I have been thinking, for what seems like forever, about writing some history articles on esports, specifically DOTA 2. Watching The International Grand Final tonight, a specific similarity struck me; Newbee, favourites to win the best of five series, looked absolutely decimated after losing the first two games. Their body language was terrible, especially when compared to their opponents Team Liquid, who seemed loose and enthusiastic. It mirrored similar things I’ve seen watching sport my whole life: one team was shocked, stunned… waiting to be beaten. The other team was in the groove and probably could not even imagine losing. People turn these situations around all the time of course, but it’s not easy.
I was not stunned when Newbee went down in the third game (though a sweep was certainly shocking in the broader sense). They had already been beaten. They had the look I’ve seen on athletes’ faces again and again and again. In this little moment whatever barriers exist between traditional sport and esport ideologically or otherwise melted away for just a little while. It’s these little linkages that intrigue me. Up to now I have been mostly interested in looking at how DOTA, LOL and more recently Overwatch’s nascent economic structures either mimic or fail to mimic the early origins of professional sport. In particular I am interested in notions of national competition in esports versus traditional popular sport. In this particular regard newly crowned champions Team Liquid are particularly interesting: the team is North American, but the actual players were not, coming from Europe and the Middle East.
A lot to chew on, really. In short, it was a great tournament and well worth your time. We spend a lot of time talking about the prize money (the five members of Team Liquid now have to split ten million US dollars between them) but with each year that passes the championship feels more prestigious. This rings true when you see Chinese teams that under-performed in majors all year suddenly show up, and it comes home when you watch the increasingly more impressive video reviews of and callbacks to previous tournaments. This feels established now.