The klaxon which has been going off since I got up this morning tells me that the Dota 2 [official site] prize pool for The International 2016 has now surpassed its own previous world record for an esports tournament prize pool and is now sitting at over $18.5 million.
$18.5 million. To be shared amongst people who are very very good at digital wizard sports.
The previous record was set by last year's International prize pool which came in at $18,429,613.05. Dota 2 also holds the number 3 spot with The International 2014's prize pool of $10,931,103. Oh, and the 4 through 7 spots as well. The first time a different game gets a look-in is the Smite World Championships from 2015 which now sits at number 8.
I'd say that this is obviously a big deal because it's a huge amount of money spread across relatively few teams and with the first-placed team usually scooping an enormous paycheque. But it's also not the full story when it comes to teams and financing. Valve (who develop Dota 2) don't have, for example, a regular league format set up like you'll find in League of Legends, with enforced minimum player salaries and so on. There's also been a lot of discussion about whether big cash injections for small numbers of teams is healthy or whether it breeds an environment where smaller teams can't finance themselves well enough to break into the echelons of the Dota A list. Oh, and there are also associated problems like roster stability which these vastly variable distributions of cash can feed into.
In case you're interested, the money for this prize pool starts off with a basic donation from Valve (I say basic, but it's $1.6m) to make sure there's money in the pot from the start. After that the pool expands because a quarter of the money people pay for a thing called a Battle Pass gets added in (the rest going to Valve).
The Battle Pass is a reworked version of an older thing called the Compendium. It gives players the ability to make predictions about the tournament, earn cosmetic rewards for their in-game characters, and complete little quests and challenges. It also has a bunch of other aspects, like allowing players to form teams and compete in mini tournaments. So it's grown from being a kind of digital sticker album and prediction tool to being this hard-to-explain seasonal wizard hat gift box and sports day.
This year it also enfolded events related to another tournament - The Manila Major - so I'd say it feels like a different proposition that is harder to directly compare to previous crowdfunding drives for The International. But if you'd like to see how previous prize pools were growing in relation to this year's there's a Dota 2 Prizetracker site which will tell you. Here's the current graph from their site:
The topic of esports prize pools comes up a lot for me when I am at medical appoinntments. I think it's because "what work do you do" is a standard question and once you start explaining about videogames and professional gaming the tournament prize pools are a decent way to try to share with someone that there is something at stake when you play at that level and how it can legitimately become a full-time job.
So I've discussed The International prize pool with opticians, mumbled about League of Legends' financial systems through dental check-ups, and tried to explain the Battle Pass to a lady wielding a speculum.
I'm not sure who I will be discussing The International 2016 prize pool with. I'm due a dental check but maybe I should mix things up a bit and take my current news to a different medical specialist. Perhaps it's time to investigate how dermatologists feel about professional gaming.