Torte De Lini

A Sociocultural Analysis of Gaming and eSports
Torte De Lini

Torte De Lini

Dota 2 Hero Builds Project ends after 6 years, 364 Million subscriptions

update 2020: guides are still live and actively updated on a routine basis


After six years, the Dota 2 Hero Builds Project is ending. The reason is that I have achieved everything I wanted with the guides and I no longer feel motivated continuing this free project.

The choice was to either start asking for financial support to continue my responsibilities or to move onto new ideas I want to do. I’ve chosen the latter.

Volunteering My Life

I’ve been volunteering my time for the past 10 years simultaneously with my education and career:

1. Before esports, I volunteered at a Jewish retirement center between my classes
2. I rewrote’s original FAQ
3. I created StarCraft/esports university clubs around my city (Montreal): UQAM, Concordia, McGill
4. I hosted local community viewing events called Barcrafts Montreal (4x)
5. I worked on StarCraft events for our local LAN: LAN ETS, NASL Toronto Finals and Blizzard’s WCS Canada.
6. I acted as a player-manager for teams: Root Gaming, Infinity Seven, Team Dynamic, VT Gaming, Quantic Gaming
7. I wrote for many esports websites: Team Liquid, D-Esports, ESFI World
8. I published in-game Dota Hero Builds

Had a lot of fun creating many BarCraft Montreal events during StarCraft II and MLG’s heyday.

For the guides, I’ve learned everything there is to learn and the project itself was no longer being done for my enjoyment. I’ll only volunteer to do something if I can learn from the experience or I genuinely enjoy the work. Simply put, I just want to do things and it stems from a personal insecurity to prove myself:

In my PCGamesN interview, the writer only published a portion of my answers, here is the full quote. I’ve mentioned similar aspects about me on other podcasts and interviews as well.

Overall, I’m a pretty unremarkable person. I’m not inherently personable, talented in games, in general knowledge or any actual abilities. All I got going for me is my desire to be proactive and contribute and I feel its important to pursue that sole quality that distinguishes myself.


The project has hit a ceiling of success and the amount of discrediting (‘you’ve had X item on this hero for six years’), misinformation (‘he’s only 3k MMR’) and personal attacks (‘he’s just trying to be famous’) are growing stronger. Since I am not enjoying this negative tone on something I want to do, I will just go do something else. There is a lot to say about handling criticism and negativity and I am not sure I want to dedicate a whole block to this subject but I do know I am sensitive to it but not obliged to accept it. This is contrary to YouTubers, Streamers and casters who have to tolerate a lot of mean stuff from their communities because it’s part of their work and life. That said, It does especially hurt when people who are acquainted with me publicly tell me my guides suck but never reached out to help me improve them. Even pro-players have given me more feedback over the years than the critics who watch or cast their play. To note that, again, this is the not key reason I am ending the hero builds, it is exactly as stated: I have achieved everything I wanted with the guides and I no longer feel motivated continuing this free project.

Next Steps

In terms of next steps, I will be trying out new ideas and seeing how I feel about them. Most of the things I’ve done no one has really heard of, even less for my actual jobs. But for me, they have all been enjoyable and hard-working experiences that made me a better person.

For instance, now I want to work on being a more outward person and comfortable on camera. I’ve only had four camera appearances in my life and I have never watched them because I get horrible anxiety/discomfort. To rectify this, I’ve been live-streaming or appearing on people’s live-streams to be more comfortable in front of or talking to an audience.

Placeholder video to help break up text and reading exhaustion. People still talk to me about this video though

Second, I will be trying my hand at hosting a small online Dota show. I’ve produced a lot of types of content but never hosted. I’m hoping it yields community interest and spur support for other content ideas like event coverage or interviews: (campaign is paused until I have something to show). I will make a proper announcement of this next week closer to the intended date but its based around improving my actual ability to play Dota 2 as my fundamentals and understanding of the game are average.

Thirdly, I have started writing some personal opinion pieces about the esports industry as a whole. I enjoy giving my expert thoughts on the industry and having a nice display of my knowledge across articles.

Lastly, I’ve just finished my previous esports start-up and considering new projects/options. You can review my career background on LinkedIn:


After six years, the hero builds project is coming to an end. The achievements of this project are far more reaching than anything said on Reddit, stream or to me in-person and I’ve always been surprised that so many people have enjoyed something I was so passionate about. I do not think I will ever succeed in anything as great as this project but I am very excited to explore what else I can do.

My final message, thank you for the kind comments on my profile. I’ve read (and sometime re-read) every single one across these many years.

Thank you for being my friends and giving me a purpose. You’ve made this relatively ordinary person achieve something pretty extraordinary.

PS: You can always talk to me directly on Discord or catch me live-streaming every week on


Why did you wipe the guides? I mentioned my hiatus as far back as December but I was still getting many messages, on a daily basis, either telling me to update the guides or that they suck/are wrong. In the past I highlighted a concern that users were not converting away from outdated guides, this is to ensure that everyone moves on.

Will you ever bring back the guides?
As mentioned, I’ve achieved everything I want with the project. If there is demand and financial support to bring them back, I’d be happy to retake the position. It will never be something I will personally come back to.

