An Introduction to Dota 2 Esports – Tournaments and Teams

Feb 16, 2016

So let’s say hypothetically that you’ve gotten the lane thing down, you understand the basic map objectives and gold/item mechanics, and you have a few heroes that you spam in pubs. Now you want to see gameplay on a pro level. Here’s a quick introduction to Dota 2’s tournament structure and major pro teams.

The Tournaments

The larger tournaments are listed here, however there are many smaller scale and regional – only tournaments occurring weekly! LiquidDota has a schedule available here.

The International

The International has been the largest prizepool Dota 2 tournament. Occurring yearly since 2011, the International (or ‘TI#’ for short), features sixteen teams competing to win a share of the prize pool. The top eight teams get a piece of the winnings. The first International was funded by Valve and featured 16 directly-invited teams. In later years, the prizepool has been partially crowdfunded through the purchase of Compendiums in the Dota 2 online marketplace. A portion of the participating teams receive direct invites from Valve, the rest go through regional qualifiers to win the other open slots.

TI2-TI5 have taken place in Seattle, Washington (TI was in Cologne, Germany) and have had ever-increasing prize pools. Here’s a breakdown of the previous TI winners and their earnings for that year.

Year/InternationalFirst Place TeamFirst Place Team Prize Money
2011/TINaVi (CIS/Ukraine)$1,000,000
2012/TI2Invictus Gaming (China)$1,000,000
2013/TI3Alliance (EU/Sweden)$1,437,190
2014/TI4Newbee (China)$5,028,308
2015/TI5Evil Geniuses (NA/USA)$6,616,014

As with many eSports tournaments, the total prizepool is divided up between a few top – placing teams. The numbers shown above are the earnings that the winners received, not the total prizepool.

TI5 smashed prizepool records. Although League of Legends is more popular worldwide, The International generates far larger prizepools TI5’s prizepool topped out over $18 million dollars, with $16.4 million of that crowdfunded from the community.

This is the famous match & first appearance of “LIQUID ARE DOING IT!”

The Majors System

in 2015, Valve announced a Majors system that would expand on The International. There are now four major tournaments each year, all sponsored by Valve. This means they have more of a standardized form in terms of invites and qualifiers. The Fall Major took place in Frankfurt, the Winter Major is slated to be held in Shanghai, and Manila was announced as the local for the Spring Major (Summer is the International).


Starladder is an independent tournament in the CIS region. So far there have been 13 Seasons, with Alliance the most recent winners. Starladder typically attracts most of the tier 1 teams and uses a regional qualifier system like most tournaments. The LAN event is held in an arena in Eastern Europe.


ESL One, organized by Electronic Sports League, is a large event held at least once a year in different cities including Frankfurt and New York City. This event utilizes the hybrid direct invite and regional qualifier system much like the Majors Tournaments.

The Summit

The Summit is a fun tournament held in the home of the Beyond the Summit Studio staff. The guys at BTS rearrange their house into lounges, a casting area, and play rooms to host one of the most fun and informal tournaments Dota has to offer.

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The Teams and Their Players

While there are many professional teams, a handful of them have consistently been not only in existence but also active for a while. These teams have hardcore fans and a unique story associated with them, as well as some of the biggest names in Dota 2.

Cloud 9*

*Okay, I know they technically don’t exist as a Dota squad currently, but their history is so interwoven with all of the other major teams that it bears mentioning. Cloud 9 was known as the team with the second place curse, as they generally performed well in tournaments but could never quite cinch the win. The squad underwent a few roster changes, dropping and replacing players until the entire squad disbanded after TI5. The organization picked up a new roster of North American players but they failed to see any real success and soon disbanded a few months later. Currently there is no Dota 2 squad carrying the C9 name.

‘EternalEnvy era C9’ were also known for their somewhat clowny playstyle and tendency to occasionally throw games and throw them hard. Want to annoy a C9 fan? Mention “no TP strat.”

Evil Geniuses

EG are the wunderkind of the NA region. They have one of the longest histories in pro Dota 2 and many top – tier players have been on the squad at some point in time. Long time EG player Fear was featured in the 2014 documentary “Free to Play” that focused on the lives and stories of participants in The International in 2011. Fear, Universe, and PPD are some of the best – known players around the world. EG is also the current team to field Arteezy, who may be tied with Dendi and Puppey for most famous Dota 2 player in the Western (non-Chinese) scene. Arteezy is often considered the top mid/carry player in the world. EG has been extremely successful overall in the past few years, consistently placing well if not winning tournaments. They took home the TI5 trophy, although their roster at the time was Fear, pubstar SumaiL, Universe, Aui_2000 (formerly of C9), and PPD.

Team Secret

Team Secret 1.0 was born from the great reshuffle after TI4. It’s the closest thing Dota has to an All-Star team, fielding well – known players siphoned off other tier 1 teams. Secret’s TI5 squad included Arteezy, s4 who was part of Alliance’s TI3 champion team, former HoN pro zai, and KuroKy and Puppey from NaVi. After dominating several tournaments, the squad faced some internal strife and disbanded, causing the notorious post TI5 ripple that ended up with Arteezy returning to EG at the expense of Aui_2000. Secret’s current roster includes EternalEnvy (formerly of C9), w33, MiSeRy, Puppey, and pieliedie.

Vici Gaming

Vici Gaming is one of China’s premier teams and pretty popular with Western fans due to IceIceIce’s online presence. The squad also includes Dota legend BurNing as well as Super, fy, and Fenrir. Vici performed consistently well in 2014 – 2015, placing 4th at TI5.


I could probably fill a page with information on Alliance. One of the oldest and most well known Dota teams, Alliance has legions of devoted fans. After winning TI3, Alliance’s performance fell off a bit and they faded from tier 1 status. Dota veterans Loda, AdmiralBulldog, and EGM have been fixtures of the squad since 2013. During Alliance’s lull, they shuffled through several players in the remaining two slots. AdmiralBulldog is a popular streamer and briefly went on hiatus to focus on just streaming. Eventually, Alliance came full circle to their TI3 squad yet again, with s4 and EGM rejoining the squad in late 2015. Since then, Alliance has won WCA as well as Starladder 13 and look to be on their way to dominance yet again. Alliance’s signature playstyle is ‘rat’ Dota. Here it is in action:


Natus Vincere (NaVi for short) is one of the other old powerhouse squads in Dota. Hailing from the CIS region, NaVi features famous names like Dendi, Puppey, and XBOCT (pronounced “hvost” if you were wondering). Many top CIS players have been part of the NaVi squad at one point or another, including fng, Goblak, and Funn1k. Like Alliance, NaVi has had a mixed history as of late. Diehard fans are still waiting for NaVi’s return to glory. They’ve more or less failed to place well in tournaments since 2014.

There are many other teams worth mentioning. I could probably go on for days about Virtus Pro, Empire, EHOME, Liquid, Invictus Gaming, and many more. There’s a great list available here that shows all of the professional teams broken down by region. There’s much more to read up about the histories of some of these squads. The birth of Alliance from NoTidehunter and the roster drama surrounding Team Secret and Evil Geniuses is worth checking out.

There’s plenty of professional Dota to see pretty much daily on Twitch. If you’re new to the pro scene, be sure to check out the upcoming Shanghai Major (beginning of March) to get a taste of what tournaments of the highest caliber look like.

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Kara Jacobacci
Kara has been following professional DotA2 since the TI4 qualifiers. When not watching matches on Twitch, she can be found working (or attempting to find work) as a geologist and enjoying nature.
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