Publishers are dictating what esports will be

In 2013, I wrote about the differences of publisher involvement in esports mainly regarding Riot Games, Valve and Blizzard Entertainment. I wrote the following consideration:

On the one hand, publishers’ want to ensure the longevity of their game through keeping eSports alive, as it is an emblem of new generation values and the long-standing human nature of competition. On the other hand, event organizations have been surviving on their own alongside teams and players for quite some time now. While a publishers’ blessing can help advertising and marketing for these event organizers’, their demands can sometimes be detrimental to overall business interest or severely limiting in terms of actual growth in that specific eSports title. As time moves forward, it would not be a surprise to see companies be more hands-on with their games and the direction of the eSports sector, but will it be for the better?

November 2, 2013 – Michael Cohen (GLHF Magazine)

Back then it was mostly regarding the title StarCraft II (Blizzard), League of Legends (Riot Games) and Dota 2 (Valve) where Riot Games was completely hands-on, Valve was completely hands-off except for The International and Blizzard was in this transitioning phase of involving their own WCS structure but with third-party help.

The current Major model leaves small pockets for third-party tournaments to join in the Dota 2 esports scene, but otherwise – Major and Minor titles are mostly determined at the decision of the publisher.

Though the title of this piece may appear as a sort of impending doom, the years of developer involvement is more of a ‘point-of-no-return’ direction of where esports is going. As predicted, the hands-on involvement of developers in their game-to-esports products has grown larger, sometimes completely cutting out middle-men production companies that have been in esports since its [many] starts. Though that is a threat to the livelihood of these businesses, it also puts into question the definition of esports – either as a marketing attachment and new source of revenue for developers or as a separate division of entertainment and business akin to traditional sports spectating and its assorted diverse revenue streams.

The Consequence of Developer-Controlled Esports Scenes

As more esports titles become largely dictated by their publishers, the fewer opportunities there are for tournament organizers to create events. Tournament organizers not only compete with one another for calendar dates and territorial positioning but they also compete for esports titles. In the past, brands like MLG, ESL and DreamHack announced events for StarCraft II or Dota 2 with near overlapping dates. This is no longer occurring thanks to the involvement of developers ensuring that there is no overcrowdedness. On the other side of the spectrum, for games like League of Legends or Overwatch, as tournament organizers were readily involved with the scene, to have that entire license lost meant that multi-game title events were no longer as easy as possible.

Traditionally in February, IEM Katwoice has been a staple of major tournament production for the major esports titles: League of Legends, Counter-Strike, StarCraft II and Dota 2. Over time, the IEM brand and its associated games have been reduced to just Counter-Strike and StarCraft II.

Developer involvement means that tournament organizations are aiming more and more to be production services for publishers that cannot afford (or do not think it is a worthy investment) to host their own esports leagues and tournaments. With less tier 1 games being available for tournament organizations to host multiple or multi-title events, tournaments orgs are now stepping over each other to reach those contractual jobs such as with Gears of War, Supercell Titles (Brawl Stars) and PUBG Mobile.

Speaking of stepping over each other, let’s also consider the number of Western tournament organizations involved in Counter-Strike, which has a much more open calendar (and appeal to Western audiences) than Dota 2 (who has more popularity in the East and a very tight schedule of Majors and Minors). As more esports titles become closed-off, current businesses get squeezed and new businesses are less likely to prop up since there’s less opportunity to do so.

Including Majors and Minors, there has been over 35 tournaments and leagues for the 2019 calendar in Counter-Strike. For Dota 2, including Minors and smaller tournaments: approximately 24.

For teams and players, they are caught between the expected investment that publishers can comfortably afford to get involved on the newest and latest titles. To invest in Overwatch or Call of Duty for a team means that there is heavy trust in the publisher to lead and follow-through on reaching a shared profitability in the long-term, which is difficult to guarantee. Ultimately, teams are start-up investments but start-ups investing 20 to 30% of their value into one game removes that start-up agility that a lot of growing orgs and business sectors rely on to ensure long-term viability.

The Duality of Esports

The duality of esports references the contrasting, but sometimes overlapping, perspective of how to treat esports according to the actions of the publisher. As previously noted, developers are taking a very strong approach in how the shape of their esports scenes are developed and more importantly, who has the rights to be involved with its growth and success.

