Free To Play, Valve’s Dota Documentary, Is Out And Free

By Graham Smith on March 20th, 2014 at 9:00 am.

The scene where one man eats his computer is particularly poignant.

Valve tend to approach every project with a similar ethos, regardless of whether they’re making a game, some software, an operating system or, it turns out, a movie. Their first attempt at the latter, a documentary about professional Dota 2 players called Free To Play, spent much of last year being beta tested in front of private audiences, was premiered at The International 3 in Seattle, and then disappeared back into development for another eight months. As of yesterday, it’s now in general release, and available to download for free via Steam.

A trailerThe full movie is embedded below along with some more detail.

The documentary follows three professional players – Clinton “Fear” Loomis from America, Danil “Dendi” Ishutin from the Ukraine and Benedict “HyHy” Lim from Singapore – as they train, travel the world and complete in Dota tournaments. The intent isn’t to create a documentary you need to know Dota in order to enjoy, though. The filmmakers at Valve responsible – as always, the company made most of film themselves in-house – say they wanted to pick out the broader, more relatable themes in the story. That means the film spends a lot of time exploring the personal lives of each of the competitors, what their families think of their strange career, and the pressures placed upon them by trying to make a living as a great videogame player.

Of course, if you are a Dota 2 player, this is an opportunity to see your hobby writ large. If you’re really into it, there’s three bits of DLC you can pick up which offer you film-related in-game Dota 2 items.

To celebrate the launch, Valve held a Twitch viewing party, in which they streamed the movie live through the service so the community could watch it together. That was nice. The stream is now archived, and there’s a post-screening Q&A with the Valve devs repsonsible now archived for viewing.

Given that Valve said they never initially planned to make a film – they just thought they should take some cameras along to their first tournament, and it grew from there – I’m wondering at what point the line is drawn between Valve and internal projects. What if someone there really likes chocolate biscuits, and has an idea for how to make a better one? Because I would like that. It’s early and my cupboards are empty.

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63 Comments »

  1. shaydeeadi says:

    The in-game sections at the end are bloomin’ fantastic, SFM at it’s finest.

    • RobinOttens says:

      So they do show actual in-game footage later on? I tried to watch this documentary, but I tuned out as soon as they started to ‘explain’ the game by showing fancy pre-rendered animations.

      The whole thing was a bit over-produced and felt to me like I was being advertised to. I guess maybe I’m not the target audience. I don’t need a basketball player or a dude holding a tennis racquet telling me games are a sport too, I know that already. Which is a shame, because I love games, I like watching a dota match every now and then, and would love a good documentary following three pro dota players.

      Compared to some other documentaries I’ve seen on pro gaming, 2 player productions’ stuff or even that Indie Game the Movie thing, this utterly failed to keep my attention for more than twenty minutes.

      • Stevostin says:

        I think it’s in game, just with the renderer they use for cinematic. Wouldn’t be surprised to see the feature reaching the public later.

        • Sparvy says:

          It is Source Film Maker, it is already public.

        • RobinOttens says:

          Yeah yeah, I know it’s source film maker. I meant pre-rendered as in it’s not in game animation or in any way representative of in-game graphics. Also those animations were distracting and completely unhelpful in the explanation of what dota is or what makes it interesting to it’s players, which was supposedly their intended function.

      • Darth Grabass says:

        “[i] would love a good documentary following three pro dota players.”

        Well, that’s pretty much exactly what it is. But you do get the standard sports doc elements along with that. It’s very well done.

      • dmoe says:

        RPS posters always impressing me. Seriously, how much of this did you watch? Because what you’re talking about is what you get in this documentary.

        • RobinOttens says:

          Read my comment: I watched twenty minutes of it. And bounced off. Something in the way it was edited and the tone of the thing. I might be completely wrong, maybe I somehow watched a different documentary than you lot?!

          I’ll give it another chance at some point to check and see if something’s wrong with me, since as I said I’m interested in the subject matter, and Valve usually delivers perfectly fine products.

  2. Premium User Badge

    mechtroid says:

    It was actually mentioned when I visited Valve that apparently some of their employees were thinking about leaving Valve to make a documentary, and someone asked “Why not just make it here?”

    • Alexander says:

      Just like when they decide to have babies. But seriously, working at Valve must be interesting, at the least.

      • Premium User Badge

        Gap Gen says:

        A lot of cutting-edge tech companies now have maternity wards next to the ball pits and squash courts to allow hard-working mothers to give birth during their lunch breaks or after work.

