The Dota 2 world is still reeling from the most recent roster shuffle in ways that could not have been predicted two months ago. One of the most fascinating aspects of how the shuffle worked is the new wave of European imports brought in by Digital Chaos.
To spectators of other esports, the concept doesn’t seem new at all. In League of Legends, every team competing in the North American League Championship Series spring split had at least one player on the roster who was imported from another continent. Two teams, Renegades and NRG, have rosters with strong Korean influences. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive fans saw the impact of Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev at the recent major. He was imported from Ukraine by Team Liquid, though it was controversial and certainly not a trend in North American Counter-Strike.
So Digital Chaos fielding four European players is intriguing, even if it’s not necessarily new in Dota 2. In 2014, Cloud9’s team had two North American players and three Europeans, leading community members to wonder what made a team part of a specific region. The answer is simple, if inelegant. The region you live and play in is the one you represent, according to Valve. So yes, Digital Chaos is a North American team. All of its members now live in their team house in Arizona — another concept from other esports starting to pop up in Dota 2 – and play their games primarily on North American servers.
The question is not if Digital Chaos is an American team – it is – but rather what the move means for North American Dota as a whole. Ryan “Gorgon” Jurado wrote a good article about the potential positives of importing European players to play in North American leagues and qualifiers. Adding scrimmage partners and providing a higher level of competition is important to the long-term growth of Dota 2 in North America, which has historically been one of the weakest regions in the world. Evil Geniuses’ recent dominance has boosted the perception of North American Dota around the world. Still, the fact remains that aside from EG, North American teams haven’t been able to go the distance in international competition.
CompLexity is making a serious bid to claim the title of “top two in North America” with the help of three Swedish imports. If Digital Chaos can topple the aspiring princes at coL and hold its own at international events, the base level of team skill in North America would rise.
One possible outcome of Digital Chaos’ rise is that North American organizations might start to import foreigners to bolster the strength of their roster, like what is now common in professional League of Legends teams. In American esports, sponsor money is more available, but the results don’t match expectations in Dota because other American rosters can’t beat Evil Geniuses. Simply importing players would be an easy fix, while also proving satisfactory to foreign players who want to win but maybe can’t find the right formula at home. With enough money, an organization can set up a team house and pay the salaries of four, or even five high-skilled foreigners in order to gain easier access to qualifier spots at big events that are highly contested in Europe and elsewhere.
The opposite is also possible. Having European players move to the United States to play Dota against what are perceived to be weaker opponents does not always guarantee victory. Consider the case of Mousesports, which signed Team Tinker – three star European players and two Americans – and funded a team house in Canada to play in the North American qualifiers for The International 2015. The team was expected to win the regional qualifiers and move on to the main event. And then it didn’t. Mousesports was eliminated by North American Rejects, the dark horse team of the event later defeated by compLexity in a shocking turn of events.
The critical error that some armchair captains and analysts make when discussing the upcoming dominance of European players in North America is assuming that North American players are simply less talented than Europeans, don’t have the same hunger, fire, or whatever buzzword you want to use to describe competitive drive. The truth is that compLexity might have three Swedes on their roster, but the team is elevated by North American brothers Kyle and Zakari Freedman, who have worked countless hours to achieve the spot they have on the international stage.
And it might be convenient to say that the rest of North America will be a pushover when Digital Chaos steps up to the plate, but the truth is that DC will have to fight tooth and nail for its wins, making itself and its opponents stronger in the process. The introduction of European talent won’t kill North American Dota, it will only make the teams stronger in the process and raise the overall quality of Dota being played.