We separate the identity of esports into two camps: An Ecosystem or Marketing Outlet but to say that if one developer is in one camp does not necessarily mean they not of the other, it’s that their intent or focus is on either side. The main differences between each side is how involved and what do brands get in return for their involvement. For an ecosystem identity: the goal is long-term value and cooperation for an enriched profitability in exchange for immediate investment/input. For esports as a marketing outlet: esports is an extension to push product and immediate sales, pushing players to the game title as well as also converting esports fans into routine paying in-game consumers.

An Ecosystem

Esports as an ecosystem is the perception that esports will become a separate avenue of revenue on top of its immediate marketing framing. It’s the idea that if invested and developed properly, it can generate strong return of investment in the long-term.

Over 20 teams were formed to create the Overwatch League. Starting in February 2019, these teams will compete in over 70 matches across 4 stages of the year.

With franchising from Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment, both brands have invested heavily into their infrastructure and esports development to ensure it is at its maximum quality in terms of production for immediate sponsorship and viewership. For Blizzard specifically, by tying their company’s own involvement into the brand, they signaled to other investors at conventions such as MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference to also invest in what they believe to be the future and in imitation to what most sports teams investors know (traditional sports spectating). Another clear sign of tying themselves to the scene is through their shared revenue model, where franchised brands, like in Riot Games’ League of Legends, share a % of earnings to a collective pot and is distributed proportionately to all parties involved. The exclusivity Overwatch deal from Twitch to Blizzard will likely go to all parties involved.

The challenge right now is to follow and adapt their year-to-year plan as they expand to both physical inner-country audiences and events as well as to ramp up sponsorship, viewership and appeal. What we may see in the coming years is Overwatch, as a brand, expand to future spin-offs and titles and franchised teams being utilized as marketing assets or already inducted brands should there also be a tournament circuit there. Likewise for Call of Duty, it would be no surprise to see that the release of a new game does not affect franchised teams’ involvement in the League.

PS: It’s important to note that these publishers companies may have considered going in-house due to the businesses, productions and services that third-party esports companies offer may not be sufficiently up to the level of expectation that the developer expects and thus have chosen to invest internally for current and future esports or broadcast-related works. Both Riot Games and Blizzard have previously or currently (Blizzard) work with third-party brands such as ESL, DreamHack and/or StarLadder.

A Marketing Outlet

Image result for rainbow six league team skins
Akin to the stickers in Counter-Strike or the Battlepass in Dota 2, Rainbow Six: Siege adds in digital monetization to convert esports viewers and fans into purchasers, tying in a split monetization value for both the teams involved as well as the developers. PUBG originally had announced plans to do similar, but ultimately backed out of the idea.

The assumption that if a developer is not handling an esports scene as an ‘ecosystem’ then they must not be seeking long-term viability is simply untrue (but understandable). It’s more of an emphasis on making esports fans also purchasing consumers and allowing the scene to develop and manage on its own.

Another facet of treating it as a marketing outlet is being relatively ‘hands-off’ in its process and esports development. However, companies like Valve, Ubisoft, Capcom and some mobile game companies are not entirely hands-off but rather dictate how the scene will be and permit other brands to create licensed broadcasts and events around their product. Companies like PUBG Corp. delegate specific regions of their esports leagues to esports veteran companies like StarLadder and OGN.

By treating it like a marketing outlet, developers can focus more on how to integrate esports fans into consumers and purchasers and worry less on how to monetize the esports scene as a whole, with all of its costs, inexperience and brands coming in (and out). For CS:GO, Valve’s involvement is relatively small, only dictating which tournaments organizations are granted a Major title (and ensuring that no other events are scheduled at the same time) as well as disputing any misinterpretations regarding broadcast rights or legal concerns (is betting sponsors permitted?). For Dota 2, Valve is a little more hands-on and dictates not only which companies are granted rights to broadcast a Major or Minor event but also produced their annual The International tournament alongside PGL.


Regardless of how esports transforms, publishers will survive. The key point to realize is that as esports, as a business sector, gets pulled to either identity definition, mainstream game developers and publishers will survive and move on to the next marketing trend. That cannot be said for some esports businesses that have sought investment to keep up with the latest franchising model in esports or tournament companies who looked under every rock and multiplayer title for contractual work and esports development.

