With the The International 2015 (TI5) running all week until, Dota 2 is back in the spotlight. Already, the tournament's Twitch stream has had more than 48 million views, and the tournament's prize pool totals more than $18 million dollars. So, for those who might not be familiar with Dota 2, here are five things you should know about one of the most profitable video games in history.
1. It's played like a sport
Dota 2 is a multiplayer online battle arena game (MOBA) made by Valve, the video game company known for classics like Half Life and Portal. Valve runs the Steam Store, which is one of the best-known digital marketplaces for PC video games. In Dota 2, each team of five players chooses individual heroes, and then attempts to level up by defeating non-player characters (NPCs) or other heroes. Once the team is strong enough, they try to attack the opponent's base and destroy their “ancient.” If they succeed, they win. Each team always has 5 players, the game always starts the same way (on opposite sides of the map, separated by a river), and it's always two teams playing against each other. Heroes are chosen based on their attributes, and certain heroes are better suited to fight in certain styles or against certain other heroes. (A lot like drafting players on a per-game basis in any other sport.)
2. It's free!
Like most other MOBAs, Dota 2 is free. This means there's a low barrier to entry, especially taking a look at the minimum system requirements for the game. Consumer-grade computers have made leaps and bounds in recent years, and now even mid-range laptops have the integrated hardware to run games that had top-tier graphics. Of course with the minimum specs—4 GB of RAM, a Intel dual-core processor, and a NVIDIA 8600 GPU—you won't eye-popping detail, but the game will run on your machine. Valve, the game's creator, makes money through micro-transactions—but it's not pay-to-play. Players can buy purely cosmetic gear for their heroes from the Dota 2 Store, or from the Steam Community Marketplace. (Either way, Valve gets a cut of the money.)
3. It makes a lot of money
Speaking of Valve's profit from all of this, the game company makes about $18 million dollars per month from Dota 2 alone. It's paltry when compared against League of Legends ($123 million dollars/month), but on it's own the game stands as a huge moneymaker for Valve. What's better, is that the $18 million dollar winnings for this year's game doesn't come out of Valve's pocket. TI5's pool is crowdsourced by Dota 2 players, who are buying The International Compendium 2015 (initially priced $9.99) which grants certain in-game treasures, effects and emoticons. Players can then pay more to “level up” their Compendiums, and as more money is raised, overall goals are unlocked for all Compendium owners. They did the same thing last year, garnering $10 million dollars from players.
4. It's super popular
Dota 2 is the most-played game on Steam. It first peaked at more than 1 million concurrent players in February, and has more than 10 million monthly users. However, it's not the largest game by a longshot. That crown goes to League of Legends (LoL), another MOBA that's been around since 2009. LoL has about 27 million people who play at least one game per day, according to VentureBeat, vastly outstripping Dota 2. It also makes far more money than Dota 2: the company said its income was $123 million per month in January. However, with Valve's backing Dota 2 has become far more lucrative for professional players. The largest payout for a League of Legends tournament was around $2 million dollars, for the World Championships in 2014. TI5's pool has reached $18 million dollars.
5. It started as a fan-made Warcraft 3 mod
The predecessor to Dota 2 is DotA, or Defense of the Ancients. (Makes sense, now, right?) It started out as a custom-built level from Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, according to the Dota 2 wiki. DotA's level design was based on another level from StarCraft, Aeon of Strife. The whole thing is one big mashup, which was formatted into a standalone game with Dota 2. (DotA still exists, too, and there's a WikiHow on how you can play it.) DotA was originally maintained by a pseudonymous programmer called “IceFrog” who updated the scenario until he were hired by Valve in 2010 to work on Dota 2. According to IceFrog's unofficial, fan-run Facebook account, he's still the lead designer of Dota 2. “Apart from being known as highly-meticulous with game balance, IceFrog is renowned for his continued anonymity, having never publicly disclosed his actual name,” the also anonymous page-runner writes.