How come you didn’t try to make any money from the project?
It was never my motivation. It was purely an alternative for people who did not want to give direct feedback on how to improve the project. I have tested a few sponsors but quickly realized that the engagement rate was small (0.0003%). Additionally, the guides don’t provide any information (location, daily use, etc.) that can entice sponsors. I’m too average of a player to consider alternative work (e.g: ‘coaching’) and it would conflict with my actual work and responsibilities (and it does not interest me). Lastly, I opened a Patreon but the persistent shaming and backlash made me feel incredibly anxious, so I removed all public mention of it (2016-2018).

Did Dota Plus or other guide-makers influence your decision?
No. Regarding Dota Plus, I wrote in my five-year summary that Dota Plus did not affect my MoM subscription growth (~5.5 Million). Additionally, my guide penetration was 83% of all daily matches whereas Dota Plus has a 56% expiry rate. In terms of other guide-makers, I’ve been providing advice, promotion or help so they can grow because I have always been publicly voicing for more ‘competition’.

What is your MMR? I’ve played ranked for three different seasons and have reached 5K mmr, 4.5K mmr, 4K mmr. I play mostly unranked so I can play whatever hero I want without the extra consequences or pressure. My unranked is definitely lower as I had tested a lot of hero builds with heroes I am not comfortable with.

How come you never waited until the meta settles before updating the guides? The meta is constantly changing, it can take weeks for it to have any sort of settled approach (which can change again). Additionally, for everyone who thinks I should wait, there are about 10x people asking me if I am updating the guides, when can I update the guides, demanding it. Lastly, there were guide-makers who were not following the same thought-process, they would update their builds immediately then abandon them, causing subscribers to be misinformed for months.

Do you ever go back and update the builds after initial guide updates?
Yes, in fact, I regularly do revisions, retractions, adjustments and changes. This sometimes ends up being larger than the initial changes made from the start. Towards the end, my schedule was about 100-400 updates every two weeks depending how off my initial applications were.

I’ll update this FAQ with any other community-related questions.

UPDATE – Feb. 8, 2019 — Did you quit because of the community negativity?
To say yes is to give too much credit to the naysayers and not enough value to those who appreciate the project. The main reason I quit is exactly what I am saying: the project hit a success ceiling and did not garner any more personal value to me. I was not comfortable conditioning the continuation of the guides based on financial support after making it clear that I was doing it for free for so long. Once you hit a certain level of success to something, all there is really left to do is to maintain it and permit criticism to fester and grow. I was not happy doing that and decided to be honest with myself and everyone.

Lessons from Esports Start-ups: Part 1

During my nine years in esports, I’ve worked for over 13 esports startups across six titles and alongside nine national work cultures. I’ve experienced a lot of personal successes, professional failures and lessons. Although the products and services we have put out had a varied probability of success, I often found that there were lingering issues or concerns that ended up deeply plaguing the company and the members involved.

Within this two-part series, I will draw upon my experiences to highlight common mis-steps startups approach esports, their businesses and some common pitfalls in their operations that ultimately lead to their downfall. This article will be more anecdotal and qualitative than quantitative. It goes without saying that what I may say is true for the businesses I worked with but may not be applicable to all current, past or future businesses. It’s recommended you take the lessons and advice listed here and critically think about how they apply (or not) to your work and experiences.

Funding issues is just the consequence

For the majority of the start-ups I’ve been a part of, funding have become the most frequent reasoning for the closing a company. But when I mention ‘funding issues’, that is merely a consequence of a manifested problem within the company and within expectations of all parties involved. Funding slows can occur for a variety of reasons, some at the uneasiness of the investor or because internal issues within the company show signs of weakness that do not spell ‘success’ in the longer run. That ‘longer run’ is what everyone is banking on for esports.

I often found that assessing the right investor for your start-up is as much as a dictation of your success as conveying the right level of expectations to that investor. Ranging from investments as small as X00,000+ to X0+ million, Here are some company issues I’ve encountered over the years:

Though impressively built, the ambitions of this invested esports studio was jumping ahead of its ability to deliver expectations equal to its investments. Its production quality was immense but its audience reach was poor.
  1. Invested at over 8 figures ($X0,000,000), this company (2013-2014) took over a year to establish its basis, set-up initial staffing and launch the company. 3 months later, the company faced funding issues
    • The company had a monthly burn-rate of about 2 million a month
    • The investor agree to future funding (8 figures), but made drip-payments of 2-3 million a month
    • The company closed and failed to pay its remaining employees for 4 consecutive months
  2. Invested at 7 figures ($X,000,000), this Nordic publishing corporation (2015-2016) looked to expand its current magazine business to new audiences (international millenials) and platforms (digital)
    • 9 months to launch, 4 months live before the corporation got scared and abandoned all relevant projects
    • the investor, though a stable corporation, did not anticipate potential costs and issues that come from adjusting a start-up to newly-learned aspects of the market
    • start-up brand made concessions in respect to what the corporation understood as a functioning business, but did not acclimate it to its new audience reach (international) nor current purchasing trends (free, daily, accessible – different from subscription models)
  3. Invested at 6 figures ($X00,000), this medium-sized accelerated start-up (2012-2013) looked to compete with established online league and match-making services like CEVO and ESEA. After several months, it failed to launch a working product that matched what it was heavily advertising and paying influencers to promote
    • after 6 months to prepare, it shuttered after a 1 month launch
    • heavy dependency on business development & marketing to compensate for the lack of product development
    • blew through initial investment without appropriately budgeting what’s most important prior and post-launch

It goes without saying that the issues I’ll be elaborating on aren’t the only problems these start-ups faced. Having said that, they have taught me key things when it comes to navigating this industry, mainly: investor expectations, execution of the product/service and sensible budgeting.

