Dota 2 in 2020: the future of the DPC, the Game, and the IP

The DPC in 2020:

With the new DPC season announcement, Valve addressed some of the concerns of the community – e.g. the lack of sufficient rest for teams between the major events and the next qualifiers.

Tier 2 Scene

That said, one major topic that has been troubling the community is the support of the Tier 2 Dota Competitive Scene, and it wasn’t addressed directly in the 2019/2020 season announcement. This is a controversial topic in itself, so it’s not surprising at all Valve hasn’t taken an obvious stance, but it is something that might turn out to be important for the longevity and freshness of the competitive scene as a whole. This is increasingly important, as more and more people prefer watching Dota to playing it.

It’s a worthwhile topic to keep track of in 2020. In my humble opinion, the key metric to watch out for would be if the 2020 DPC and TI are increasingly dominated by the same top teams.

It gets boring quite quickly to play in the same meta with the same heroes in every single game. In a similar way, it would get old very fast if the same top 3-4 teams are fighting each other at the finals of every single DPC event. Yet, this is likely to happen if the T2 scene is struggling, because the gap between T1 and T2 will simply grow larger and larger.

Human beings are attracted to stories, and the underdog stories are arguably the most valuable in spectator sports. If they become increasingly rare, viewership will start dwindling. Even if there is currently 0 viewership interest in the T2 scene itself (which is not a situation that can’t change), I believe it is something that Valve should try to nurture nonetheless as a (minor) long term investment.

That said, I don’t expect them to announce anything new on this topic at least until after TI10.

Event Organizers

The Dota 2 tournament (event organization) scene is arguably in as much trouble as the T2 competitive scene and schedule clashes are the least of their problems:

  • First, there are certain sponsorship restrictions for the DPC events (no title sponsors, no gambling sponsors), making it even harder to run a profitable DPC event (it’s hard enough to do so even without those restrictions).
  • Second, the big teams care only about TI and the DPC events by approximation, so unless you are ESL, it’s extremely hard to attract the top teams to your tournament and as a result – to attract enough viewership in order to sell your event to sponsors.

As a result, it seems extremely hard to run any kind of profitable Dota event, and this is a big problem because Dota is not a trendy game anymore. The Dota scene is in its mature phase, it’s not growing anymore, which means this is the right time for organizations to run a sustainable business in it rather than to invest in it and make losses in the hopes that they would build a brand and compensate in the future.

Even if this is something that happens behind the scenes, it seems like a very high priority to enable tournament organizers to run profitable events, otherwise, a lot of them might simply abandon Dota. (E.g. for a solution – allow at least DPC events to sell products in the client similar to the old compendiums, etc.)

An interesting incident happened right after TI: the Midas Mode fiasco. Valve, supposedly unwittingly, came close to ruining the upcoming Midas Mode event organized by SirActionSlacks by announcing qualifier dates that conflicted with the already-announced Midas Mode dates. Interestingly, Valve was quick to fix their mistake and change the qualifier dates, which was a unique occurrence and is an example that, after all, they care about the non-DPC scene and community and are willing to make adjustments to accommodate it.

The Game Direction:

2019 saw brave strides forward in terms of changing Dota 2 itself quite fundamentally, especially visible in the latest patch. This is a positive trend as a whole and brings in a lot of novelty and freshness to the gameplay experience.

All in all, there are two very clear directions in which the devs are trying to take the game:

  • Improving the matchmaking experience both in terms of fairness and match quality and in terms of the social experience – i.e. toxicity. Independent of the balance patches, Valve were iterating and experimenting heavier than ever before with the matchmaking system and issued a couple of big ban waves to fight toxicity, smurfing, and other detrimental practices.
  • Improving the experience of supports and utility heroes as a whole to make the game more fun for those that don’t get to play mid or carry – including in-game improvements (mostly economical) to help supports have a bigger impact, in addition to outside-of-the-game incentives for people to play support roles.

Even though there is an outcry in the community related to balance, such problems are inevitable when you make big changes. Such problems, however, are short term and easily fixable. You can argue that the long-run benefits outweigh the short term problems and the devs are headed in the right direction.

I expect those general trends to continue in 2020 as well. A thing to keep in mind especially for the matchmaking algorithms is that what Valve learns from meddling with it might be transferrable to future multiplayer projects.

The Dota IP:

Neither Dota nor the MOBA genre is something new and trending, so it’s no surprise that Valve is thinking of the future of the Dota IP outside of the actual Dota 2 game. Last year we saw the unfortunate birth of Artifact, but this year proved just as eventful:

Dota Auto Chess was conceived as a custom game inside the Dota 2 client, quite reminiscent of how the original Defense of the Ancients was born inside the Warcraft 3 client. The new game mode attracted a lot of attention and led to the birth of a new game genre – Auto Battlers.

The original creators of the game mode, the Chinese Drodo Studio, didn’t reach a final agreement with Valve and came out with their own game bearing the name Auto Chess.

In turn, Valve, having the advantage of holding the Dota IP, came out with their own standalone title - Dota Underlords. At the same time, many other game developers and publishers saw the opportunity in the newly created market and published their own titles following the same gameplay principles:

Even though Valve moved untypically fast for them to be the first in the market (after Auto Chess), they weren’t able to become the market leader. Things shift constantly, but at the time of writing this, Teamfight Tactics and Hearthstone Battlegrounds are by far the most popular Auto Battler games at least in the west where player interest is easier to evaluate.

Dota Underlords reaped great success initially, but since then the player base has been shrinking considerably (bringing Artifact PTSD flashbacks).

First, some people argue that the genre itself is a bit short-lived and gets old quickly. This, however, is arguable considering Teamfight Tactics is doing relatively well (or at least hasn’t dwindled as much) and it is as old as Dota Underlords.

Second, it’s quite obvious that the biggest popularity drivers for the games are the IP fanbase size – LoL and Hearthstone having a bigger player base than Dota helps those two Auto Battler iterations a great deal.

That said, the hope for Dota Underlords is not dead yet as the game is not officially out. With the right gameplay dev direction and optimistically - some marketing on the side of Valve, Dota Underlords could become a successful game using the Dota IP.

If this is the case remains to be seen in 2020. If Dota Underlords fails as well, future Dota IP projects become very, very unlikely.

Looking forward to 2020 and beyond:

Dota Playerbase 2020


The fate of Dota itself is not a big mystery.

It’s in the mature phase of its lifecycle and new growth is very unlikely. The player base is getting older and life and responsibilities are forcing a lot of people to play less Dota (if at all). That said, the depth of Dota and the sheer amount of hours and knowledge most of us have accumulated in it means that even though life forces some of us to play less, it’s very unlikely we’ll abandon it completely – there are a lot of people still watching the pro scene and reading the forums despite the fact they rarely play.

The active player base is slowly falling, but with the right amount of freshness in the gameplay and support of the competitive scene and community, the remaining life of Dota could still be quite long and eventful.

With this in mind, although we don't have hopes of huge change and growth, we are quite optimistic and looking forward to seeing what 2020 will bring for us as a community.

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