The sixth-annual iteration of game maker Valve Corporation’s signature event, The International, kicked off at Seattle’s Key Arena on Monday — and it wasn’t just the players who were featured on stage.
Virtual reality took center stage (literally) as heroes from TI6 signature esport Dota2 stood between teams during the select/ban phase.
Instead of VR being confined to the players’ viewpoints, viewers of the games on Twitch saw it all unfold this way.
— ESPN Esports (@ESPN_Esports) August 8, 2016
Valve teased a VR spectator mode earlier this year, adapting the growing technology trend to help augment the similarly growing esports title, which is now believed to be the second most-popular in terms of hours-consumed only to League of Legends.
Valve CEO Gabe Newell, whose company can be tight-lipped when it comes to discussing parts of its business, asked the tens of thousands of fans assembled for their input.
According to GeekWire, Newell announced his email address to the audience, which was filled with the game’s super-fans who had reportedly waited hours in line Monday morning.
“I’m at [email protected] — let me know what you think,” he reportedly told the crowd.
Crowdsourced prize pool sets records
The tournament features a historic prize pool of more than $20 million, the largest of its kind in the history of the esports industry.
While this year’s $20.8 million pool represents a 13-percent increase over last year’s pool, declining growth rates could be signaling that TI’s compensation for players is reaching a critical mass.
Still, the prize pool exceeds that of major world sporting events such as The Masters, the Daytona 500, and the Tour De France.
The prize pool is mostly crowdsourced, with recreational Dota2 players funding the majority of the payouts through purchases of battlepasses.
One-fourth of the proceeds from those purchases went toward the TI6 prize pool, meaning that those purchases alone have netted the company revenues of nearly $77 million.
Purchases are still available until the tournament ends Aug. 13.
Valve also uses game-related transactions for another popular title, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, in the form of skins.
Betting ticks up after crack down
Skins enjoyed significant and increasing popularity throughout the last several years, not only for their in-game application as a cosmetic weapons decoration, but for their de facto function as a form of digital currency, and their convertibility on third-party websites to real world dollars.
That changed, however, when game maker Valve began to crack down earlier this summer on the practice of using these skins to gamble on the outcomes both of esports matches, as well as online casino-style games like roulette and blackjack.
The company sent cease-and-desist notices to at least 23 skin gambling websites, almost all of the Counter Strike: Global Offensive variety.
It claimed that sites that used its API, Steam, to facilitate commercial gambling transactions were in violation of its terms of service.
Sites are reacting in a variety of ways. Many such sites shut down, while several others are still in the process of altering their products to better comply with Valve’s request.
One of those sites that altered its product was esportsbook Dota2Lounge. The site recently suspended its skin betting product in more than 20 countries in which it says it will now seek a gambling license.
It’s unclear how such a move complies with Valve’s request, or how a license would allow a legal pathway for skin betting.
Valve’s move dampened betting activity significantly, but did not stop it. Dota2 betting on Lounge using in-game items is still expected to bring in larger than normal handles as TI6 progresses.
Matches on the tournament’s opening day involving teams like MVP Phoenix, Digital Chaos, OG and Wings garnered handles of more than 5,000 items on Lounge, the most on the site since the crackdown began.
Other esportsbooks, such as Unikrn, and online sports books like Betway, Bet365 and SkyBet all offer esports betting, and all featuring odds on the matches this week.