Beyond $20 Million: Can The International 2017 Set A New Record For Biggest Esports Prize Fund?

Written By Robert DellaFave on April 27, 2017 - Last Updated on January 22, 2018

[toc]The picture for The International 2017 is rapidly coming into focus.

In late March, Valve confirmed that the world’s largest annual Dota 2 tournament would be taking place August 7-12 at KeyArena in Seattle. That’s where it has resided for the past four years. Tickets went on sale via Ticketmaster on April 4.

With the stage set, all eyes now turn to the prize fund. Traditionally, Valve seeds $1.6 million toward the prize pool, and then raises the rest via digital compendium or Battle Pass purchases, with a portion of the proceeds added to the prize pool.

Last year, the campaign generated a record-breaking $19.17 million, vaulting the total prize pool to over $20.7 million.

Can lightning strike twice, or was The International 2016 as good as it gets?

Growth of The International slowing

From the looks of it, the prize fund potential of the The International is nearing its apex.

The International began growing in 2013, which was the first year that Valve allocated 25 percent of compendium purchases toward the prize pool. But it wasn’t until 2014 that the mechanic really caught on, with the prize pool climbing a staggering 280 percent to $10.9 million.

2015 saw another large jump, up 69 percent to $18.4 million.

Last year, Valve adjusted its campaign model, replacing the Compendium, which had been a staple of the campaign from 2013 to 2015, with the Battle Pass. However, the differences between the two were somewhat nominal.

Popular features, like the Immortal Treasures and the Collector’s Cache, were carried over.

In 2016, the prize fund for The International grew by a scant 12.7 percent, representing the smallest margin of growth since Valve began adding player contributions to the prize pool.

Many variables at play

Based on historical trends, it looks as though the prize fund for The International 2017 will remain relatively flat year-on-year. If the stars fail to align, it could even be headed for a slight decline.

Still, there are a number of variables that lead us to believe The International could see modest-to-moderate growth:

  • In the lead-up to Valve’s campaign, Dota 2 will have momentum on its side, thanks to the currently running $3 million Kiev Major. The event will rank in the top 10 esports prize pools of all time.
  • The International 2016 set new benchmarks for viewership. According to TrackDota, over 5.7 million spectators watched the event across DotaTV and various streams.
  • The International is still the biggest event on the esports calendar, and not by a small margin. It’s responsible for the three biggest prize pools in esports history. The fourth biggest? The LoL 2016 World Championship, which clocked in at $5.1 million — or just over a quarter of the prize fund for last year’s International.

That being said, Dota 2 is a somewhat antiquated game, having been officially released on Steam nearly four years ago, and in the public eye for six. The product is clearly showing its age. The number of average concurrent players is significantly down over the past 12 months.

According to Steam Charts, Dota 2 averaged 548,413 players for March 2017, representing a year-on-year decline of 20 percent. The peak number of players was down nearly 300,000, from 1.248 million to 956k.

The last time Dota 2 peaked at less than one million players during a calendar month was in December 2015.

These statistics bore poorly for The International 2017’s prize pool. Campaign purchases are designed exclusively for players of the game. Put simply, there is likely a strong correlation between the number of players and the amount of Battle Pass purchases.

All this said, Dota 2 is hardly a “dead” game, with 12.7 million unique actives in the past month alone.

It may all come down to Valve

With variables working for and against The International 2017 campaign, the fate of The International 2017’s prize fund may boil down to how Valve runs its fundraising campaign.

Valve took an exceedingly aggressive approach to its 2016 campaign, surprising players with a multitude of special events, including a weekend sale that results in a major uptick in player purchases.

The Valve braintrust will probably need to keep its foot on the accelerator just to keep pace with the 2016 campaign. Should it scale back on its giveaways and special events, then a year-on-year decline becomes a much stronger possibility.

Reason being, this year’s campaign doesn’t look like it’ll be a particularly long one. In 2015, the campaign stretched nearly 100 days, compared to just 87 days in 2016 — which may explain away a portion of the less impressive growth.

At the time of this writing, there is only 108 days before The International 2017 concludes. Given that there has yet to be an announcement on when the campaign will begin, the assumption is we’re looking at a mid-May start — similar to last year.

With a tight campaign schedule, Valve better get its creative juices flowing, and fast.

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