“Do you want a scoop?”
“Yes.” That didn’t seem sufficient. An emoticon — X and D get a lot of mileage from me — gets stapled on. “Yes, I do.”
Jing is my primary contact in the sometimes seedy world of Dota 2 trading. He’s an administrator at Dota2traders, a straight-laced gent with an encyclopedic knowledge of market prices. Which is invaluable in his field, really, because couriers in Valve’s re-imagining of the world’s most popular mod can fetch prices upwards of $10,000 dollars.
We start with the pleasantries. You know Dota 2 is getting a new patch? Yes. You know the thing about socketing and crafting? Yes. Well, traders are mad about it. Why? Because there’s a chance we’ve all just lost thousands and thousands of dollars. Amid my growing consternation, Jing goes on to provide an account of how one simple update could be held culpable for such staggering financial damage.
Exclusivity is a big, big thing for the Dota 2 trading scene, so big that even silliness like a cowboy outfit for a razor-clawed bear can skyrocket in value due to discontinuation. Last year’s Halloween event catalyzed an interest in Golden Baby Roshans, slightly tacky miniatures of the game’s most powerful neutral creep. Unlike the Western-themed Alpine set, Golden Baby Roshans came with history and a touch of heroism. The only way to acquire one was to either be the fastest at slaying Roshan during a particular cycle or to purchase it from one of the few triumphant winners.
But even the gilded, vicarious glory of the immortal Golden Baby Roshans pales in comparison to ‘Legacy’ couriers. These commanded the highest prices, the greatest demand — up till now, that is.
Previously, effect and colour were immutable attributes, chiselled onto couriers like Chihuahuas onto Paris Hilton’s fashion sense. With the ‘Three Spirits’ update, however, they’ve become quantifiable goods, capable of being removed from or installed into more desirable beasts of burden. Want a pink “Ethereal Flames” Enduring War Dog? Make one.
“That $38,000 courier is probably worth less than $4000 now,” Derby, a seasoned Dota 2 trader, remarks flippantly.
While the vast majority of players seemed enthused about the curve ball Valve threw, a small division of traders took to their pitchforks. AONomad, who is both Dota2Trader moderator and experienced trader, notes: “Many people are quite literally panicking, as they’ve invested perhaps a little bit too much. Many have failed to observe the old maxim, ‘Never invest more than you can afford to lose.’”
“I nearly flew down to Chicago,” Jing confides. The trip would have been for business – to deliver $17,000 in cash to the owner of a legacy courier. “If the patch happened two weeks later…”
“The fact that couriers can now be dismantled to harvest their effect and color code will have interesting and lasting ramifications on the entire market, from the lowest tier to the highest.” AONomad adds. “In the short term, there will likely be many arbitrage opportunities. This is great for the economy, as it allows new traders to make money by buying low and selling high, and it will draw in new people, which always stimulates demand in the long run. Whether this will be enough to reinforce the old status quo of prices is impossible to predict.”
He continues: “My personal guess is the old prices will not be sustainable, because most people will be crafting couriers of the highest possible quality, inflating the supply. I’d love to be wrong, and I very well might be–the Dota 2 trading mentality is obsessed with status, so it’s possible that people will keep spending money to impress their peers in some form or another.”
The next few days were turbulent. Some, convinced that the legacy market would break, began cashing out in a frenzy, desperate to make any amount of money before their collections lost all worth. Others started purchasing couriers in bulk, either to stockpile for future usage or simply to take advantage of the now comparatively rock-bottom prices.
(Source: Dota 2 wiki)
“Legacy owners mostly fall into three categories: those who don’t care because they never planned to sell; those who bought for appearances and are now ‘smashing’ their couriers to extract the color code and put it into a courier of their choice; and people who bought for profit who are pretty anxious about the near future market.” AONomad explains.
A few turned to crime. According to Mad Matt, career middleman and Dota2Trade subreddit moderator, reports of ‘legit’ traders gone rogue are on the rise, one of the most salient examples being a trader who was purportedly ill-liked but universally regarded as reliable.
“He had traded legit for AGES, built up a lot of reputation. And now he is scamming because people still trust him.” Matt elaborates.
Yet, in spite of the volatile state of the marketplace, opinions are beginning to mellow. Many, including those made poorer by the patch, are optimistic. The price of Ethereal Flames couriers might be plummeting but their loss is watering the growth of the market at large. Items that were once only coveted by die-hard fans or the inexperienced are gaining new life. What was once an economy strangled by its own enamourment with a small, select group of cosmetics is now slowly diversifying, becoming less of a playground for the Illuminati and more a place where everyone can spend unholy amounts of money.
“I found this day coming and I am all prepared for it.” Derby gloats over e-mail. “I own stable investments like Alpine Set which is a hot set in China trading scene and it is immortal — very safe. People will always have desire for these type of items (d2dog, golden rosh, alpine) so that is why I continue. The desire is always there. There’s always someone wanting to buy it. Alpine is limited to around 500 sets in the entire game which is 0.000000?? % of the community. And I own low tier legacies, own immortals and d2dog which makes me a winner this patch! I have anticipated this type of patch coming over a year ago.”
Jing, unluckier by far and victim to a $8000 loss in investment, shrugs. “At first, it was all /wrists but it’s interesting for the market. I wish I had cashed out earlier but blah, that’s life.”
(Source: Dota Utilities)
 Immortals: Immortals are items that Valve will never, ever release again. Not even if you say pretty please.
 “Legacy” couriers: In the beginning, courier colors were randomly generated. Over 16 million possible color combinations existed at the time. However, after complaints about certain colors being difficult to see filed in, Valve changed the system to allow for only about eight or so fixed shades. Couriers that did not fall under this color spectrum are inofficially known as “legacy” couriers.
 Low-tier couriers: Low tier couriers are generally any courier worth below $30-$50 or so. Examples of these include most of the event couriers, such as Lotus Effect ones, the Greevils from last years’ Diretide and Greeviling and those with less popular effects such as Felicity’s Blessing and Luminous Gaze.