Last year, Dota 2 set a remarkable record of $18,429,613 with the prize pool for its biggest annual tournament, The International. This year, Valve’s team-based battle game has done even better, surpassing its previous mark with two weeks to go before the 2016 main event kicks off at the KeyArena in Seattle.
Valve adopts a unique crowdfunding approach to raise funds for its marquee competition. The company provides $1.6 million of its own money each year to get the ball rolling, which it then augments with sales of in-game perks, quests, and cosmetics to fans and players of the game. Dota’s consistently rising prize pools are thus just an expression of its enduring and growing popularity. In 2016, Valve has stepped up the sophistication of its enticements for players to buy so-called Battle Passes and Compendiums, staging strategically timed weekend sales and setting stretch goals that tempt people into buying more levels to unlock more cool loot. There’s even a special prize for surpassing the now-defeated 2015 record: every Battle Pass owner will now receive three treasure chests with a random item of high in-game worth.
The International 6 is now officially set to be the most lucrative e-sports tournament yet. Over the past 12 months, Valve has augmented The International with four $3 million tournaments, dubbed The Dota Major Championships, which in total makes Dota the most cash-rich e-sport by quite a margin. Riot Games’ League of Legends enjoys a vastly larger player base, however its funding and competition coordination scheme is quite different, with Riot running a full annual schedule of competitions versus Valve’s rarer but much larger marquee events.
Also notable in the e-sports world is the launch of Overwatch’s first major tournament, a $300,000 contest that just got started this past weekend. It’s a big deal for establishing Overwatch’s credibility as a nascent e-sport in its own right, though it also serves to illustrate just how extraordinarily successful Valve has been in raising the prize pool for The International. Now the only question left for Dota players is whether TI6 will manage to inch past the $20 million mark before their loot chasing is all done and dusted.