Dota 2 New Player Experience Suggestions

As Valve has mentioned interest in developing the New Player Experience, I am writing a few suggestions that I think could not only introduce players to the varying layers and aspects of Dota 2 but also provide some ideas to keep the player interested and avoid feelings of being overwhelmed. Dota 2 is an exciting game that can feel enormous when it comes to playing each phase of the game but also in understanding its fluidity both in your role as a player and in coordination with a team. When playing with new players, I often get asked the same three initial questions:

  1. Which hero should I pick?
  2. What do I do now?
  3. What do I buy?

For question #3, hopefully Dota Plus and community-created Hero Builds are sufficient to provide users with as much information on how to play and build their hero for maximum value/efficiency and to reduce the amount of time thinking on decisions. Decision-making is something that is automated for veteran players but can actually take several important minutes away for overwhelmed new players. Having varying levels of knowledge will not answer the three questions above but it will give direction for orientation to the answers. Instead of seeing 168 items and over 117 heroes, new players will begin to see what most of us see: applicable situational considerations, our preferences and team expectations for hero picks and item purchases.

Very useful blueprint for the developers

But for question #1 and #2, the lack of direction and freedom of choice can be more detrimental to a new player than viewed as exciting opportunity with no restrictions. On the other hand, restricting everything from the player and forcing them to ingest an endless amount of information before they can play can deter newcomers from wanting to get further involved or that it’s simply too daunting to play what is meant to be a leisure (and challenging) activity. For Dota 2, the only way to fully understand a game is to play, to win and to lose. That said, I’m hoping the New Player Experience will provide newcomers enough valuable information to permit them to play.

On a personal note, I felt inspired to write this after playing Destiny for the first time last week. I’m 80 hours in and still constantly googling questions.

Learn Tab – The New Player Experience Rehaul

In actuality, the Learn Tab is intended to be a hub for learning but lacks a lot of planned expansions. I recommend the following:

Part 1. Tutorial

  • Goal of the Game, Ancient and Towers
  • General Movement, Basic Combat, Camera/Movement Control, Attacking and Abilities (+ Talents)
  • Leveling Up, How to earn Gold, Purchasing and Upgrading Items, Item Active Abilities

— Advanced Tutorial — 

  • Phases of the Game (Laning Phase, Mid-Game, Late-Game)
  • Roles, Lanes and Hero Choice 
    • Hard Support
    • Soft Utility Support
    • Offlane
    • Mid-Lane
    • Safe Lane
  • Team Fights, Ganking (incl. Smoke of Deceit), Warding, Defending High-Ground
  • Bot Games (with difficulties)

Though there is a lot of criticism for the tutorial, I think the way it separates the game into 5 parts is decent. It covers the essential parts of the game, how to play and even outlines the differences between the three different attributes (Strength, Agility, Intelligence). I’ve added more ideas for the initial 5-step tutorial but I also believe providing a second optional advanced tutorial for the more deeper mechanics of the game would be a healthy provision for new users to consider. I find getting into Dota is similar to learning piano: some just want to buy a cheap keyboard and see if they will like it while they learn on their own while most piano veterans will tell someone to purchase a proper 88-key weighted piano with private lessons from a teacher. I agree that one needs to dive entirely into Dota to fully understand and enjoy the game but I can also understand those who just want to test the waters and see if the game is of interest, even if they develop poor habits and learnings in matches.

Part 2. Encyclopedia

Those who continue to maintain and update the wiki deserve medals for their efforts
  • The Basics
    • Health/Mana
    • Attributes (+ calculations)
    • Gold and Experience (+ calculations)
    • Armor, Damage Types
    • Vision
    • Towers, Shrines, Barracks, Roshan, Runes
    • Jungle Creeps
  • Heroes
    • Sort by expected role(s)
      • Possible Lanes
      • Scale of complexity (left to right)
  • Items & Shops
    • Filtering System that separates items by what they offer, Filters include:
      • Consumables:
      • Health: Health Regen, Max Health Increase, Armor, Lifesteal
      • Mana: Intelligence, Mana Regen, Max Mana Increase, Spell Amp., Cooldown, Manacost/Mana Loss,
      • Attack Damage: Damage, Attack Speed, Attack Modifiers
      • Resistances: e.g Pipe of Insight, Crimson Guard, Butterfly
      • Disables: e.g. Orchid of Malevolence, Scythe of Vyse
      • Movement Speed: e.g. Boots, Yasha
      • Active Abilities: e.g. Silver Edge, Lotus Orb, Diffusal Blade
      • Utility Items: e.g: Gem, Infused Raindrop
      • Roshan Items: Aegis, Refresher Shard, Aghanim’s Blessing
  • Effects
    • Buffs, Disables, Associated Icons
    • Incl. heroes and items that cast these buffs/disables and heroes/items that can dispel them
  • Attack/Spells
    • Modifiers
    • Base Attack Time
    • Cast Point
    • Range
  • Terms