Investor Expectations

All three example companies have faced a misaligned investor expectation versus actual company results and development. For #1, the investor expected a slower burn-rate, better results for potential ROI in view of the spending. For #2, the investor expected immediate success and revenue but were not ready to pivot their start-up product to further adapt to market trends. Finally for #3, the investor expected a functioning product with their current investment but poor product development halted reaching an adequate launch-time. Regardless of the level of investment, being honest about the challenges of launching an esports product/service before-hand, let alone growing it to potential revenue within a reasonable timeline, plays a heavy factor in not only receiving appropriate funding for your start-up but also justifying further investment and support down the line.

As esports goes through its growing pains, a lot more capital will be pumped in sometimes irresponsibly or, perhaps, to irresponsible ideas.

In addition, by not informing your investor with the proper expectation of ROI you are starting a relationship on miscommunication and misleading information which can hurt your credibility overtime should you fail to immediately succeed (and with most esports start-ups, your ‘success’ is lukewarm at best for the first 2 years).

Frankly speaking, this aspect requires the start-up leader to be accountable and responsible. For many years, it has felt that many start-up ideas in esports have started up because both parties wanted to get in on esports, without being reasonable on their approach or actual possibility of making a return.

Product/Service Execution

In all our examples, the concept behind these start-ups had validity but their execution was another challenge and often times, the ability to pivot makes or break these companies. For start-ups #1 and #2, their initial ideas were bold, albeit flawed, but their inability to pivot heavily determined their downfall.

For example #1, the initial idea had merit: connecting and empowering regional brands into an international cooperation and to signal that cooperation via a media studio megaphone and end-of-year convention with very high prize-pools (7 figures). The concept has a very sound viability but it’s based on initial success rather than its delivery. In other words, all parts of its tentative product needs to work for the rest of its components to succeed. Should the cooperation fail, the studio would be a heavy waste of money.

In example #1, the cooperation did not go as planned and the pivoting towards its studio megaphone execution was now even more important to achieve. The spending for the studio and now its heavy pressure to make a return proved an irreversible mistake that led to the company’s downfall. With it, it brought down two other associated start-ups (agency & live-streaming platform) and highlighted their own individual issues and challenges. With a shaky investor, a myriad of problems and poor pivoting – the companies and its members mostly dissolved.

For example #2, the product was a monthly digital magazine, something the investing corporation was familiar with in their regional market and demographic. In their testing, the concept of a magazine was very interesting for users and good feedback was given. The price-point and approach, however, was not reasonable as the product was seeking subscriptions (like their physical magazines) in a time where media, games and content were all free and accessible. The publishing company had learned what most corporations were learning for the past 20+ years: that digital media was the future and it was free (with advertising). They pivoted but did not have the human nor financial resources to maintain a quality that was set with their monthly digital magazine platform.

Very few esports start-ups brands have pivoted and succeeded. Vulcan has pivoted to their acquired brand: StreamLabs (then TwitchAlerts) and Unikrn is trying to stay in esports fantasy betting using their cryptocurrency: Unikoin Gold. For a lot of current brands, success in your initial idea is key before you can ‘pivot’ (e.g: expanding). Starting with a modest, singular and sound idea before trying to do more or other aspects of your business can mean tempering expectations from your investors, giving a clear vision for your team, brand and audience and ultimately reaching a unified goal rather than reaching minor steps to a larger objective

Vulcun’s acquisition and pivot with TwitchAlerts (now StreamLabs) is one of the few esports start-up companies that initially failed to capture an esports market but transitioned to an essential part of an even larger marketing: gaming livestreams

Sensible Budgeting

In esports, there’s often a misinterpretation that the more money a start-up raises, the more it is a success (or will be). For a lot of businesses receiving new funding, there is a perceived success that will come in the future and that company has a strong footing to be part of that success. That said, I’ve been part of a lot of businesses with many ranges of initial investment (from 8 figures to as low as 5 figures) and their investments have been with two expectations: 1. that the start-up will establish an initial success that will justify further investment to maintain presence and financial stability and 2. that the start-up will sensibly budget their company as a foundation for that ‘over-the-horizon’ success.

In part 2, I will talk about infrastructure, expansion and leadership but the amount of start-ups that overpay their executives, underpay trying to recruit expert staff and over-shoot their goals is very high. The viability of your start-up heavily depends on the timing of your entry into esports, the amount of investment you receive relative to your goals and how you wisely spend that amount. In example #1 (8-figure investment), the amount of investment received was incredibly high but the mis-spending of it was also incredibly high. Similarly, in example #3 (6-figure investment), the amount of staff hired that were not relevant to the product development also highlights poor budgeting (since the product never finished in-time for launch).

In short, be reasonable in your budgeting to ensure the viability of your start-up both for the long-term and in emphasizing your immediate goals towards launch and post-launch depending on your situation.

PS: After reading this article, you may think I’m an idiot or fool-hardy for being involved in so many start-ups that either fail to-go-to-market or faced so many obvious issues that current established companies have never faced (or have easily overcame). In retrospect, I can understand this perspective, however the precautions I personally took then and the contract advantages I negotiated to mitigate personal financial instability helped immensely. I may elaborate on this in future pieces.

