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It's TI season, and something feels off
The best esports tournament in the world feels... not that
The other day I had a conversation with someone new, who asked about esports and how it felt to work within it, but have your passion be involved. My answer mentioned that it's hard, because it's very easy to get exploited for that passion, but you also don't want to blunt your enthusiasm for this thing you like very much.
It's "The International" season, and I'm starting to feel that lack of edge.
TI has always been special to me because Dota 2 has a very unique place within esports; it's very much fuelled with resentment for not being popular, and unlike some scenes that stay eternally seething, Dota's crowdfunding actually let it go "Hey, we deserve to be here."
TI is branded as a "celebration of Dota" but for a long time it felt like a celebration of "choosing the better side", regardless of how much social utility we could get outside of it. While you can buy a Coca-Cola case with a League of Legends character on it, TI felt authentic in ways that other games couldn't: we put our money where our mouths were, and were generally rewarded for that. You were getting a high-quality broadcast without ads or sponsors, and generally getting a ton of in-game content that carried the spectre of "being valuable later" regardless of whether you ever did sell them.
It felt like a small proof that things could be done without feeling corpo1. It gave us a hope that what we liked could prosper. I've written about this before and don't want to retread too much — at the risk of sounding naive, it felt real. That matters.
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This year, something feels off — at least, maybe just for me. The games are still good, and the game is still similar, but I'm not... hooked. I'm not invested. I'm keeping it open in another monitor, but not engaging. I'm not reading the story of the tournament.
I haven't played a match of Dota in months; while that's never stopped me from enjoying the esports side of things before, there's still this lingering "what's the point?" thought. It is very clear that the game as a juggernaut, and as a culture, is decaying; maybe not dead yet, but it's starting to rot.
I always said that the first year we didn't break our previous prize pool crowdfunding was the beginning of the end, and Valve's made it clear that their priorities are pushing elsewhere. Which is fine. I think.
I don't feel connected. And that connection was something that carried this for a very long time. It feels like a relationship that's kind of coasting; you aren't living together, but you're kind of just going on dates and going through the motions.
Maybe that’s a bit harsh.
I don't think I've ever been the type to formally grow out of hobbies, and I hate the line of thinking that just goes "you're older, you just stop liking things." Part of what worked for me with esports was the feeling that I was sharing the energy of these moments, and winning in a different way the competitors were. Community, passion, energy. Connection.
So without that... something's off.
I still think that The International represents a purity of spirit that might not be so easily found elsewhere. It's not a CGS-tier mistake2; it's not something I regret happened. I think it feels like we are being pushed forward without a replacement, and it's a reminder of the division between developer, professional (players, casters) and the fans that is unique to esports.
No one owns the concept of soccer. No one decides that resources for soccer are going to be wound down so that development can be focused on Soccer 2.
But then again, why am I waiting for permission? Why am I grumbling so much? Why am I sad? Why am I trying to eulogize something that might've just evolved without me, rather than with me? Away from me?
Maybe it's just okay that it's just different. I'm different now. And that's okay, too.
I’ve been using way too much Cyberpunk 2077 slang, but “corpo” is just so good.
Championship Gaming Series: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Championship_Gaming_Series