The Shanghai Major has quickly gone from being one of the most exciting events in eSports to one of its biggest disasters. Concerns for player safety, poor living conditions, compromised play and a bad viewer experience has turned a jewel in Valve's crown into a piece of coal. There is no excuse for it.
The normally standoff-ish Valve made unprecedented moves last week by publicly firing the host of the tournament, James "2GD" Harding after he opened the English broadcast by using the word "cunts," and making an awkward and inappropriate joke about masturbation during the stream. In addition, Valve boss Gabe Newell announced that production team KeyTV responsible for the English broadcast would be fired and replaced. It was a much-needed and welcome sign of a more hands-on approach from Valve to make Dota more professional, but this was just the tip of the iceberg.
Main event play began on Tuesday and immediately more problems presented themselves. Players complained about sound-proof booths being not-so-soundproof, which could compromise competition. Reported laundry bills for team facilities are in excess of $500 a day, and there is no access to private WiFi -- with players relying on shared, potentially unsecure connections.
What is going on right now?
We should have had a full day of Dota and Team Spirit vs. compLexity was set to take place this morning, but this happened.
Game is delayed.— Team Spirit (@Team__Spirit) March 2, 2016
The Shanghai Major's staff has lost Ramzes666's keyboard...
The event has not only been delayed, but came to a grinding to a halt over the lost keyboard. It might seem silly, but it's about the balance of play. Things like this happen, but never at this level.
Seems there will be no more games played before the crowd tonight. Fans have to leave at 10 pm and Ramzes keyboard won't be here in time.— David Gorman (@LDdota) March 2, 2016
The entire 31,000 seat stadium is empty. The crowd is locked out because the event is continuing after 10 p.m. local time. It's stark, silent and casters are audibly echoing through the empty arena. It's surreal.
The new English casting team is doing its best to keep things together and professional, but the sheer amount of bizarre things happening are causing them to crack. Random laughing, poking fun at the grand entrance of the teams in front of nobody. This just shouldn't happen.
How did it come to this?
The Dota major system was announced at the tail-end of 2015 as a way to bridge the gap between small, third-party competitions and The International in August. It had the potential to codify professional Dota in a way we haven't seen before and the first major, held in Frankfurt was a wild success. Shanghai was announced as the second major city to much fanfare and the potential of this being one of the biggest eSports events ever.
ESL presented the Frankfurt major and it went off without a hitch. Play was unexpected, players were comfortable, crowds were raucous and loud. It was everything we wanted the major system to be. The Shanghai event, presented by Perfect World is a complete departure from the success we saw in late 2015.
It's hard to know where the blame lies and there will likely be plenty of finger pointing once the Shanghai Major is over. In fact, it's likely that we will never truly find out. However, viewers have a right to be upset with the product being broadcast. Audio quality has been poor thus far, players are obviously unhappy and currently tweets and videos are emerging that present the Shanghai Major as its own Sochi Olympics.
The VIP room! pic.twitter.com/4f8wcodpSz— David Gorman (@LDdota) March 2, 2016
It's easy to dismiss videos like this and the accompanying snark as spoiled Americans upset at their less-than-ideal conditions, but unlike the Olympic games this isn't a country relying on tax dollars and loans to put on an event. Valve is a multi-billion corporation hosting a single tournament with a $3 million prize pool, much of which was paid for by the public. In short: There is no excuse for it to be this bad.
The worst part: It might be even more terrible than we know, but Chinese firewalls are blocking much of the criticism trying to be posted.
hope you guys enjoyed the cast, big shitshow here, would be tweeting more but china firewall, still had an awesome time casting w/ @LDdota— David GoDz Parker (@BTSGoDz) March 2, 2016
What happens next?
At this point it's hard to know how Valve can salvage the Shanghai Major. We're too deep into competition and no amount of firings will turn this around. The fallout from the event is where we'll get more answers. This event is clearly a debacle and the biggest shame would be a knee-jerk reaction that pulled a Dota major from China solely because of one terribly ran event.
This is not a Chinese problem, it's a production problem. Valve's biggest competitor, Riot has been putting on large-scale successful tournaments for years -- all produced in-house. If Valve is serious about taking Dota to the next level then they need to stop relying on outside companies, put everything under their considerably large umbrella and give their majors the same concern as The International. Fans deserve it, players deserve it and casters deserve it. This embarrassment can't happen again.