came to take the world by storm in 2016 after years of grinding through lower tier regional online tournaments in China. 

Regional Leagues, each with a designated division for lower tier teams are a true saving grace for the entire scene, not only for China. But as everyone’s life is turned upside down since the pandemic, Valve’s silence is only stretching wider the rift between the company and the competitive scene.

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