Dota 2: Regional Leagues

Valve have recently announced that, after this year’s TI10, the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) is making a change from the current Major / Minor tournament format to a Regional League / Major format, whereby these Regional Leagues help decide who gets invited to each Major. Furthermore, the year is being split up into 3 seasons, culminating as usual with The International (TI) at the end of the year.

For those of you who don’t know, TI is the daddy of all Dota tournaments, it holds the record for the largest prize pool in Esports history – not just the record, but in the top 5, TI holds all 5 spots! So TI5 (2015) has a larger prize pool than any other Esports event ever other than subsequent TI’s. This event isn’t just a big deal to Dota, this is a big deal to Esports and the world at large. So naturally, any change that affects how players get to TI is a big deal.

Largest Esports tournament prize pools as of February 2020


So what is this Regional League thing?

Well, at a glance it looks like a slimmer version of how many sports operate, certainly similar to the football (soccer) and rugby systems here in the UK. 16 teams will be split across 2 divisions (8 teams in each) with each team playing every other team once over the course of a season for a total of 28 matches per division. Each season will last 6 weeks, with 3 seasons over the course of the year; this splits the year up into quarters as the final quarter is taken by TI.

Now multiply the teams and number of matches by 6, because Valve have announced the reason behind calling them Regional Leagues: every Region gets a League (with 2 divisions).

You may notice that Africa doesn’t feature on this Region list, and that’s simply because there have been very few attempts to create teams or organise tournaments in the Africa region, they are by far the smallest group within the community and have the quietest servers, so it’s simply a numbers game on Valve’s part.

The 6 regions are:

  • Europe
  • CIS
  • China
  • South East Asia
  • North America
  • South America

So how do these Leagues work?

There’s still a few specifics to be hashed out, but we can safely assume League standings will be done on a win/loss ratio (there’s no such thing as a draw in Dota), with top teams receiving more prize money, DPC points (used to calculate invites to TI), and invites to the end of season Major. Furthermore, the bottom two teams of the Upper Division swap with the top two teams of the Lower Division for the next season, and the bottom two teams of the Lower Division get replaced entirely (through an Open Qualifier, which isn’t important for this discussion). There is a question of how tiebreaks will be done, but my assumption would be to look at the matchup between the tied teams; since there’s no such things as a draw in Dota, you can see which team won when the tied teams played each other, and use that as a tiebreaker. This breaks down slightly when 3 or more teams are tied, but in similar position previously additional matches have been played when the head-to-head matchups don’t break the tie.

Around a month after the Leagues have concluded, the Major for that season takes place. These offer a significantly higher prize pool than the Leagues (though teams have to place fairly highly to make their earnings significantly higher) and more DPC points in total, though the distribution of those points is more even than in the League. The idea here seems to be to reward consistent play throughout the season/year in the Leagues with consistent prizes and invites to Majors, but encourage the best play at the Majors (and TI) with inflated prizes at the top end.

Right, and Majors…?

Majors have been part of the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) for a number of years now, so this is a tried and tested format which generates excitement in the community and brings out some of the best play from the participating teams. I won’t go into too much detail as we can assume that the overall format of these isn’t going to change too much, but it is interesting that the higher you finish in the League for that season the further your starting position in the Major.

For a little context, most Majors start with a brief group stage (usually a small round robin) with the bottom teams getting eliminated, top teams advancing to an upper bracket, and middling teams advancing to a lower bracket.

For a little context, most Majors start with a brief group stage (usually a small round robin) with the bottom teams getting eliminated, top teams advancing to an upper bracket, and middling teams advancing to a lower bracket. This then proceeds in the normal tournament bracket style, except in Dota there is no advantage for upper bracket winners; they play fewer games and get more time to watch their opponents, so perhaps that’s advantage enough.

This is one of the least controversial things in Dota tournaments, as most players believe if they are truly the better team that advantage shouldn’t matter, that and playing fewer games and being less tired is probably enough of an advantage at that stage.

If you don’t know what upper bracket and lower bracket means, I’d suggest looking up a tournament format. It essentially means if you lose a match in the upper bracket you get knocked down to the lower bracket, and if you lose a match in the lower bracket you are eliminated from the tournament. It’s a traditional knockout setup with a safety net.

Why have Valve made this change?

A few reasons, the most public of which is to help garner the Tier 2 and Tier 3 scenes in Dota. At the moment, most Majors consist of the same teams playing almost every time, and usually the same few teams winning them too. While this might take a little while to bear fruit, the idea is that by providing a consistent space for many teams to play against each other and get paid for it (reasonably consistently), this should increase the budding teams exposure to high-skill play, bring the quality of matches up overall, and eventually create a more competitive environment within the Leagues with more consistent high-skill matchups.