What makes a successful esports media brand: Part 2

In Part 1 on “What makes a successful esports media brand”, we broke down some of the big-hitters and what made them so much more popular and established than the rest. From having great SEO to establishing a community before social media platforms were established, sites like HLTV, and JoinDota got in early on the esports media game and kept their momentum and placement in their respective game titles and scenes strong for all these years.

For the past eight years, I have been a part of a variety of media brands ranging from being a news-writer for many esports news sites to launching an esports studio, publishing an esports digital magazine and launching a live-streaming platform. With each iteration of a new media brand, I’ve come to recognize certain key points that make or break a brand and the recurring pitfalls new media sites are falling for. In this two-parts series, I will highlight key areas that lead my latest company, and our sister site, to becoming the top-10 and top-2 most read esports news website in the world. For Part 2 specifically, we will examine the importance of presentable information features, content production versus cost and aligning with regional audience interests.

For most people in traditional industries, everything from Part I was self-evident: SEO is the new drive for monthly visits, long-established brands correlate with a strong direct user-base and social media gains readers but the time spent on site diminishes heavily (as users are returning back to their social platform for their next tip of news). Esports as an industry is still learning these established rules but some have learned faster than others.

Saving Grace of Features

A media brand has three core components that is essential to its growth: an invitation, a justification and information. This is just a playful way of saying that you need good original content (invitations) for users to visit your site. Then you must justify their reasons to stay (consistently good content, both original and general news). And finally, you need key information (in the shape of features) for users to return and rely on your brand for their entry into esports. For this particular section, the importance of a site’s features can maintain a brand’s popularity even when their content runs out.

The perfect example is Alive since 2002, has been relying on volunteer writers to create their content. As the industry has moved away from volunteer work, has slowed their content production to nearly 0. Yet, if you check their monthly visits, it remains within the top-5 most-viewed esports media sites. Content has people visit your website, but information has users returning to your website.

Despite not publishing anything in over two weeks for their CS:GO section, their match-ticker, results and stream section are still up-to-date. GosuGamers, being more known in the Dota 2 scene, only produces about 2-3 articles a day, very below the competition – but their information features have users constantly returning to their site every day.

Information, in the shape of features, goes a long way to shifting your site from being pressured to draw interest on content (that may or may not hit) to creating a reliable source of information that users seek on a daily basis. Despite being in 2019, there are not many platforms that display all upcoming matches, results, calendar of events and player/team statistics. News sites like HLTV, JoinDota and GosuGamers fill that void and continue to justify their place in the industry despite their content production being less than optimal.

Shaping Your Content

For many new esports brands, many of them come in with a grandiose idea that current sites don’t push the envelope on telling stories. The reality is that most brands have tried this path, to imitate what traditional sports media have done, but quickly realized: 1. that not only is the audience difficult to reach but 2. it also takes a significant amount more time, human resources and processes to repeatedly create content that is more unique, featured and has a higher quality of production.

During my time at Aller Media A/S, we aimed to create a very professional digital monthly magazine and featured exclusive stories with improved graphics, animations and display. However, what we quickly learned after two months was that releasing all your unique content once a month quickly exhausted your user-base in a few hours. Secondly, while you may have spent weeks creating this content, the readership was inconsistent and dependent on the subject more than the quality of the work. Finally, and this is the most important aspect, you still need to pay your employees monthly regardless of your content flow.  Featured content is great and should be welcomed and actively sought, but compared to the costs and inconsistent readership returns, it does not justify its value alone.

Sites like Blitz Esports made a splash with the quality of their content and interviews – focusing more on engaging the user-base with unique and insightful content around the League of Legends scene. But if you look at the business and the actual engaged readership on a daily-to-monthly basis, you realize that they had a large amount of human resources spent on making 1-3 interviews. Thus, the content they are making is extremely vital to the exposure of the esports scene but the operational cost versus the actual monthly site visits and thus, potential revenue, spells their demise. 

On a monthly basis, 6 videos were published on their YouTube channel with great viewership. However if you look at their site visits: only 1 to 2 articles were published. From their website analytics, they averaged about 230,000 visits a month. This is an extremely low amount for a company of approximately 5 to 11 employees (or more).

We mentioned in Part 1 the importance of writing general news. General news content, combined with your ability to create good SEO, can establish good returning readership, eventually establishing an organic user-base that will appreciate the occasional featured content you produce. Dot Esports, Dexerto, The Rift Herald and other major sites have quickly learned that content production cycle is important. On average, these sites produce between 10 to 20 articles a day. They don’t have any statistical or informational features and they are almost never featured on Reddit. Yet they generate millions of visits a month and end up surviving much longer than the splash features that sites like The Shotcaller and Blitz Esports aim for.

To conclude this point, if you have a core staff salary cost, you need to maximize your human resources by creating daily content that may not be the most unique or glamorous but will certainly draw in a consistent returning monthly readership. General content should not be overlooked because it isn’t unique or it doesn’t push the boundaries of esports coverage, it should be sought as your base-line of potential revenue to give your media brand the opportunity to explore more unique types of content.

