While it doesn’t command much mainstream media attention, the International 2017 is the most lucrative tournament in the world of eSports, boasting a total prize package of nearly $25 million, with around $11 million of that going to the grand prize winners. That’s more than most other world sporting competitions, including the most popular international tournament, the World Cup, which TotalSportek reports offers the winning team just $7 million — and that’s for over a month of playing soccer.
The International 2017 lasted just 11 days, in comparison, but required participants to play a whole lot of a game called “Dota 2,” one of the world’s most popular multiplayer online battle arena games, or in layman’s terms, a team fighting game that relies almost exclusively on strategy, kind of like souped-up chess.
Before each round, players draft teams from a host of characters who all have different strengths and weaknesses. The teams can both see whom the other has drafted before each pick, so there could be a slight advantage to picking last. The goal of each team is to destroy the other’s “Ancient,” a large structure present on the single three-dimensional map.
For those unfamiliar with the game, the action looks chaotic to the point where even when the most extraordinary thing happens, you’re left wondering, “Huh?”
(Regarding the above clip, Kotaku has a nice and understandable explanation of why the crowd erupted in cheers.)
ESports has become big business. More than 400,000 people watched the finale between Team Liquid and Newbee on a free live stream provided by Twitch, a video-game streaming app that Amazon acquired for nearly $1 billion in 2014. (Amazon.com chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.) And thousands more watched it on other streaming platforms, such as YouTube.
The tournament also filled Seattle’s KeyArena to the brim with screaming fans, who paid $200 a pop to watch the action live. If it wasn’t for the two groups of five men furiously moving their thumbs on the center stage, it’d be easy to mistake the boisterous crowd for a group of analog sports fans chanting for their favorite basketball team.
Team Liquid made out the best at this year’s International, the seventh iteration of a series that began in 2011. They made history as the first team to shut out its opponent in the final, winning the first three of five rounds, all without their real names ever being mentioned.
Referred to strictly by their avatars throughout the tournament, fans had to go to the team’s website to learn the real identities of the five players: MUTUMBAMAN is Lasse Urpalainen, 22, of Finland; Miracle- is Amer Al-Barkawi, 20, of Jordan; MinD_ContRoL is Ivan Borislavov Ivanov, 22, of Bulgaria; KuroKy is Kuro Salehi Takhasomi, 24, of Germany; and GH is Maroun Merhej, age unknown, from Lebanon.
They won’t enjoy the entire $11 million prize themselves, however. Some of the winnings will undoubtedly go to the team’s management, coaches and support staff, but it’s safe to assume these five men likely won’t have to worry about getting day jobs anytime soon.
Asked by the tournament emcee how it felt to score such a lucrative win in the video game world, KuroKy answered simply, “It’s good.”
He added: “I’m planning to come here again next year.”