For hosting the largest prize pool in eSports history, Benaroya Hall was surprisingly low key as we approached it. From our direction, the only real indicators that we were heading in the right direction were the banners on the street posts contained character art. To the side there was a substantial line but one would not be faulted for not knowing what it was for. That quickly changed as one got closer. You could not mistake the excitement of the attendees for anything else. It was infectious. Bags, plushes, Dota paraphernalia, and even an Ogre-Magi cosplay only hinted at the crowd’s anticipation.
As a Dota fan, stepping through the main hall was akin to Charlie first stepping into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Past the snack table you’re greeted by the massive Analysts table. The camera equipment, the commentators, and the surrounding staff are scrambling their final preparations. Bruno, one of the community’s beloved and prolific statistic keepers is wearing a green and purple so loud that it would likely be seen from orbit. The Secret Shop, barely having been open for 30 minutes, is filled to the brim as individuals fill their order sheets and get in line. In the floor above- artwork, item modelling, and signings rotate throughout the day. Players and notable members of the community all mingled with the attendees. Allowing the fans not only to see these individuals, but to interact with them. Smiles were everywhere even though the hustle and bustle seemed relentless.
Noon approached and we went to find suitable seats. Above the stage sits a massive screen. Below that is the player pods with a stand with the Dota 2 logo in the center. The Commentators table on end dances a fine line of neatly fits the decor without drawing attention away from the screen and the players.
Then – the games began. There were some early difficulties but as they got resolved the production values began to soar. While there were certain individuals (such as Na’vi’s Dendi) and teams were obvious fan favourites, which never seemed to really limit the cheers and crowd reactions. Big plays and near misses would constantly draw gasps and cheers from the crowd. The fans were here to watch great Dota, and they were getting it in spades.
Finally, at the end of the first night, was the All Star match. Here, players who voted with their compendiums (an item you could purchase in-game to increase the tournaments prize pool) got to see a dream team of pro-players compete in a match. The games had gone late into the night but you couldn’t tell with how the audience was cheering. It might as well have been the first match of the day with cheers and jeers that would normally be reserved for a Grand Final. The match was done in a over the top joking manner. The pods were open to allow the players to hear the audience and commentators. It was silly. It was fun. It was excellent.
It is an experience unlike any other. Filled with a passion that is reflected in the 500,000+ online viewers that watched with the live audience. It is a time for the professional teams to shine but if you thought it was a time for the Dota community to come together and celebrate, you wouldn’t be far off.