  3. EveryoneIsWrong says:

    Surely the title should’ve contained the phrase “Free to watch”?

  4. whoCares says:

    For me it got really annoying to hear the word “DoTA” every 10 seconds. “And since Dota came out Dota changed my life because I could only play Dota and hoped I get rich playing Dota as a professional Dota player” (this is exxagerated).

    Another thing that that is very “advertisy” is the inclusion of FMV-Beat-Downs as soon as the action climaxed.

    What’s nice is the subtle way of telling, that this is not really theee big thing and many people screw up or barely get enough money to feed themselves while sacrificing their jobs or carrers.

  5. gschmidl says:

    Free to watch, plus €15 DLC. For a movie. Which then drops cards you can collect.

    And people complain about EA.

    • RCoon says:

      It drops cards? Really? I’m going to leave this on play every day, once a day, and sell all the cards/foil cards to the weak minded crazy people who buy those things on the market.

    • lordfrikk says:

      You get to watch the whole movie for free. If you pay 0 in your favorite currency, you still get the whole thing without any disadvantages. If you, however, feel like the creators should be rewarded, you buy the non-free stuff. How does that equal even remotely to not only EA but the majority of DLC schemes is beyond me.

      • P.Funk says:

        People enjoy being critical to the point that any attempt to make money whatsoever is seen as a cynical ploy to… uh… make money?

        Apparently its an insult to the consumer to try and generate totally elective revenue streams from something that 90% of people won’t put money into. If they had any respect for gamers and their hard earned money they’d charge them up front and everytime they want to click their mouse button or alt tab to another window.

    • Distec says:

      What’s the problem? You haven’t really explained it.

      I wouldn’t give a shit if EA did this. It would be pretty tame by their standards.

      • gschmidl says:

        People love Steam cards for inexplicable reasons. Making people buy DLC to get cards to drop, then trade/buy the remaining cards, is exactly as scummy as anything EA does.

        Now, don’t get me wrong, I hate EA with every fibre of my being, but I don’t see how this is different.

        • Malarious says:

          …Steam cards don’t provide you anything except backgrounds and emoticons. How is that at all similar to charging for game features? It’s entirely optional. If some crazy people love buying trading cards, that’s good for them, but they are absolutely not the majority of people. The movie’s free. The game (and all of its features!) is free. The only things you can pay money for have absolutely no (literally zero) effect on gameplay. Why are you comparing Valve to EA, again?

        • Distec says:

          Why is it Valve’s fault that people like Steam Cards and want to spend money on them?

          They’re not gating game content. You’re not buying diamonds to speed up building your farm. You craft a badge that gives you a dumb emoticon or a background (both of which you can purchase on the market without the badges).

          This is strictly “bonus” material and nowhere near the same as what EA tries to regularly pull. I know it feels like somebody has to be critical of Valve these days, and we’re all wary of dastardly monetization schemes. But this is really not a big deal at all.

          And as cool as it is to hate companies for selling something, I think it’s high time gamers started taking ownership over what they spend their money on. I usually spend my leftover wallet funds on Steam Cards for the hell of it. Yes, I know that it’s just appealing to my “collector” mentality. No, I don’t feel like Valve is abusing me.

        • KevinLew says:

          I fail to see what’s the problem with this. Valve already had this feature in place with both of their free-to-play games, Dota 2 and Team Fortress 2. If you buy stuff from the store, then you get trading cards. In both cases, if you don’t spend any money, then you don’t get any bonuses. You still get the content but just not the virtual shiny goods that are clearly optional. Unless you’re seriously arguing that Steam badges, backgrounds, and emoticons are essential to the Steam or video game experience.

    • smc8788 says:

      The difference between EA and Valve is that EA keep all of their ill-gotten DLC money, but the money Valve gets from the community market goes straight back into the community by hosting and sponsoring e-sports tournaments with the biggest prize pools in history in an effort to boost the profile of e-sports as a whole. It’s certainly helped boost the profile of the games they have sponsored events for (Dota 2 and CS:GO).

      I mean I’m as cynical as the next internet pundit but even I can see there’s a difference between what Valve are doing and the faceless money-grabbing executives at EA removing chunks of their game releases and selling them off 2 months later as ‘DLC’.

    • dmoe says:

      You’re complaining about cosmetic items which you can also get as free drops playing the game. The players involved in this documentary also get a cut from the sales of that cosmetic pack. This is what you’re complaining about?

