The FIFA World Cup. The Super Bowl. The World Series.
It’s time to add another sporting event to the list of the world’s richest tournaments: The International, also known as Valve’s annual International Dota 2 Championships.
Teams are competing on PCs equipped with specially selected NVIDIA GeForce GTX GPUs and viewing the action on displays equipped with NVIDIA G-SYNC technology.
While most multi-million dollar sporting events are funded by sponsorships from big brands, The International’s $18 million prize pool — up from last year’s $10.9 million pool — is funded almost entirely by fans.
That kind of bottom-up enthusiasm has propelled eSports into the mainstream. Just look at the numbers.
Last year, Riot Games’ League of Legends World Championships pulled in 27 million streaming views. That’s more than the viewership for an average game during last year’s World Series.
And where audiences go, revenues follow. The worldwide eSports market will generate an estimated $612 million in revenues this year. In North America alone, big brands will spend $111 million on sponsorships this year, according to SuperData Research.
There’s no better example of how gaming’s legions of high-energy fans are driving eSports into the mainstream than The International.
Dota 2 — a sequel to Defense of the Ancients, a popular Warcraft mod — pits teams of players wielding medieval weapons and magic against one another in fast-moving matches whose fast and fluid action seem made for broadcast.
Fans fund the tournament by buying an item dubbed “The Compendium,” which unleashes in-game items and extras. One quarter of the proceeds from the sale of The Compendium, which starts at $9.99, go to funding The International.
That fan-driven model has propelled The International into rarefied company. While the ranking of richest sporting events varies from year to year — depending on the sums raised from sponsors — The International is among the top five.
Only a handful of events — including the UEFA Champions League ($65 million in winnings), the FIFA World Cup ($31 million) and baseball’s World Series ($19 million) — reward winners more richly. Even Super Bowl participants take home a total of less than $11 million in prize money.
Twenty million people are expected to tune in on Twitch.tv, YouTube, Steam Broadcasting and WatchESPN to watch the fast-moving, multiplayer magic and mayhem, taking place live at Seattle’s Key Arena this week.
Newbie? The International is hosting a daily broadcast with special commentary aimed at helping Dota 2 newcomers grok what they’re seeing.
And with the winning five-player team taking home a jaw-dropping $6.5 million, the stakes, at least, will need no explanation.