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The International 2016: I Watched A Dota 2 Game From In The Rosh Pit

Esports in VR

For The International 2016 I watched a game of Dota 2 [official site] entirely from the Roshan pit in virtual reality.

Dota 2's VR hub is all about offering viewers new ways in which to spectate matches, new ways to present information, and new vantage points from which to observe professional players' comings and goings. You can sit in a darkened area watching a massive VR screen if you want, but you can also teleport yourself into the actual map and shrink yourself to life-size proportions as you follow pro-players about.

Well, I wanted to see what it was like to be Roshan, or at least Roshan's lodger – never moving outside the pit that the huge monster inhabits on the map and entirely dependent on distant sounds to make sense of what's actually going on. Oh, and also seeing what a team attempting to fight Roshan looks like close-up, when suddenly a violent house-party of spells and punching breaks out and Roshan has to… uh… go away for a while to recover.

Here's what happened:

Okay, so first of all I picked a match. I picked at random for this, just pointing my controller with my eyes closed and seeing what I'd trigger-fingered onto. It was Alliance versus OG – the winners of the third International versus one of this year's hottest tickets.

I booted into the lobby (a private one because this might end up weird) and hunkered down into the Rosh pit. I wanted to pick my spot. I figured I'd lurk towards the front of the pit so as to see people as they wandered up and down the river placing wards, collecting runes or attempting ganks.

It might sound strange but there was so much I hadn't actually thought about before I "physically" sat in the pit because the entry to his lair faces downwards and to the left if you're looking at the map from the normal top-down view and my gaze tends to scan left to right so I'm never really thinking spatially from his point of view.

Turns out you get a decent view of any scuffles over the bottom rune when it spawns at the 0 minute mark! You can also see a tree, the staircases leading into the Radiant jungle, and the immediate bits of river and river bank before the fog of war claims all visibility. Oh! And you can see the sparkle of a rune before it pops into existence. That was a BIG source of excitement during the times when battles were happening anywhere on the map that wasn't directly in or outside the Rosh pit. You'd hear chit chat about deaths and gold and graphs and other far-away nonsense as the shoutcaster commentary echoes at a constant volume over the whole space, regardless of where you are, but the real news was the sparkle that presaged the arrival of a double damage rune. So shiny! So locally relevant!

I was initially standing and peering about but the constant appearance of the guide grid that stops you walking into furniture got annoying so I sat cross-legged in the middle of the floor instead. I was going to lie on my stomach but I figured I might want to change positions more easily than that would allow if any characters popped by. Also lying down in a warm room increases the danger of nodding off. I think Roshan would have been annoyed if I'd curled up on his doorstep and had a nap.

Something I became very aware of was that it was pretty difficult to get a sense of where things were happening on the map if the casters weren't specifically calling locations. I'd hear abilities being cast or the clash of weapons but there was no positional sound that I could discern. Why would there be for a game you generally experience from a top-down perspective? As such people could suddenly pop into my line of sight without any build up. I only knew that a group was heading towards the Roshan pit at one point because a caster was saying so rather than being tipped off by footfall growing louder or anything like that.

I spent quite a lot of time looking at Roshan's torches which burn at the entrance to the pit. They seem to burn when you look at them and pause when you don't. It's an inexact science, though. I looked at one static flame for a full minute before it flickered while the other one – only in my peripheral vision at this point – wobbled and danced like an uncle at a wedding.

Sitting cross-legged made it hard to check in on Roshan so occasionally I'd just lean backwards to see if he was still there, his massive monocular face coming into view from some unlikely angle.

Every now and again Alliance's EGM would run past as Ogre Magi. One time he even ate the tree that grows outside the Rosh pit. That was annoying. I was watching that tree!

Then everything went grey. A pause was in progress but the casters took a while to even comment on it so I just pottered around a little and then lay on my back looking at immobile clouds and trying to discern Dota-related shapes. I feel like one of them was pretty close to a Tinker march of the machines robot?

I'm looking through my screenshots at this point and it seems pretty clear that I was just amusing myself by rolling about and pretending to be a turtle.

EVENTUALLY a visit to good old Pip! Roshan. I heard the casters imply that this was about to happen so I teleport-hopped into a little bush in the pit and decided to watch from there, pretending there was a chance I could get seen (but also just assuming the bush was in a location to the side so no-one was likely to stand where I was standing and break the illusion of their/my physicality).

n0tail sailed into view as Medusa, wearing her mana shield bubble. It actually looks pretty impressive from here – kind of like she's going zorbing in the Eden Project.

Four of her teammates were there and together they beat up my host. It's actually a little thrilling, hiding in the bushes, watching the action. Then one of Alliance – Admiral Bulldog, arrives. I didn't see him come in but his character, Faceless Void lays down a Chronosphere. It's a big purple dome that freeze everything inside it except Void and he can zip about duffing them up.

But the dome seems to have really weirded out the Vive and I think the bottom of the Chronosphere is doing something weird at the bottom of the image. It does add to the confusion of the moment, but it's definitely also the sort of thing that reminds you you're in a room at home watching a computer doing pictures instead of being in a monster's home watching him get murdered by strangers.

After so much alone time, sometimes without even a tree for company *cough*thanksEGM*cough* the flurry of colours offers a confusing break. It was so hard to follow what everyone was doing from inside the shrub and the way characters can move meant I didn't see some actually arrive. Then add in some of the visual confusion from the spells and the oddity of how the screen dealt with the Chronosphere and… Yeah. I would have been a terrible eyewitness if the police had come round to see what the racket was.

On the bright side I think the Chrono had trapped the little stag beetles which spawn in the pit in the middle of their animation cycle as they stepped into the time lock. For a brief, but wonderful moment THREE!!! stag beetles scurried about. Then everyone was gone leaving nothing but a town portal scroll behind.

I took a lot of pictures of the scroll as evidence of littering then settled back to wait for Roshan to come back except… that was it. The game was over. I'd managed to pick one of the shorter games in the tournament so far but, because I wasn't paying attention to anything outside my immediate vicinity, I'd had no idea of the rhythm of the match and thus no sense that it was wrapping up.

Immediately after the experience I spent my time massaging my cheekbones as the Vive had grown steadily more uncomfortable on my face. I was also a bit stiff from how I'd been sitting and more than a little confused as to how the match had wrapped up. I watched it later from a regular flatscreen perspective and had one of those unexpected VR-related moments where I saw that fight in the Roshan pit from the top down perspective and felt like someone was missing from the fight. I double-checked it was actually the right match before realising I'd unconsciously expected to see myself as a presence in the actual pro game somehow, as if I'd been there too.

I was actually considering doing it again, but the more time I spent working out how to make myself comfy and build a VR nest out of quilts the more it sounded like maybe I just wanted to have a nap protected by a neutral monster.

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