After nearly seven years on the market, Dota 2’s esports landscape is still rich enough for new competition runners to shake up the format. Case in point: BLAST Bounty Hunter, which mixed prize money poaching and in-match quests to stand out in an already sizable calendar. The Danish company behind the tournament is now weighing its options as a seasoned Dota 2 organizer.
“We might have been run out of the city with pitchforks and not come back, but so far the community is not doing that,” BLAST director of product and experience Nicolas Estrup told The Esports Observer.
Since BLAST began in late 2017, the company has been eager to look beyond Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but was limited by a staff of around 30 (now 50). The company is wrapping up the finals of its first BLAST Premier Spring finals this weekend.
“What we really enjoyed about Counter-Strike was the ease of working with the game,” said Estrup, citing its open source build, which allows for vast data to be mined during a live match. For a company that isn’t also the developer of the game, this is useful for helping the commentators tell stories, or for elevating the viewing experience.
Out of the more popular esports, Dota 2 is also largely considered one of the hardest for newcomers. “Any sane company is looking for a place to make money, but also from a solely selfish product point of view, finding a game that is really hard to make entertaining for new viewers,” he added.
“The learning curve is Mount Everest, and we want to try and build the best climbing gear so the viewers can get to the top fast enough.”
BLAST’s entry into Dota 2 mimicked its CS:GO debut. The original BLAST Pro Series provided audience members with multi-channel headphones to switch between live group stage matches, while BLAST Bounty Hunt gave each competitor a starting prize pool that they could snatch from one another with every victory.
“It was quickly clear that we shouldn’t try to be too abstract in the offering that we made, but we also wanted to make sure that it was very different to your average competitive tournament,” said Estrup.
The format was partly inspired by the Dota 2 mod, Minus Mode. Created by MoonDuck.tv in 2017, it involves the accruing and utilization of a special currency known as Moon Bucks, putting special twists on the traditional Dota 2 gameplay. Bounty Hunt’s title also refers to a fan vote system, where audiences choose a “Bounty Hunter,” and earn rewards based on their achievements.
Estrup explained that the format deviation was partly due to the all-consuming nature of The International (TI)—an annual tournament that boasts an eight-figure prize pool, which has been postponed to 2021 (at least) in light of the current pandemic.
Valve, the publisher of Dota 2, is attempting to add greater weight to non-TI events by changing the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) from an international tournament circuit to a set of regional leagues. The challenge comes in finding organizers willing to commit to such cumbersome competitions.
Estrup did not hint either way on whether BLAST was after one of the leagues, but he does believe his company can help spread the wealth out; so it isn’t just that one pivotal event per year taking all the focus.
“Back to the mountain analogy, there needs to be a peak, and that peak cannot happen every single month,” he said. “The more developers understand that and enable TOs to create better storylines and build-ups, the better.”
Even compared to other esports, Dota 2 is extremely top-heavy, with few avenues for new talent to develop and find their way to the professional scene. For a company like BLAST, Estrup said it wouldn’t make sense to build grassroots systems around the world, and burn through its funding—€12.5M ($13.5M USD) in its most recent round—unless the development leagues were partly government-funded.
For its pro leagues, BLAST has high demand when it comes to value creation on the team side. “That is probably the biggest challenge any TO and team setup faces,” said Estrup, noting that in all of esports, it’s always been skewed towards the player. “If you tell anyone outside of esports ‘the player gets this much in salary, and they take all the prize money’ they’re going to fall off their chairs. They don’t believe it.
“Our aim is to make money down the line, but we’re spending a lot of money to enable teams to compete and fans to enjoy,” he said. “I hope nobody sees us as a bank, because that’s the last thing we are!”