Chinese Dota 2 tournament problems go beyond Major

UPDATE: As this story was being published, one of the players from Summer’s Rift tweeted he had been paid by WCA. We will update with further information about Mark “Tralf” Seidl, who was quoted in this story.

UPDATE (8 a.m. Thursday): Tralf tells Slingshot that he’s been paid by WCA but not the correct amount.

Although the Shanghai Major received heavy criticism, it wasn’t the first Chinese Dota 2 tournament to experience major problems.

The World Cyber Arena 2015 took place in Yinchaun, China, in December and included extensive technical and production issues and uproar from players and spectators. At least part of the mess started in qualifying.

Summer’s Rift won the America Pro qualifier last June, earning a spot in the WCA main event and $50,000. Nine months later, former player Mark “Tralf” Seidl tells Slingshot he still hasn’t received any money.

“This is definitely the longest I have been unpaid by a tournament organizer,” Tralf said.

Over the last six months, Tralf said he exchanged several emails with WCA. Going by the last response he received, the prize money was promised to be paid out by January. The communication between WCA and Tralf had stopped by the start of the year, Tralf said, and the organizers haven’t responded to his last six emails.

The WCA’s logistics were also flawed. First, the main event was held so long after qualifiers that four teams — including Summer’s Rift — had disbanded in between qualifying and the main event. That prompted a handful of late additions to the tournament — which Alliance won — to fill the spots of the folded teams.

More problems were mentioned during a roundtable video with people who attended the event, including scheduling delays, no heat at the venue and prize money/travel reimbursements being owed to teams. (Requests for comment to WCA and Alliance went unanswered. A representative from Leviathan, a recently-disbanded team that also attended the WCA tournament, declined comment).

Cheer into despair

Despite WCA’s issues, the Shanghai Major was welcomed with optimism. The next big event in China was to be hosted by Valve, maker of the game, so there was hope for an echo of the Frankfurt Major in terms of production value.

Yet the long-anticipated major had problems from the start. The English stream, handled by KeyTV, had early troubles.

“KeyTV were failing at the most basic things,” said Jonathan “PimpmuckL” Liebig, producer for Dota 2 broadcasting company MoonduckTV. “Low-clipping audio, badly-configured mics, heavily-misconfigured placement, really bad sound mix. Game sounds (were) too loud compared to casters.”

Although broadcast issues are sometimes unexpected, PimpmuckL added they can be avoided by having a backup solution.

“Even with a small bit of amateur experience these can be dealt with to the extent that the second day usually is issue-free,” he said. “Every bit of hardware requires knowledge how to operate it. That being said, if I can do it from my amateur background, then professionals should be able to easily do it.”

KeyTV was let go mid-tournament, yet the headaches persisted well into the playoffs and were not limited to simple stream delays or clipping audio.

“There were a lot of infrastructure problems,” said Kyle “Beef” Bautista, general manager of compLexity Gaming, one of the participating teams. “Audio issues with the gear, poorly-ventilated and hot booths, teams playing in the same room during the group stage.”

Beef told Slingshot the venue itself was also problematic. He said the players had no privacy and were forced to watch the games in the public area, swarmed by fans.

“The staff was limited to the ground floor,” Beef said. “Some of the translators couldn’t even get badges so we would have to sneak them in.”

There was a constant language barrier. Helen “XiiTuzi” Xu, a freelance translator hired for the event, said the production crew was all Chinese natives, but the talents were English speakers. The two sides needed a translation to relay messages that simply didn’t happen.

A troubling trend

Of three recent tournaments to take place in China, only January’s MarsTV Dota 2 League LAN finals proceeded without widespread complaints. Beef, whose compLexity Gaming squad also attended MDL, rated that event a 6 out of 10. (The event manager for the MarsTV Dota 2 League declined comment).

“MDL certainly had its own issues,” Beef said. “Less on the production and infrastructure side and more on the administrative and scheduling side. The only issue outside of that was that the practice rooms were insanely hot most of the time and the table height in the booths was abnormally high. Like, really high. The admin and scheduling issues were solved.”

The Nanyang Championships took place in Singapore in October but were organized by KeyTV. That tournament was scrutinized for its technical problems.

The WCA’s payment delays are an unrelated issue, but the recent problems of tournaments in that area are still alarming. They have undoubtedly had a negative effect on the game.

PimpmuckL expressed that regarding production value, Dota has been left behind by Counter-Strike and League of Legends.

“And while that’s okay and understandable, the whole notion that so many tournaments are that bad in Dota is really, really bad for the image of the scene,” he said.

For him, the reasons behind poor production quality lie within China itself. He said the country has problems with nepotism, and getting jobs at these tournaments is more about connections than producing the best overall product.

XiiTuzi said there are exceptions, but she echoed PimpmuckL’s sentiment.

“Connection is important anywhere in the world, but it’s extremely common in China to let a friend have a deal just because you’re buddies,” she said, adding further that China’s production problems might stem from poor priorities. “Often I see Chinese organizers stressing over which showgirl should appear on stage when PCs aren’t working properly for players.”

As for what could be improved on in the future, XiiTuzi suggested it’s mostly the mindset of the organizers that needs to change.

“I think they need to prioritize player and viewer experience,” she said. “Have solid plans for basic flow and backup plans if there were to be problems.”

Requests for comment to ImbaTV also went unanswered.