Prize money in global Dota contest hits $13m

Local gamers (from left) Yammy Tan, 24, Kelvin Tan, 33, Shawn Siau, 23, Raphael Yee, 17, and Charlene Liu, 22, will be hosting viewing events for the final rounds of the Dota 2 International tournament at Scape.

Launching flaming meteors, throwing ice shards and summoning tornadoes may elevate a team of elite gamers to millionaire status.

That is, if they win the annual Defense Of The Ancients (Dota) 2 international tournament in the US. The top prize is worth US$4.9 million (S$6 million).

Now in its fourth edition, the tournament offers a prize pool totalling US$10.7 million, more than three times last year's prize money, and an all-time high in e-sports competitions.

Singapore gamer Tammy Tang, 29, who has played Dota for 10 years, attributes this to the crowdfunding business model used by game developer Valve Corporation, which runs the digital distribution platform Steam.

Dota 2 is a free-to-play game and a user has the choice to pay extra to unlock special features in the game. To encourage users to do this, Valve releases more features each time its base of paid users hits a certain target. Also, part of the proceeds of these purchases are contributed to the tournament's prize pool.

The fantasy multiplayer online battle arena or moba game is a sequel to the modification of the popular strategy game Warcraft 3. It currently leads Steam's real-time list of most-played games, with about 500,000 players at any given moment.

In each game, up to 10 players square off, each aiming to destroy his opponent's base. A player can choose from a pool of more than 100 characters, each with its own unique abilities.

The competition, now under way in Seattle, United States, sees teams from countries such as China, Malaysia and, last year's champion, Sweden do battle with one another in the lead-up to the final on July 21. Singapore, once a front runner with a respectable third team placing in The International 2011 tournament, has a lone representative this year. Mr Daryl Koh Pei Xiang, 24, better known by his "iceiceice" moniker, now plays for the hot favourite, DK, a team from China. Captain of Singapore's 2011 team, he took down top world players at The International last year to win the singles tournament, but left Singapore in September to join DK.

He declined to be interviewed.

But in a post on Wednesday, the gaming news website GosuGamers quoted him as saying: "I will not be staying on in Singapore - there is nothing there."

Gamer and match commentator Lim Lyn-Feng, 21, said Singapore gamers are up there with the best. But going professional throws up many obstacles. Training takes a lot of time, he said, and many gamers peak at 18 or 19, which is exactly when they have to enlist for national service.

"In China and America, they have professional managers running the teams, and they are paid proper salaries. Here, players must juggle gaming with school and work," he said.

Still, Mr Koh commands a loyal following from the community here. Ms Tang and fellow gamer Shawn Siau, 23, are among those who are cheering him on. Mr Siau and his friends, who are also Dota enthusiasts, are organising a "pubstomp" viewing event for fans to live-stream the final matches.

Mr Siau said of Mr Koh: "He has a very quirky personality which he adds to his unpredictable play style. I think that his chances are high."

Mr Siau, who has been publicising the pubstomp via Facebook, said he expects an audience of about 600 at Scape's ground theatre, the event's venue.

Gaming cafe Colosseum, which has broadcast the competition live since 2011, is holding similar events at two of its cafes this time. It has had an overwhelming response in the past, with tickets sold out for last year's finals, said its event sales executive Zacc Teo, 26.

Like watching the World Cup, he said, "it's more enjoyable watching it together with a group of like-minded, diehard screaming fans".

jianxuan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 16, 2014.
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