Regional Esports Audience Interest

Esports is truly international but the games are divided regionally. What may be of interest and popular in China or Russia might not be in North America or Brazil. Dota 2 is very popular in the CIS countries where League of Legends is not. PUBG Mobile has a strong user-base in China and South Korea but is not as strong in North America. The gaming culture, technology and consumer spheres heavily dictate what hits and what doesn’t. With that said, the readership of certain games is higher than others and you must assess the target-markets you want to reach to determine which games you cover. Additionally, different regions has different expectations for a media brand as we determined in Part 1 where we saw not only did regional non-english media sites draw in comparable monthly visits, but also served as a community in substitute for sites like which is more English-speaking.

Rely on Twitch Analytics and in-game statistics to determine where the player-base and thus, readership, will come from most. As we can see in Dota 2 – only 6% of all games are played in the US as opposed to SEA or Russia where over 48% of matches are played.

Additionally, different esports titles have different priorities and seek different types of content. For League of Legends, the amount of interviews done in the North-American scene is almost saturated, yet for Europe, only two (now defunct) brands regularly attend the studio to provide interviews for their readers. On the flipside, in Dota 2, there are very few true coverage sites for the game, as the game’s popularity is very small in North America and thus English-speaking readership is lower than for CIS media brands. It is only after piecing together each game’s user-interest and viewership for tournaments and matches will you ultimately be able to determine which games are hits, which might be secondary in priority and which will make your brand both successful and stand-out from the rest. As a last tidbit, I recommend not covering a game and putting excessive resources into the coverage of an esports title just because no one else is doing it, there may be a reason why no one is covering a scene any more. When we launched the ESGN TV studio (2013), there was consideration of providing Street Figher showmatches in a scene where there was no Capcom-supported circuit and tournaments were few and far between throughout the year. What we had learned was the viewership was sporadic and inconsistent. We found that major events were watched by the tens of thousands concurrently but for individual streams or user-streams, that number did not come near what major esports titles were bringing in on a daily basis between tournaments. Though we are proud and happy with the results of our Street Figher broadcast, the cost to produce this series versus the viewership did not align whatsoever.


There is so much more to say about esports media: producing news on video versus written content, the fluctuating salaries of writers across different regions, esports titles, using writers as your brand’s identity and creating content that engages their knowledge and value, how to maximize your event coverage, etc.. The list goes on and on and sadly, we may never fully be able to detail every aspect of esports media companies and brands. If you’re thinking of creating an esports media brand, my highest recommendation is not to follow what’s being shared on social media or reddit, but rather to peruse the content yourself, see which brands have lasted the longest and which types of content are being produced the most on a daily basis. Often times, the answer is much more simple and straight-forward than pundits have lead the public to believe. There is no magic trick or unique feature that sells a site but rather a combination of features, tools to draw users in and consistent content. Esports media can earn revenue, but it takes time to build it and a dedicated team to follow-through.

What makes a successful esports media brand: Part 1

Over the years, many esports media brands have come and gone. For some of the older brands, they’ve achieved a status that cannot be imitated by new media seeking to penetrate the scene. For newer brands, they face an uphill battle to not only establish themselves in this growing space but also must find new ways to earn a sustainable business. The greatest challenge any esports media brand faces is having to prove its importance to an audience while also creating content about teams, organizations, players and games that are also creating their own content, but with more access, a larger budget and direct reach to their established fan-base.

Displayed are the many products and media brands I have personally worked or launched. From a TV studio in Babelsberg, Germany to a digital magazine with the prestigious Aller Media in Copenhagen to the international press site, for Russian conglomerate and more.

For the past eight years, I have been a part of a variety of media brands ranging from being a news-writer for many esports news sites to launching an esports studio, publishing an esports digital magazine and launching live-streaming platform. With each iteration of a new media brand, I’ve come to recognize certain key points that make or break a brand and the recurring pitfalls new media sites are falling for. In this many-parts series, I will highlight key areas that lead my latest company, and our sister site, to becoming the top-10 and top-2 most read esports news website in the world. Also, I will highlight what other, more long-time and established brands, like HLTV, Dexerto and JoinDota, are doing right.

Examining the current competitors

Let’s take a look at the current established competition.

Despite only covering one game (Counter-Strike), HLTV remains one of the strongest and most established esports media brands in the world. Not only have they received the respect and cooperation of esports tournament organizers, teams and players but they have achieved a unique community that has yet to be imitated by any other current media website. Their trifecta of being one of the first in spaces, having incredible and top-of-the-line statistics and an established community has greatly separated themselves from the competition.


Editor’s note: only a site’s internal analytics can accurately determine the monthly traffic their sites achieve. Data provided here are through third-party trackers that advertisers rely on to get a general scope of an industry’s readership and visits basis. The higher a site’s monthly visits, the less accurate the third-party data.

Media Brand Seniority & Perks

1. There’s a lot to unpack here as different sites have achieved different results for differing reasons. For part 1, I will not be able to go over all of it but we can highlight several trends that set one site apart from another. For example, how is it possible that is the second most-read website in esports media, especially for a site that is only in Russian? Are there that many esports fans in the CIS region? Yes, but also because is more than a decade old and before that, was part of the brand name. Many esports medias that are at the top are there now because they’ve lasted the test of time and the esports waves of growth and reduction. HLTV, GosuGamers, are brands that have been around from the many ‘starts’ of esports. For the many that have survived the test of time, there are dozens that have failed. You can usually tell the age of a brand by the primary source of their userbase: direct visits. Being among the first sites that have penetrated the market also earns you a community since back then, there was more reliance on forums and communities to get your content as opposed to the now-curated feeds of social media and is an example of a community site that still generates 3.8+ million visits a month due to its age and organically grown community forums (and site features).