If you’re not sure what the Encylopedia should include, head over to the Dota2 Wiki. Bottom-line is that this wide range of information should be directly in-game on one level or another.

I bolded some of the more unique suggestions and will discuss them briefly here:

2.1 Heroes

These heroes are sorted by alphabetical order and divided by attribute. In my opinion there are better ways to divy up these heroes

At the moment, the current Heroes Selection Menu has three attribute categories and 2 filters: type and complexity. I believe that the system can be more robust and physically re-arrange the choice selection screen either through user submissions (based on ratings) or adding additional filters per role/lane and adding a scale of complexity (left to right). Dota+ already heavily suggests users to put heroes in certain lanes/roles (and Dota+ is usually bought by veteran players) but nothing is recommended for new players who need the most information to make ideal choices.

2.2 Items & Shops

So many items with no real discernible way to differentiate them all.

Even after the re-design of the item shop, to really make sense of all the items is to play the game enough to understand what to get, when to get it and how reasonable is it to go after it (which changes depending how the game is going). People can understand concepts, roles and what aspect they need to improve on: “I need to stop dying, I need to deal more damage, I need to farm better”. But finding the corresponding items to go with these objectives is not very clear.

I recommend an items filter that not only helps highlight and filter items that aren’t within expected parameters but also helps classify items by an order that makes more sense. Players can tick different filters depending on what they need: e.g an item that provides some lifesteal, damage and some health.

On the one hand, I do recommend using a guide or Dota Plus to help navigate itemization to a general pattern (with some exceptions/situational purchases) but I also think that the faster players can identify what items do what for who or what objective, the better they can make swift choices on their own without the crutch of someone else’s expertise. If they do like using a guide, the filter will help players use guides as a tool (and think independently) rather than as a set of instructions to follow blindly.

2.3 Effects

It’s fairly evident that there are so many items that play off each other, counter heroes and do a variety of things. I think there should be a handy reference guide in the Learn section for this but also, I think there should be a list of indicated items or abilities that can rid of those disables or apply XYZ buff. It’s one thing to know why or who stunned a player’s hero but it’s another to know how to remedy it for the future.

Part 3. Challenges & Scenarios

Though I didn’t play as much of the Challenge Missions as I thought I would, I definitely enjoyed this element of the game when I first started.
  • Last-Hitting Challenge: rotating with different heroes, lanes, vs match-ups
  • Stacking & Pulling routines, Warding 
  • Harassing without taking aggro or taking damage (the lower the %, the better) 
  • Ability-based challenges:
    • Dodging with Manta Style
    • Blink Initiating
    • Invoke Practice
    • Hook/Mirana Arrow Accuracy Tests
    • Meepo multi-tasking: how fast can a player get to level X
    • Chen micro-managing: consecutively stun a hero
    • Necrophos Reaper Scythe/Axe Culling Blade Thresholds
  • Scenarios
    • Team Fighting Scenarios:
    • Item decision-making Scenarios:
      • Select which items will help a player take down a tower the fastest
      • This hero has a lot of armor/health/magic resist: how does a player fight it best?
      • Sniper is attacking your hero, what item should be purchased to most efficiently counter Sniper?

Both in games like Baduk/Go as well as in StarCraft there are fun scenarios and puzzles that someone can do to hone in on their knowledge and recognition of situations. I’ve provided some examples ideas that I think would be good. These scenarios help outline key areas that are important as mechanics to master but also have an element of learning and recognition, especially for new players to practice on without having to commit to a whole game. Dota 2 can add Steam Achievements, high-scores and more to add further gamification to this area of the client.

