Four days before the start of their huge Dota 2 tournament, Valve have called off having a live audience at The International. This year's event in Romania was meant to be a glorious return after 2020's International was cancelled by the pandemic, but that pandemic is not yet over. With Covid-19 infection rates in Romania rising again, Valve will still hold the tournament but now without the audience. They're automatically refunding event tickets, obvs, but oof that'll be a lot of people out travel costs.
The International 2021 starts on Thursday, with 18 teams headed to Bucharest to make wizards fight over a prize pool of $40,000,000 (£30m) and counting. It was due to have a live audience at National Arena after the group stages for the Main Event, running October 12-17. On Sunday, Valve announced that'll now happen without the audience.
"We have been carefully evaluating the continued rise of Covid rates in Romania, as well as the resulting introduction of new local restrictions in Bucharest. To ensure the safety of all players, talent, and production staff participating in the event, we have decided to refund all ticket sales for The International 2021," Valve said.
"We wanted nothing more than to welcome fans live to the event, but we can no longer do so in a way that allows us to prioritise the health and well-being of both audience members and participants."
Romania's rona infection rates have climbed sharply over the past month, reaching a new high for the entire pandemic. Authorities last week introduced emergency restrictions, which include capping venues to half-capacity.
Refunding event tickets is nice and all but travel costs are likely the real expense for many. That'll be the risk of planning international travel for an event during a global pandemic.
It seems a mistake for Valve to have sold tickets at all. They held back on opening sales for ages, saying on September 3rd that "with circumstances constantly changing, we want to be careful to make a well-informed and safe decision regarding ticket sales closer to the event." But when they announced on the 16th that ticket sales would begin on the 22nd, infection rates in Romania were clearly rising. By the time the 22nd came around, rates were rising even faster. You didn't have to be Albert Frankenstein to see where things were headed.
Valve had previously moved this year's International from Sweden after authorities decided not to classify esports as sports, which could lead to visa troubles for players and staff. This decision was later reversed, but not before Valve had cancelled the event. That original venue, Avicii Arena, will soon host a Counter-Strike tournament.