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.
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.