Even Artifact has a scenario mode which I personally like a lot as a way to introduce players to playstyles, decks, cards and more (especially if they don’t own these decks or card types).

Part 4. New Player UI Filter

  • Improved Item Shop Filter/Option
  • Stronger item active indicator, especially upon death if user did forgot to activate their abilities
  • Upon death, display videos or helpful hints for users to better understand their hero or their items/abilities and when to use them.
    • If new player was killed by an ultimate, display video better summarizing their opponent
  • Hero selection filters
  • New User Flair in-game

This suggestion may be a bit radical but having a new player UI filter that players can choose to switch on or off (after playing the tutorial) can enhance the experience for new users. Ideas like having a much large shop tab with the filters I recommended previously or re-arranging the hero selection screen accordingly can be useful for new players, but not obligatory if they feel like it. Different players learn at different speeds and being able to decide whether one wants a unique UI to understand the different parts of the game might be valuable/useful.

The New User Flair is to help players identify that a player is relatively new. This can have either two effects: players identifying another player as new means the team will be more lenient and understanding. This may also help reduce frustration/confusion as to why the newcomer is not performing as well as expected. Or the flair can cause targeted bullying because the team knows a player is new and are frustrated with being paired with someone who doesn’t understand the game at the same level.

Part 5. Coaching

Congrats to user Gellfing for getting gold in coaching. What a champ, he had an AMA on reddit a few months ago

I felt the Coach mode during the Battle Pass was good. It would be nice if players who coached were also awarded a badge or some sort of recognition for their involvement. Another suggestion would be to make it party-base rather than entire team as teams may not be susceptible to advice but a party who opts in may be more willing.

Coaching could be more interactive, allow coaches to build out recommended items for a player, highlight key items, telestrate on the ground while also appearing on the map. Allow players to see the coach’s cursor or not for further indication.

Coaching can also be done for party viewing of a match or even in replays: set up bookmarks/notes on areas the coach wants the player to pay attention to. Maybe allow viewers to watch a replay with a coach through the coach’s perspective, etc.

Part 6. Esports

The reasons to not do a newcomer stream are plentiful ranging from lower viewership, human resources needed to run in and lack of interest to do it. Nevertheless, I can’t skip recommending it just for the sake of exploring all options and considerations.

In my opinion, Esports is the pinnacle of great marketing for Dota but it falls a little short for newcomers and friends of Dota fans. It’s a pipe-dream that we can hope for tournaments to afford another stream for newbie specifically but it’d be nice if those who do a remote newcomer stream were provided more tools to help introduce players to the game.

Whenever I am with a colleague at The International or another major tournament, they often enjoying watching the game with me as I explain all the heroes, their abilities, how their engages fights, how they want to finish the game (fast/early? 4-protect-1, etc.) and explaining why this item is so important and what this hero aims to do. In traditional commentary, we see all of this overlooked because we all usually know and understand why these items or heroes or line-ups are drafted but for new players, it isn’t so clear-cut. Even being able to slow the game down during team-fight replays to be able to better highlight what is happening, immensely eases new viewers into enjoying Dota. It’s no different in other games I play and watch like League of Legends or Overwatch.

Part 7. Improved Guides System

I am personally still very satisfied with the Guide system except for the role classification that needs updating.
  • Co-authoring
  • Incentivization
  • Better statistics

To be honest, there isn’t a lot more to do with the guides system. Co-authoring and usage statistics are suggestions to either reduce the workload for certain guide-creators or to improve guide selection for new users so the first one at the top isn’t picked just because it has the highest subscription count and games played (these indicators are mostly due to those guides being around the longest). Incentivization is a common recommendation for community contributors. In Team Fortress 2, community-centric projects like the TF2Wiki and KritzKast received memorabilia for their involvement in the game-scene.


I don’t expect any or all of these suggestions to be implemented but I hope that this extensive list of ideas, breakdowns and reasoning will give the developers some of their own ideas or how to better execute them. I play a lot of competitive or multiplayer games and it always ends up being a coinflip if the tutorial will be overbearing, completely absent or just right. I learned how to play DotA almost 14 years ago and I can still recall some of the most difficult parts of the game.