    • alms says:

      The DLC is extra DOTA2 stuff, not DLC in the sense of Indie Game The Movie.

      And just so you know, the difference between Valve and EA is that Valve is Valve and EA is EA. There really isn’t much more to say unless you like to twist words and build alternative realities for the sake of feeding others whatever corporate affections you like to cultivate.

      However, since I am very generous, I’m granting you (and everybody else who thinks the same way) a right to live freely in your little private reality where EA is shit and the others are no better, I’m sure that must be a great world to live in.

  6. Memph says:

    I see some steam banner ad for it, depicting some kids screaming at their screens. That’s all I need to not want a bit of it tbh.

    • Sparvy says:

      At least it let you act smug on the internet so I guess we all win.

      • smc8788 says:

        Yeah, I’m sure he changes the channel every time he’s watching sport on a Saturday afternoon and the players celebrate scoring a goal/try/podium position. I didn’t know it was normal to remain all stiff upper lip when there’s a million dollars on the line, but maybe I’m just not British enough…

        • dmoe says:

          Valve needs to pull a Spielberg and CG some monocles on the players faces so we can pull in the over 35 crowd. We don’t want the mainstream public thinking were animals do you?!

        • The Random One says:

          Watching sports? On MY RPS? Get out of here, good sir.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah, the screaming-at-the-screen ad for this really did an excellent job of convincing me to avoid this. I guess this is what being diametrically opposed to the demographic they’re aiming for is like, or something.

  7. AshRolls says:

    I’m not a DOTA player but it was enjoyable to watch, very slickly filmed and produced. My only criticism is that the Chinese EHOME team were portrayed in such simplistic nationalistic terms, the plot had enough drama in it without having to create a fake good team / bad team narrative.

  8. Wahngrok says:

    I enjoyed the documentary as it was more focused on humanising the three protagonists instead of treating them as marketing puppets for their game. And I really liked the lesson hyhy said he learned from the tournament: “Winning isn’t neccessary because there are so many more things in life. How you take care for the people you love.”

  9. edgymirrors says:

    This is absolutely great. Being someone who makes films myself, I have absolutely no criticisms. It’s amazing. It’s more slick than the stuff from 2PP imo (someone above mentioned 2PP in relation to this). Great job Valve.

    Now someone at Blizzard must just follow suit. (SC2 doccie! The more the merrier!)

    I’m an SC2 guy – it’s always been my game, so it was great to have dota2 dumbed down for someone like me who has tried to watch dota2 matches, but always fallen asleep half way through while the commentators and spluttering and screaming over something incomprehensible.

    • Moraven says:

      Most of the current SC2 documentaries are rather terrible. Would be nice to get a good one.

      Blizzard produced one would be nice.

  10. Stevostin says:

    A very long ad for Dota 2 but nicely done. Players are pretty moving. Nice job. But quite the fair share of manipulation to make the ad work… They act like there was no esport before dota2, like “ten years ago we played for bees”. Ten years ago Slayer Boxer was already making crazy money and Fatal1ty was doing OK. It was not as big as today, but it was not *that* different either.

    In 15 years it will certainly not beat Basketball. But who cares ?

  11. DickSocrates says:

    The only thing putting me off watching it the feeling it’s a giant advert.

    • Wahngrok says:

      Give it a try then. It is really not that bad.

    • SIDD says:

      It’s kinda hard to frown too much over an “ad” for a free product.

      Hell, I’d gladly watch 100 hours of Aston Martin documentary if that meant I could drive a new DB9 home afterwards free of charge.

  12. Carlos Danger says:

    Will wait for the book.

  13. MkMax says:

    all pictures promoting this film seem to have someone screaming at a screen, not particularly enticing

    • Distec says:

      I… I understand the kind of kneejerk reaction people have against that kind of imagery; the angry gamer getting way too serious. I think we’ve all encountered it in some form (or been in that position ourselves).

      But I think we need to draw a distinction between “raging” at your monitor and the kind of excitement that’s probably generated in an international sports competition for money. One is a little pathetic and the other is actually kind of legit. Nobody seems to have issues with physical sportsman getting loud and intense.

      If eSports are going to continue to grow and become accepted, then I think this stereotype (and the mentality that underlies it) are going to have to be overcome at some point.

