Dota 2’s TI5 Will Have Biggest Prize Pool In Esports History

It is gold because of all the money.

The International 5 – Valve’s upcoming Dota 2 [official site] tournament – will have the biggest prize pool in eSports history. The sales of the tournament’s accompanying digital Compendium have now shoved the total money available for the contest past the $10.9 million record set by last year’s International.

If you want the exact figure, last year’s prize pool for the contest was a staggering $10,931,103 which was also earned largely through sales of that year’s Compendium. The Compendium – in case you missed me banging on about it before – is a digital book you buy and then spend time or money leveling up in various ways. There are challenges to complete, pages where you can make bets, a whole bunch of rewards for reaching certain tiers or for the prize fund reaching a certain amount. Previously there have also been things like collectible cards featuring the pro players. I don’t even want to tell you how much money I just dropped trying to get a rare digital dinosaur from only-for-Compendium-owner purchasable item chests.

Don't even talk to me about this right now.

The majority of the money from sales goes to Valve, but a quarter is fed into the prize pool. Right now the prize pool for TI5 stands at $11,388,719. $1.6 million came from Valve so that means $9,788,719 from the community for the prize pool and $29,366,157 to Valve. I would like to point out that this was not *all* from me.

The short version? Dota fans like in-game cosmetics and little challenges.

Thing is, even if you’re reading this like “yeah, wasn’t it obvious this would happen?” it’s worth thinking about where this approach leads. I mean, you look at the biggest prize pools for competitions and you’ll see Dota 2 dominating that list. Barring some weird financial disaster, TI5 will be at the top, then TI4 [$10,931,103], then this year’s Dota 2 Asia Championships [$3,057,521], then TI3 [$2,874,407]. All of them had compendia and benefitted from a significant amount of crowdfunding.

Fifth on the list would be the inaugural Smite World Championships [$2,612,259] which had taken heed of tapping into fan contributions with its own community-funded element called The Odyssey. It’s only then that you get to League of Legends and their last three world championships, each of which offered a set amount as a prize which came from Riot.

That’s not to say a compendium is the answer to every tournament. They need sales volume to work and that comes from offering desirable items and/or having fans already invested in the event. What works for the huge tournaments won’t operate the same way with an obscure event.

There are also scheduling issues, even within Dota 2. The ESL One Frankfurt 2014 compendium sales were rising nicely, bringing in $40,000 in 11 days. Then the TI4 compendium launched on 10 May and ESL One’s compendium sales slowed to a crawl. From the graph, they were slowing gradually but 10 May applies the financial brakes hard. The ESL One compendium then made just over $20,000 in the following 40 days and around $10,000 of that was on the weekend of the actual tournament. It’s not surprising they didn’t go down that route this year, although I should add that the official reasoning as per an interview with Red Bull is given as follows:

“We decided against it since we felt compendiums overall were getting repetitive, and with a very limited online part there was just not a lot of opportunity to create exciting content around it. We decided we would rather focus on creating a great set to bundle with the DotaTV ticket, and then make the best effort possible for the production of the games.”

Another point to make is that a massive injection of cash for a handful of teams doesn’t necessarily help with creating a sustainable and healthy scene. It helps that handful of teams who win, sure, and that’s not to be underestimated, but there are swathes of lower league teams scrapping for cash and trying to make eSports a viable career who won’t see a snifter of that investment – not as cash for paying rent and food and so on, anyway.

If that money stays locked away within a small handful of tournaments and teams it doesn’t help with problems like upcoming teams sustaining themselves between events. League of Legends is way down on that prize pool list for individual events, but it’s worth noting that it does also pay salaries to the top tiers of pro players with a view to making the choice to play a sustainable one.

(As an aside: the revised tournament structure Valve is looking to implement after TI5 is finished could help with some of those elements – particularly in calming the volatility of the team rosters in Dota. I’m optimistic on that front.)

Basically I wanted to say, yes it’s a big number and it does help with explaining to non-players just how popular these games are and how invested fans are, but – as with most things – it’s part of a bigger and more complex picture.

Also, hurry up with that desert terrain stretch goal. I want to check it for crocodiles.


  1. Kollega says:

    After looking at these frankly insane profit figures Valve make off F2P titles, and throwing in the even-larger profit figures that Steam gives them… I think it’s safe to say we’ll never see Half-Life 3, or anything else singleplayer, from them. From their point of view, there’s simply no reason when they can do the much more lucrative “multiplayer with microtransactions and no upper limit on spending” thing. And say what you want, but in my eyes that’s not particularly good. Valve’s singleplayer game design is considered great for a reason.

    • thristhart says:

      I disagree — businesses, especially businesses that aren’t publicly traded, do not have to strictly only do the things that will generate them maximum profit. I see the funding generated from these games as giving Valve plenty of room to experiment and be the innovators that made their previous singleplayer ventures so popular.

      • Kollega says:

        I know that Valve are free to do whatever they want since they only answer to themselves, and part of “whatever they want” may be singleplayer innovation… but sadly, their focus on multiplayer games with microtransactions has been all too heavy in the past few years. I will be pleasantly surprised if HL3 or some new revolutionary singleplayer Valve game comes out at some point – but I am definitely not counting on that. The odds are too low.

    • stblr says:

      Concur, though I could see Half-Life 3 being their flagship VR title to really sell people on the capabilities of their headset. Half-Life 3 could be to VR as Half-Life 2 was to physics.

  2. Horg says:

    Valve implementing quarterly in house tournaments is probably a good thing overall. From the viewers perspective it’s all good, probably improving team stability and guaranteeing 3 more high production value tournaments a year. For players, more stability is good, otherwise it’s just more dates in the diary and more money to compete for. The potential big negative is for independent organisers who wont be able to schedule compete against valve, meaning they will all be competing for smaller time slots between the quarterlies. However, as last year proved, the independent tournament calender is over saturated, partly due to the structure of some events (e.g. months long online qualifiers) and partly down to the number of organisers trying to get in on the action. A little pruning is needed, and competing brands need to rethink how they produce their events so they don’t kill each other off. Hopefully we wont lose any established tournaments in the New Valve Order.

  3. trn says:

    I don’t play Dota 2 (not since closed beta) but I thoroughly enjoy The International.

    I think it is fantastic that the best E-Sports event in the world is going from strength to strength. The sense of celebration and community engagement that Valve fosters is something I hope other E-Sports organisers take on board in their own (less costly) way. I was especially disappointed with the recent ‘Heroes of the Dorm’ and I think Blizzard need to up their game to stay in the running here with a legit MOBA contender.

  4. BooleanBob says:

    Fear not Pip, the purple dino will be marketable! And thus obtainable in the future for vastly less than the average* $500 it will cost someone to obtain it right now.

    * fag packet maths. I am not a mathematician.

    (Also, $500, c’mon Valve I mean wow)

  5. Vandelay says:

    Not ashamed to say I bought a Compendium, but I am bemused why so many people would pump so much money into such a thing. Launching into a Dota match to see people with level 125+ is really staggering, while I sit with my level 3.

    I have a feeling that they have made it harder this year to level it up too, but the addition of coins to get items or sets is quite nice.

    • ssh83 says:

      They’re selling 24 levels for 9.99, so with $50, the amount you’d spend on most big games anyways… you’d get there.

  6. jrodman says:

    I was hoping that “biggest prize pool” was a sort of Scrooge McDuck sort of affair. Now I am disappointed.

  7. ssh83 says:

    I think Valve did a stellar job on this, all things considered. Though I hope they will do even more to help new pros, especially in the west. They should give even last place in international at least enough money to train comfortably with coaching/support staff for the next year.