A demand for non-English speaking audiences

2. Another key trend to consider is the amount of non-English websites that generate a large user-base.,,,,, these sites are published in languages besides English, indicating a real community that is looking to get their esports content elsewhere than on english sites. Esports readership is a mirror of esports viewership for tournaments, social media and more. That esports sub-culture and consumerism also mirrors a lot of market trends and focus to the mainstream gaming industry. Brazil, Germany, Russia are all very important markets for sales from game developers and publishers and thus this importance trickles down to esports as well. It goes without saying that these countries and regions also do not understand English very well, thus why audiences flock to non-English news and community hubs. That said, nothing beats the North American and English-speaking market and there are many esports media brands that have succeeded in reaching these audiences. Similarly to older brands that have penetrated the market, these non-english speaking sites are also doubled as a ‘community website’ where users can discuss, comment and blog about everything related to esports and the articles that are published. There is no Reddit comparison for non-English audiences and thus they rely on esports news sites for their community discussion boards.

The power of SEO for new brands

3. We’ve seen that older brands survive and have retained a readership that goes directly to their website. What about newer sites? The power of SEO is the greatest savior for top brands like, and That last one, is a part of, a major mainstream gaming coverage news site that heavily relies on SEO to reach a large audience (40+ Million monthly visits). SEO is something the gaming industry heavily pushes towards, and it is becoming something esports is also imitating. Older sites have a community base that returns directly to their website for many years but for newer sites during the age of social media and, building a community can be a slow and sometimes waste of time. SEO helps reach audiences that you normally could not reach and the amount of work needed is significantly smaller than creating incentives for users to stay and chat on your website.


How to interpret Time Spent statistic

4. From 9 minutes to only 8 seconds, there is a huge fluctuation of how much time users spend on a website and there are a variety of factors that affect this. not only has a strong community base, but produces great content to justify returning to their website. In addition, their statistics is top-notch and a staple to the scene. For sites like EsportsHeaven, TheShotCaller, their time visited is less than a minute – ultimately revealing that not only are users not visiting their site, they are often viewing one article then leaving the site. This is why you can see their primary source of visits are from social media (where users only view and click on articles they find interests before returning to their social platform) or If your site has a high visit rate but very low time-spent on the website, there is something concerning about your brand and advertisers will seek to find out what is wrong. Users who visit a site directly are more likely to spend time on the site as opposed to SEO or worse, social media.

…And More!

5. There is so much more to unfold in this list. Like, how does still manage to receive over 3.5 million visits a month even though they have no content in weeks? Which is better: sites that cover all games or sites that cover a specific game only? In future iterations of this series, I will continue to reveal more interesting tidbits about this list and the great media brands that continue to thrive in this esports scene.

The Reddit Mislead

The first thing advertisers do when they look to purchase ad-space on websites is to see what their monthly visits are. Second, they check what the sources for these monthly visits. If they see that the majority of your monthly visits come from Reddit or is not consistently established, they will avoid your website. If advertisers see that it comes from countries that are not strong advertising markets, they will avoid your site. This is common-sense for many people but for writers and editors, they misinterpret the interest of as being a dictation of what lives and dies in this esports industry. Like any audience, the content that users from Reddit enjoy is different than the content users enjoy outside of that community forum. For example, content that is unique (leaks, interviews, opinions) may garner a lot of interest from users on Reddit but general news will not as they may have already been informed of this information elsewhere OR it’s not as interesting as other, more unique content. However, the majority of organic visits for most established websites are from general news pieces.

You can easily determine how much content is being submitted for a news site by using the parameters: — some sites receive a lot of submissions from power users (users who are frequently active on a particular sub-reddit), some are submitted by writers. Regardless, your site’s majority readership should not come from Reddit as it will lead to an over-reliance on a very fragile userbase that can fluctuate.

The over-emphasis on Reddit is a common pitfall many new writers and editors fall for. Just referring back to the statistics before, we can plainly see that nearly all major popular sites do not rely on Reddit as part of their core readership. The main reason is similar to the logic behind social media sharing: users will continue to visit these social platforms for their news rather than directly visiting your website. It is common practice to use to introduce your newly-created media brand and the unique content you have to provide (interviews, opinions, breaking exclusive news) but all sites should seek to garner their own organic userbase for their general news. As mentioned previously, SEO is one of the new ways that new brands are breaking this space. Younger sites like, and are all relying on SEO to establish an audience and recurring readership. This is especially important since they can no longer garner a traditional community like the older sites have done.

Your general news is the bread and butter for your site. It is the most consistent type of content you can create that will generate the majority of your organic readership. Showcase the sundae cherries interviews to your social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit but don’t forget the ice-cream news for users who are looking to get all their esports content in one place. In esports, you will have very active months with a lot of content to write about and other periods where content will be slow and the availability of unique content can be limited (e.g: Christmas season, down-ramp from a major tournament season). During those slower times, you will not have much to provide to Reddit but your investors and supporters will expect a consistency in visit growth and content production. This is a common scenario where the focus on growing your organic user-base (through general news production) should be emphasized more than hitting record-numbers through artificial means such as submitting unique content on

Sites like DotEsports, and JoinDota all create unique content but they do not prioritize it over general news. The way you also write about your news heavily affects its interest to its readers and in future iterations of this series, we will highlight the different ways to write your news to garner the most interest from your organic user-base.

