Who cares about tournaments when all the biggest teams aren't in attendance?
(Screenshot by Esports Edition.)

Do Dota 2 Fans Care about Unfamiliar Players and New Teams?

Dec 19, 2017
(Screenshot by Esports Edition.)

Teams are fickle in esports. The once-great bromances between players fade, and our favorite combos break up and move on to greener pastures. We’re forced to put away our team jerseys and pick up the banner of our favorite player’s new teams, even if it only lasts until the next roster shuffle.

Esports is funny that way. While people tend to stay loyal to physical sports teams, usually because of proximity to team or family tradition, it’s hard to “love” an esports organization the same way. Many viewers tend to be fans of players, and will follow those players from team to team. Few esports teams manage to attract the level of loyalty that traditional sports teams command. OpTic Gaming is a notable exception—fans of the organization are notorious for their steadfast devotion, and welcomed PPD and company into the fold. Some fans even started watching Dota for the sole purpose of following their favorite org’s new squad.

Eventually, some new blood has to join the player pool. Players get noticed through their performance in pubs or in-house leagues, a roster shuffle happens, or a team takes a chance on an untested pro. This is what brought us SumaiL and Mind_Control.

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If you’re Alliance, you rebuild from the ground up with one anchor and four new players. [A] has seen only limited success since their TI3 win. They’ve tried combinations of many top tier pros, but nothing has stuck, and earlier this year, Alliance as we knew it effectively died. Only Loda, as captain, remains, and he’s brought on miCKe, Boxi, iNSaNiA, and Taiga. Three of the four players are Swedish, and Taiga is Norwegian. I don’t doubt the in-game abilities of these players, but it’s fair to say only diehard fans of the European Dota scene will have heard these names before.

All Around Me Are Familiar Faces

There’s something to be said for knowing what to expect in esports. When I tune into a broadcast, I can look forward to seeing SumaiL possibly play Storm Spirt. I can watch PPD go full-poverty mode as a position 6 and still lead his team to victory.

I know these players, so I have something to anticipate. But when brand new professionals enter the scene, fans often have very limited information about them. There’s no anticipation, because I don’t know what they excel at yet or if their playstyle is flashy or methodical. Now, this happened with pubstars like SumaiL when they were new, and it didn’t affect my enthusiasm for teams. But SumaiL was added to a team with four players I was already familiar with, so it was just a matter of watching the “new guy” play rather than four players I don’t know a thing about.

This extends into tournaments, as well. The Summit 8 just completed. Virtus Pro managed to make it there (and win) after the communication error that created a lot of drama. Other teams in attendance included ever popular EG and OG, and fan-favorites like PPD and EternalEnvy were in attendance with their new squads as well. But, that still seemed like not enough to some viewers:

People said the same thing about The Summit 7:

The list of teams going to the summit 7 looks rather poor compared to previous years… from DotA2

Who was missing from The Summit 8? Team Liquid, and Team Secret weren’t there. But aside from those two exceptions, The Summit featured most of the names you’d see in the semifinals of any major tournament.

With the most recent Summit in mind, why do Dota fans have such a warped perception about what constitutes a “top tier” tournament?

Well, PPD and Envy are playing with new squads without the same “prestige” in Dota, at least in the North American and European scenes. Fnatic has been around for a long time as an organization, but the team is based in SEA, which means the organization has far fewer fans in the US and Canada or western Europe. PPD is now under the OpTic Gaming banner, as I mentioned, which has a following in several other esports, but is new to Dota.

Envy’s squad is a mix of fairly-known pros: Abed, Ohaiyo, PieLieDie, and DJ have all appeared in major tournaments. PPD’s squad includes Zai and CCnC, who is more well-known now after attending TI7, Pajkatt and Saksa (standin). PPD and Zai have legions of fans, but Pajkatt, CCnC, and Saksa less so, perhaps. Fans might associate PPD with his TI5 squad, and it feels different to see him lead a different group of players.

Disappearing Act

What about teams like Kinguin and Sacred? The appearance of these relatively unknown teams is great for fostering the growth of the scene. However, Kinguin and Sacred aren’t exactly household names in the esports world, and some Dota fans might stop watching the broadcast when it’s their turn to play.

Maybe viewers are certain that the game will be a stomp, and teams like Kinguin or Sacred don’t have a chance at pulling off an upset. Or maybe it’s the simple fact that these teams aren’t nearly as prominent in the scene as say, EG or OG. And if you don’t have the time to tune in for the entire tournament, I can understand why viewers might prioritize watching matches with the most well-known teams. (It’s worth mentioning that Team Kinguin had a 3rd/4th place finish at The Summit 8—EG, on the other hand, placed 6th/7th.)

When it comes to new and unfamiliar players or teams, don't write them off just because you don't recognize any of the names on the roster.
Some of the best Dota 2 players in the world might be hiding in plain sight. (Screenshot by Esports Edition.)

Dota has to continue to grow in order to stay relevant. We can’t have teams trading around the same 50 players or so like family lineages in Victorian society.

If you don’t find tournaments with “tier 3” teams interesting, here’s my suggestion: support a new or unknown team for a season. Get to know them. Learn their playstyle and drafting tendencies. Recognize their comfort picks. Figure out who the star players are. Give them your energy in Twitch chat. Follow them on social media.

Do yourself a favor, and don’t ignore teams and players just because you’re not familiar with them. We need these unknown players to get their chance to play on the big stage if we want Dota to survive.

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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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