      • MkMax says:

        but is it just an stereotype ? the whole scene is full of this, try to play lol or dota casually, the rage would take physical form and start dripping out of the monitor like that goo from Ghostbusters II

        I’ll tell you what i see in those pictures i see someone obsessively stressed, i dont see someone having fun, this is what esports have done to games, theyve been turned into work, im sorry, i dont like it, its not what i want from games

        i wish i could ignore it, i wish i could say “thats not for me, there are other things for me” but i cant, why ? because every mp game wants to be an esport, they dont exist parallel to “fun” games, they even completely took over genres like RTS

        btw, i dont have any positive opinions about obsessed fans of other sports either

    • dmoe says:

      I know, what next? Cheering and doing a shuffle when you score a touchdown? I mean really, what is this a sport or something? I’d hate for this to get out that people who play a game professionally actually get excited. The last thing we need is the public seeing these players show any sort of emotion. I also hope that the idea of sexual intercourse isn’t brought up.

      The marketing department wouldn’t be able to handle it.

      • The Random One says:

        The proper analogy is not a player doing a shuffle after scoring a touchdown, but rather a player [ shouting at / threatening / headbutting / castrating ] [ another player / the ref / the opposing team's coach / the ball / an unlucky pidgeon ] after the opposing team scores. Which is something that does in fact happen in the world of Sports In Which You Move, but not something that you could think being used as teaser images for an NBA documentary.

        • Premium User Badge

          darkChozo says:

          I’m pretty sure all the promotional images are of cheering type yelling (or at least barking orders type yelling), not fuck-you-that-call-is-bullshit type yelling. Which is absolutely the kind of imagery they use to advertise sports things.

        • Distec says:

          You assume that’s what it’s depicting.

    • Grygus says:

      Real sports fans detest emotion.

  14. Mark says:

    Watched it last night, not exactly the Act of Killing or the World at War but definitely entertaining for a video game based doc, it’s only an hour and 15 mins long.

    It’s on Valve’s official youtube channel by the way: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UjZYMI1zB9s

    God almighty this comments section is depressing though. It’s like some sort of bizarre mental theatre to see who can come up with the most obscure tortured logic for whining about something that hurts no one and is totally bloody free.

    Look, we don’t care if you don’t like thing X and you don’t want to play/watch/do that thing. I know you think you’re really cool and everyone deserves to know this by you blessing them with your inane comments and opinions about things you don’t like but we really would rather keep the discussion on about thing X rather than things you don’t like.

    Find something better to do with your time people!

    • dmoe says:

      Funny enough I feel the same way about the comments section on this site.

  15. P.Funk says:

    I watched the whole thing. It was touch and go whether it would hold my attention as they constantly emphasized the family story rather than the gaming aspect. It wasn’t even til about 30 minutes in before we get this sense of the actual competition. I found the story of Fear being this mentor and captain very interesting. I felt unfortunately that they neglected the aspects of the game itself that would have made it so that you can actually appreciate something about DOTA from it.

    Constantly we have actual gameplay being replaced by Source Film Maker interpretations of critical moments, redone with a cinematic quality. It would be the same as watching a Hail Mary pass being replaced by a CGI undershot that catapults the camera around following the receiver tumble with the ball into the end zone. Its pretty, but its not the actual sport so in that sense I was turned off greatly. If this sport is serious and legitimate why do we need to sex up the proceedings of it? They barely explained the mechanics of it and so its like they need to make it dramatic for the unknowing audience because they have no ability to appreciate the moves being made if they just appear as they would in game.

    Overall I liked it, but everytime they cut away from the tournament to go back to the personal story I felt a drag. The personal stories were good but I wanted more meat about the actual competition.

    • lorez says:

      I don’t believe this was really aimed as much at DOTA players. Source: I am not a DOTA player* and I enjoyed it. Extra and confusing technical details would only be of interest to players, whereas I think this movie was mostly to get new people interested.

      Oh and it turns out I know Fear’s brother and have had beers with him many times. I had no idea his brother was a pro gamer. Blew my mind.

      *Yet. I installed it last night and did a couple tutorials. So I guess their ad worked?

  16. waltC says:

    And the Sheeple play their games as directed by the Overlord Brain Intelligence…to what end, I ask? Yea, harken!

  17. sbs says:

    the female dota2 team with a “PMS” logo on their shirts is some of the the funniest shit, i suspect that one whiny player who cries about his ex every time hes on screen was having PMS as well

  18. jfml says:

    Does anyone know what’s the difference between the „International“ and the „US“ version of the movie?