Standard Hero Builds Project renewed until March 2020

Thanks to my sponsor,, the standard hero builds project has been renewed for another six months. All 159 hero builds will remain maintained and updated for free up until the project’s 7th anniversary (end of Feb. 2020). Thank you to Rivalry for their continued support and the community for their continued interest in this project.

Below are some thoughts about the issues in the past. After this blog update, I will have nothing more to say on the subjects touched upon here:

About My Previous Departure

In December, I had written that I will be taking a hiatus from the project. Not too many people realized the hiatus. However, the criticisms on the project being outdated or poor continued non-stop. In February, I announced its end and the opposite happened: it garnered attention, a lot of attention. I had thought there would be a succinct understanding behind my decision which is:

  1. I had already hit the maximum level of success I could reach with this project
  2. The work had become more exhausting and dis-interesting for me versus the focus on my career
  3. Search for sponsorship was not panning out and did not make sense for me to offer to businesses
  4. Once you hit a success-ceiling, the only thing that grows is the negativity and criticisms

Not everything I had written there was interpreted as I thought or even read. When I tried to wipe the guides (to indicate, to users who do not read my twitter or forums, that this project was no longer in their best interest). However, an unfortunate bug still displayed my guides even though they were set to private (or public or whatever had occurred). This has been corrected thanks to Valve.

To wipe the guides, I set them to private and wipe all their information so users who were still using them, would move on. Sadly, I did not know that if you set a guide to private, wipe them, then publish that wipe: it would set all the guides back to public viewing.

After a misleading accusation that I was being a spiteful attention-seeker, Valve thankfully noticed the bug and fixed it on March 5, 2019. Should the guides ever end, I can now simply just set them to private.

About Rivalry

When I announced my departure, Rivalry had contacted me about working together. In the past, I had tested some sponsorship deals with companies. The issue is that users who use the guides in-game, do not click on any URLs outside the game, so this is not of interest to most sponsors. Additionally, you can gauge how many games a day or how many players use your guides, but their geo-location is not listed which is important for sponsors. I had forewarned Rivalry on the challenges and actual value of the guides but they remained adamant about continuing to support content-creators such as myself. Even when negative community sentiment continued to mount against me and I warned them that this sponsorship would not be as strong PR-wise, given the current recent mood, they pressed on. I respect them for their dedication to an agreement and I am grateful that they continue to support this project and myself.

Mentioning Negativity

In my departure, I mentioned briefly the topic of negativity. Though it is always occurring, I naively believed that talking about it in my departure, along with all the other reasons, would give a larger picture of my decision. I did not realize that negativity (both the actions and mention of it) would overshadow all the other (and much larger) reasons for my decision. I learned that mentioning negativity has no real value. It paints a negative portrayal of you and it gives an indication to cynics that they can still influence you. When a toxic person can then no longer control/influence you, they will try to control how others see you with misinformation. The only course of [in]action is JADE: Don’t Justify, Don’t Argue, Don’t Defend, Don’t Engage. I should have learned this lesson earlier on when I made comments about nay-sayers in the past. I haven’t been doing this all the time but I am making active efforts.

Guide Tribalism

There is a strange tribalism revolving around which hero builds are good and which ‘suck’. Among guide-creators, there is no such rivalry but a friendly communication line between us all. Around TI8 (2018), I told both Dota Alchemy and ImmortalFaith about my intent to end the project. Both parties were actively made aware of my decision as the months passed. I kept ImmortalFaith in touch throughout my hiatus and end to ensure he would be able to take the most advantage of it (whether he did or not was his choice).

Years ago (2013-2017), there wasn’t much competition because of the previous system’s bugs and flaws. This lead to an over-reliance on my guides over the years. With the new system released (2017), new creators have flourished in popularity. I have always been vocal for there to be more competition, going so far as to cooperate with Valve to implement this idea.

Most guide-creators don’t care whose guides you use so long as you are seeking help and enjoying Dota. Both myself and my friends actively refer to and use other guides. My closest buddies have even switched from using my guides to ImmortalFaith’s and pay for his coaching (I’ve also received great advice from ImmortalFaith when we played AutoChess together). One day, I would like to collaborate with him on an idea once I find the time.


I hope this blog brings both good news to those who enjoy the project but also helped clarify some of the occurrences in the previous months. As always, at the end of October, I will be doing a statistical analysis of the project’s impact in Dota 2.