Conclusion & Part II

In an attempt to keep this article short and sweet, I’ve cut this series up into several parts. In conclusion of Part I, examining the landscape of esports media highlights the merits of retaining or acquiring older esports media brands, expanding a brand to different languages to engage otherwise unreachable brands and the emphasis on making your general news SEO-attractive and less on polishing your unique content for your social media platform and trophy case. What’s truly set the most read sites from some of the much smaller brands is consistency in content production, quality of features and

In Part II, we will examine different media sites, common features your site should include, the high cost but importance of writers and brand identity as well as highlighting efficiency in content versus readership.

5 Years, 350 Million (2018): Dota Builds Project Year in Review

This is a continuation of last year’s article, “4 years, 275 million“, 2017’s “3 years, 170 million“, 2015’s “2 years, 100 million” and 2014’s article: “1 Year, 40 million: Dota Builds Project Overview

**some images may appear smaller than intended, click the images to see their full resolution/detail

I am now celebrating 5 years (and a half) of the Hero Builds Project since I started back in February, 2013. In February 2013, I was just finishing my university degree and really had no idea what I wanted or could do. Here at the end of 2018, I’ve moved over 8 times to 5 different countries and been a part of many unique start-ups. If I wrote in 2016 to 2017 that those were the most prominent years for the project and myself, I would say that 2017 to 2018 was considered the most difficult and enduring for me and the project.

Within this review, I will provide some statistic detailing the impact the project has had in public matches, an outline of the work involved to maintain the project for all these years as well as concerns and future of the project.

275 Million to 350 Million Subscriptions – A Year of Statistics

There are  two statistics I want to display for this year. In the previous years, I would display the project’s growth, projected subscription numbers and comparison to other guide-creators. Each year, I felt that these statistics only echoed what most people have already assumed: the project is continuously growing and continues to be popular.

The final question I wanted to answer regarding this project is the following: “What impact do the hero builds have across all public games in a day?” or more accurately: “What are the chances that at least 1 of my hero builds will appear in a match?”

From what we were able to simulate, approximately 82.67% of all matches use one or more of my guides. The percentages represented show the likelihood of 1 to 7 guides simultaneously being used during a match. If interested in the data, I keep a public record of all data for reference and interests and welcome everyone to verify or further research the data available. Feel free to contact me regarding the data.

My long-time friend and data scientist, James Hu, did a Monte Carlo simulation to determine the amount of 82.67% of daily games have at least one or more of my guides. This is his comment on the matter:

Given that we know that how many games are played daily (, how many games are played for each hero (, and how many games for a specific hero use a Torte de Lini guide by day (available in-game), we can then get an estimate of how many games have at least one person using a Torte de Lini guide. This was calculated by using a Monte Carlo simulation method. While it could theoretically be calculated to exact precision given that we have the percents, there are a possible 81,572,506,886,508 possible team combinations, which is an unrealistic amount of calculations required for very little upside. The Monte Carlo simulation created teams of 10 different heroes, based on play rate and calculated the probability of that person using a guide given the numbers provided. This was then run 100,000 times and stored. Across multiple tests, the percents were fairly stable. So the Monte Carlo simulation shows that roughly 17% of games have no one in the game using a guide, but in the other 83%, at least 1 person uses a guide, which is a pretty remarkable number.
To semi-validate this data, given the numbers we have, it seems like roughly 15% of all games use a Torte de Lini guide, which means that 85% of games do not. If we take that basic assumption given all heroes are picked equally, the probability of a game having no one using a guide is .85 ^ 10 or 19.68%. Not too far off from what our Monte Carlo simulation shows, so the results look fairly reasonable. So even though only 15% of games played on any individual hero uses a Torte de Lini guide, the combined probability of among 10 people, at least 1 person using a guide is around 83%. Some assumptions are made that are not representative of the real world. Heroes were selected at random, whereas more realistically, you would assume some level of team composition. There is also the assumption that players will use guides at random, whereas the truth is probably less skilled players use guides more often than skilled players. So realistically, more than 17% of games will have no one using a guide, but there is no better way to calculate this skill based guide usage.
On March 12 2018, Dota Plus was released. There was a personal and public concern that this project would be hindered or slowed due to the inclusion of the automated service. However, when I reviewed the growth in subscriptions and data, I am still earning approximately 5.5 million new subscriptions on a monthly basis. This has been the norm since May 2014.
The large bump in 2017 is the release of patch 7.00. You can determine where the release of Dota Plus happening around February of 2018. Other big spikes on this graph are due to the release of a new patch or the population interest in the game which has a strong influence on the rate of growth in the project’s subscription.
On average, for every hero that is picked in a game of Dota 2, there is a 23.03% chance that the player is using one of my hero builds. For heroes like Naga Siren or Beastmaster, the statistic was as high as 50 to 68%. In addition, I collected the lifetime matches played statistic from the top 10 guides. Out of 1,605,684,445 lifetime guide-used matches, 85% were by my own guides (1,357,244,780); a 12% increase from 2017.