Tier 2 and Tier 3 teams are essentially the B and C grade students of Dota 2 teams, they’re still good, but they struggle to compete with the A grade (Tier 1) teams.

At the moment the only way for Tier 2/3 teams to get exposure to this is to go through the daunting road of the Qualifiers – Minor – Major, and these don’t come around all that often. Having a minimum of 21 professional games a year may not sound like a lot, but it’s a heck of a lot more if you’re not one of the lucky few Tier 2/3 teams that doesn’t get eliminated very early in the current system.

The second major purpose of this is to provide a more consistent viewing experience. At the moment professional Dota comes in concentrated batches, this year there will be 5 Majors – which sounds like more, but given the Major and associated Minor take a week each, that’s only 10 weeks of professional Dota throughout the year. (12 weeks including TI, but that isn’t changing.) With the new format, the Leagues alone bring 18 weeks of professional Dota (3 seasons x 6 weeks) with the added benefit of having consistent timeslots, as scheduled by Valve, every week. Previous viewing really depended on what time zone the tournaments were being held in, and whilst Valve tried to spread the Majors around regions as best as it could, that still means around half of those 5 Majors are going to be in a really poor time zone for any individual. Whilst you could still catch a VOD later, as fans of any sport will tell you, it’s just not the same as watching it live. So providing a consistent schedule every week massively improves the viewing experience, you might not be able to catch every game, you won’t always be able to watch your favourite team, but you’ll almost always be able to watch some professional Dota, and you’ll know exactly when it will be available to watch live.

The final (and least talked about) significant aspect of this change, is that it’s intended to help the players. Players often talk about burnout in the Dota scene, having to bounce from tournament to tournament to maintain their income and practice, most tournaments being held as LAN tournaments involves a lot of travelling, particularly if you have to go to several back to back (for example, Minor / Major combinations). This is something Valve have tried to tackle with several iterations of the DPC: increasing their own involvement to spread out the DPC points; decreasing it again so there are fewer “essential” tournaments for teams trying to make it to TI; changing how they interact with third party tournaments; changing how invites to TI are calculated… etc. In the relatively short time the scene has been active, there have been a lot of changes.

LAN tournaments are held offline on location, i.e. every team/player being present at the venue, Online tournaments are held on an official server and players can join from essentially wherever (e.g. their homes or team practice venue).

Having a 6-week period in which you know you only have to play 1 or 2 games per week, and you can play them online rather than at the venue, on paper seems a lot less stressful for players. They still have to go to Majors but with a decent lead-up time to them, and knowing whether they’ll be attending about a month in advance, this should reduce the strain around Majors too. The biggest question comes from how they handle third party tournaments. At the moment all Valve have announced is the dates for the League Seasons and subsequent Majors and that no third party events should take place during those periods. That still opens a window for third party events – which is good from a community perspective, some third party tournaments have been the most fun events on the Dota calendar – but it also means there’s much less time to fit all these third party events in.

This could lead to increased player burnout depending on how well these tournaments are organised and how many of them teams need/want to go to, but it could also lead to a decline in third party events if top tier teams choose not to go to them, or there’s simply not enough time to fit them all in. Announcing the dates third party events can be held in well in advance is a big boon, and hopefully Valve have assessed the amount and popularity of these events and there will be enough teams and excitement to go around, but only time will tell.

Are these changes good?

Therein lies the crux of the matter. In short, it’s too early to tell. Valve have made changes to the DPC system every year since its inception, and every time it’s a little better than the last but not perfect. I expect it will be the same here, this year it’s a much bigger change going from the usual tournament (Major) focussed season to a League focussed season with Majors, so there will likely be more kinks to work out than usual. Valve won’t have made this decision rashly, this has clearly been thought through extensively, and their decision to announce it over 6 months before it comes into effect is very smart on their part; it gives everyone plenty of time to review the system, prepare for it, and voice any concerns they have. It wouldn’t surprise me if we saw some minor tweaks to the system before it even goes live, though I expect it will only be number tweaks and the core concepts I’ve talked about here will stay intact.

Personally, I’m excited for these changes. One of my favourite times to watch Dota was before the DPC system was invented and third parties ran League style events over the course of several months. Whilst they weren’t consistent, there would be a couple of official matches played most days – not always teams you’d heard of, but very few were back in those days. This feels like Dota going back to its roots a little bit, Valve knows high-stakes tournaments are great for viewership and publicity, but they don’t provide the accessibility that creates the longevity of traditional sports. They know the game won’t last forever, but by providing a consistent schedule they’re hoping to ensure the survival of the game, at least as a spectator sport, for as long as possible.


Published by captainlekko

A young man looking for a career change, wondering if this part-time writing hobby could become something more.

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