At the conclusion of last year’s international Dota tournament, Ti8, the venue location for Ti9 was announced. It was to be held: Shanghai, China. The Vancouver stadium immediately exploded with ear-splitting cheers as Chinese fans finally had their wish of attending the event on their home ground come true. Many said they were swept off their feet and unable to accurately express their profound excitement through the deafening roars alone.
Dota is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) video game developed and published by American game developer Valve Corporation. The game has, since its inception around 2011, been a global cultural phenomenon, bringing millions across the world together to one platform and allowing them to engage in fierce clashes and participate in the game’s development. The game has not only garnered the support of fans across the West, but also in the East too, particularly those in China.
Following a recent report showing the relatively empty e-sports scene in China, estimates are that in the coming 5 years, China will see a rise in demand of e-sports talents from a rough estimate of 50,000 to up to a blazing 200 million. With Dota being a rising star in the sector, it is very likely that it can supply the necessary talents to fill in the gaps and transcend from a mere video game in China to a major driver for its e-sports scene.
But why exactly is that?
Soaring popularity in China
With Ti9 finally making its way to China this time, Valve split the ticket sales on two different platforms—Damai.cn and Universe. Tickets of Ti9 allocated to Chinese fans were sold out in less than 1 minute. 26,804 tickets gone in the span of 53 seconds, with the grand finals tickets being sold out in less than 27 seconds to be exact, according to the Director of Operations for e-sports organization Team Secret, Matthew Bailey. That said, Dota’s popularity in China should, by sheer numbers alone, be quite obvious and warrant no further explanation.
“From high school to now, from regular school competitions to Ti9, from one Dota streamer to several, Dota has left a deep imprint in my youth,” said a Chinese fan on Zhihu. “My friends and I may be bound by work, life, and visa problems, making it hard for us to go to Seattle, Vancouver, or Cologne to cheer for our beloved team, but damn it. This time, it’s finally here!”
But more than that, Chinese players make up a massive chunk of the total volume of players across Dota. According to data shown on SteamDB, a community website not affiliated with Valve or Steam, Southeast Asian servers contributes to around 70 to 80 percent of matches per day now compared to its initial 40 percent back in 2013. And this is not counting the player volumes from Perfect World servers, which hosts games for players in China specifically. If the two sets of data were to be combined, this could mean a greater leap in actual numbers.
“If we take a leap and assume a major chunk of the SEA player base is Chinese speaking we can add the numbers. SEA and China numbers together make up 50-55% of matches on any day. Additionally, looking at the number of players searching for a match we can see similar numbers of 50-55%,” as mentioned in the findings.
The overwhelming popularity of the game has even galvanized some schools to make it a subject of study in certain areas in China. That’s right. Chongqing Energy College is just one of several schools that offers courses aimed at teaching students about the game, as well as about the growing sensation that is e-sports. What the educational institutes are hoping for is that students will take what they learn from Dota, a team-based game that requires cooperation and coordination, and apply those skills to real world situations. Ludicrous as it sounds, it shows just how popular the video game has really become in the country.
Government approval and support
Following the conclusion of Ti8, the state media broadcasted Chinese team PSG.LGD’s achievement of coming in second during the grand finals of the international tournament. To have a video game, an already-sensitive topic in China, appear on Xinwen Lianbo, the government’s news outlet for making important announcements, is no small feat for any legally licensed video game in the country. CCTV called the game a “green game” back in 2015, roughly meaning a healthy game for all ages to play.
It can be said that Dota 2 came to China at a lucky period back in 2012. It passed the government’s cultural screenings without a sweat and had its exclusive rights to market and distribute in mainland China granted to Chinese game publisher Perfect World. With that said, it has been enjoying a smooth cruise and a steady growth in popularity in China.
Not only that, China’s decision to suspend new game license approvals last year in March may have even boosted Dota’s prominence in the market further. The nine-month long freeze on license approvals devasted major game publishers such as Tencent, who has seen its share prices plummet because the licensing halt crippled its ability to generate gaming revenues. Because new mobile games weren’t coming out, existing PC titles were able to gain an even better traction in the market. While Tencent was bearing the brunt of the freeze and losing out almost $150 billion in the company’s market value, Dota was climbing steadily in its daily active users and game volumes.
Moving further back in time, China’s mobile- and PC-focused gaming scene today could be more or less traced back to its 15-year ban on video game consoles, making it a great breeding ground for PC games to flourish. Game consoles were first banned in 2000 due to fears that the devices and the content they came with would have a negative influences on the mental and physical development of children. When the ban was finally lifted after more than a decade, popular PC titles—such as Dota—were already deeply rooted in the minds of Chinese players, and even providing a source of inspiration for other games such as the popular mobile MOBA, Arena of Valor.
Even though Arena of Valor is the most popular mobile game in China played by over 600 million monthly active users, it is perhaps not as influential to the whole gaming sector as Dota would likely have. The latest Arena of Valor world cup tournament to be held features a maximum prize pool of roughly $2.3 million, according to the official website. This is a meager amount compared to Dota Ti9’s colossal and still growing $23 million prize pool. The annual Dota event has broken the record for e-sports prize pools for eight years in a row consistently. Not taking into account the massive turnout that’s about to hit Shanghai in August, the event alone will bring forth not only a lucrative boom to China’s gaming sector, but also to other important markets such as tourism and more.
Active community engagement
With all that said, the biggest driver behind Dota’s ever-rising popularity in China is still arguably its passionate and highly engaging community behind.
Dota 2 may be overseen by Valve Corporation, but it’s still a widely community-driven, constantly evolving ecosystem. The main developers are to this day constantly observing and heeding to feedback from a loud and deeply engaged community. Chinese members occupy a relatively major chunk of the group, constantly contributing to Dota’s overall art style using the in-game workshop for designing and selling their own cosmetic kits. The open contribution allows community members to not only feel more engaged to the development of the game, but also make a profit while seeing their creations come to life at live events.
Over the years, Valve has also poured in lots of efforts to cater to the Chinese crowd by bringing tons of in-game promotions and cosmetic add-ons that reflect Chinese culture. From the launch of the Chinese New Year festival promotion in 2015 to the approval of various skins with Chinese characteristics, to even the addition of the popular hero—Monkey King as a playable character in the game, Chinese fans were able to resonate with the game every step of the way. The voice-over for the Dota 2 Monkey King was even done by the same actor who played the Monkey King back in the 80s Chinese TV series of the same title. The thoughtful decision allows Chinese players to have their classic, beloved, and mischievous monkey protagonist come to life on their computer screens and wreak havoc across the exciting battlefield.
The Chinese e-sports market has become the most influential and promising market in the world. According to third party statistics research institutions, the overall market size of China’s e-sports in 2018 is 94.05 billion yuan (RMB, the same below), and is expected to exceed 135 billion yuan in 2020. From the perspective of e-sports users, numbers are expected to reach 430 million yuan in 2020.
Whether Dota would be able to boost these numbers and become a major driving force behind China’s ballooning gaming sector remains to be seen. As for now, fans across the world are simply anxious and excited for the ninth international Dota tournament to unfold in August at Shanghai.
Featured photo credit to yandex