Achievements & Challenges

Beyond the statistical achievements for the hero builds, there has also been a nice bump in publicity. I’ve been awarded my third year of /r/Dota2 MVP awards including ‘MVP Community Figure”, “Most Educational Post” and “Honourable Mention for MVP Redditor”

I’ve also done some nice press pieces with podcasts like The High Groundinterview with Spectral Alliance as well as PCGamesN. In every interview, I try to be as personal and honest about the project, my character and life.

Lastly, the mention of the OpenAI bots being scripted to use my guides was a very fulfilling moment for me as it highlighted that this project has been involved with nearly every facet of the scene. I even had the chance to meet them in-person during TI8 and I cherish that moment deeply. Over this year, I met many great and admirable people who professed their enjoyment for my guides. It’s always a surreal and happy feeling to think back on those times and it is one of the greatest reasons I continue this project. One time, on my return flight from an event, a professional player, and now personal friend, tapped me to ask for an autograph. It turned out his friend was a fan of my work and asked him to get my autograph. I’m usually too embarrassed to tell pro-players and casters how great they are and here I was digitally signing something to someone (for his friend) who plays my favourite game at the highest and incredibly skilled level. During The International 8 party, Liquid’s MinD_ContRoL told me to add magic wand to all my guides – it turned out he also used or currently is using my guides for some heroes. At another point at TI, I met a Valve employee, now friend, and his entire family that play Dota 2 together with guides (so adorable!). Talking to him, his wife and seeing their family all enjoy The International together was an incredible sight. These are the times I think about a lot and continue to smile about in disbelief. I take pictures with almost everyone who comes up to tell me they like or have used my guides and I love just talking shop about Dota with them. When I first started playing DotA, I was a young kid who repeated secondary school twice – a failure. I had no purpose, direction or self-esteem, I hated myself but could only tell people how much they sucked, an attempt to disguise my own confessions as unnecessary hate towards others. This project and the subsequent people I’ve met by following my passion has really changed who I was ~15 years ago.


Meeting OpenAI was a highlight of the year for me. I am a huge fan of the work they are doing.

In terms of work challenges, I’ve made a variety of changes to the project to reduce the workload. Changes such as no longer doing bi-weekly public statistical posts and summaries, reducing the amount of day-to-day reviews as well as retiring many builds from the project that no longer suit the current meta. In Feb. 2018, IceFrog announced he would be making patch changes every two weeks. This change was a heavily toll on my life as it demanded me to be more readily available throughout a month but also spend more time observing and determining what ramifications these changes had hero builds (both skills and items). The resulting updates made to the guides were only a marginal increase of about 270 across 6 months.

  • Total guide changes from February to June 2017: 1,777
  • Total guide changes from February to June 2018: 2047

For the player-base using these guides, the changes were gradual and almost indifferent to the previous patches For the producer (myself), it meant a larger consumption of my time since feedback had significantly dropped, patch updates were subtle and there were a lot more competitive matches I needed to watch and track to keep up with changes in the meta.

I have always been open about my work and progress in updating the hero builds. Over 32,000 changes were made across these years. 2018 has had significantly less changes than others because I will not be doing my annual review of all the item, skill and hero textboxes.

As noted before, feedback about the hero builds has significantly dropped. The drop in feedback meant that my effort needed to compensate for the lack of communication heavily exhausted me. A reoccurring frustration I would face is passive blanket criticisms. I would often have to read countless put-downs about the project, specific guides or my character to decipher if the user had a legitimate issue or was simply voicing an opinion. Often times I would message the user privately to ask what they specifically didn’t like about XYZ build only to find out that I had rectified their complaint months ago. Other examples would include the user not realizing that I had two guides for a hero or that a build was meant to be a reflection of the current state of the meta (or my attempt to do so) and I could not deviate from this effort to include what they thought was good (or bad) for a hero. This back-and-forth was very challenging on my mental fortitude and connection with the community. After my AMA 9 months ago, I stopped responding to comments or discussions across social platforms and after The International, I stopped making announcing guide updates beyond my social media. The rate of my involvement with the vocal community has no effect on the growth of the hero builds.

Lastly, I responded to bugs and issues users had when making hero builds for the past two years (at the launch of the Hero Builds System). I ended this outreach when Dota Plus was released and users were mistaking issues with the service with my own personal project. Instead, I offered assistance with users who were looking to make their own collection of hero builds for the community and I continue to offer my advice, expertise, thoughts and warnings to those wanting to make free hero builds in-game


For the past 5 1/2 years, I have never stopped providing Hero Build updates to the best of my ability, efforts and love for the game and community. Over the past years, I have created over 158 hero builds and applied 32,542 changes, garnering 350 million subscriptions and an estimated 1,357,244,780 games. Many don’t remember when the guides first launched but it was riddled with server-crashing bugs that would delete user’s guides and work. It went unfixed for 3 years until 2016 and then a new system replaced it in 2017 (which I enjoyed a lot in building). The system and the project has come a long way since then and your undying support was and is the reason it’s still around today.

The dev.dota forum topic I made to compile all the issues from 2013 and onward.

Starting in December, I will be going on hiatus until March 2019. I will be exploring other areas of my life and experiences to see what I want and can do more both in terms of my career (this was always just a personal project) and in my life. For the past 5 1/2 years, I have never stopped providing Hero Builds to the best of my ability, efforts and love for the game and community. Thank you to those who supported, used or provided good criticism to the project and the guides involved.

update Feb. 4, 2019: I have closed down the project until further notice

update 2020: guides are still active and routinely updated, celebrating 400 million subscriptions