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ESL One's Dota 2 Minor hits high notes despite Facebook fail

The $400,000 tournament held in Genting, Malaysia, saw a full house and epic battles for the top spot despite a live-streaming snag.

Aloysius Low/CNET

It was a rematch fans of the Dota 2 competitive scene had been waiting for.

The grand finals of the ESL One Genting 2018, a $400,000 (about £280,000 or AU$495,000) prize pool event held in Malaysia, saw China's Newbee take on Team Liquid over the past weekend. The epic best of five finally ended in a 3-2 victory for Newbee.

The win was a vindication of sorts for Newbee, who had previously come second to crowd favorite Team Liquid. Liquid are the champions of 2017's The International, the annual crowd-funded $20 million (and beyond) prize pool event organized by Dota 2 developer Valve.

Interest in competitive esports has been growing steadily, with tournaments estimated to drive revenues of $1.5 billion by 2020. Valve's Dota 2 often leads the pack in prize pools, though other games such as Riot's League of Legends are more popular and Blizzard's new Overwatch League has garnered plenty of interest on its own.

Tournament organizer ESL has tried to to tap into that hype by securing sponsors such as Mercedes that aren't usually known for their involvement with the gaming scene. 

Besides running ads for its cars during the tournament, Mercedes provided vehicles to chauffeur players to and from the venue from hotels. It's also offered prizes to winners of previous tournaments: The MVP (most valuable player) at ESL One Hamburg won a brand new car.

"There are a typical sponsor: They pay money for their sponsorship, and they also activate with us beyond that," said Ulrich Schulze, senior vice president of product at ESL, in an interview with CNET.

"They see the audience and I don't think the audience is as young -- they do have quite a lot of consumption power, and the average age of mid twenties is not as young as most people would think." 

The Mercedes partnership could see other lifestyle brands entering the scene, and ESL is more than ready to help its new partners figure out how to best approach gamers. A tailored ad for the venue that targeted gamers has already drawn praise on Reddit.

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While the attendance at the remote hill resort 57,000 feet above sea level was impressive and the 6,000 venue was filled to capacity during the grand final, the entire had one major snag. ESL had chosen to stream the event on Facebook instead of Twitch, the usual platform for esports streams.

The company has signed an exclusive broadcast rights deal with the social media giant to stream its games on Facebook until 2019. The move didn't go down well with Dota 2 fans, especially on the Dota 2 subreddit, the biggest community for the game.

It didn't help that the company issued DMCA notices to community streamers who broadcast the tournament themselves on Twitch without using material from ESL's broadcasts. These streamers had followed Valve's rules, which allow anyone to broadcast footage from DotaTV, but were still banned as Twitch had to comply with the DMCA requests.

With backlash growing, ESL attempted to appeal to the community with an AMA that wasn't well received by fans. Fans also complained that the Facebook stream was lagging and the lack of a clipping feature meant they couldn't share the best gameplay moments. Valve finally responded to the outcry with a statement, stating clearly that only it could issue DMCA notices.

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Despite the online backlash, on-site attendance was high thanks to players such as local Malaysian hero Chai "Mushi" Yee Fung turning up to hold fan signings. 

Aloysius Low/CNET

This more or less put the issue to rest, with community streams started popping up on Twitch, both in protest and as an alternative for the Facebook haters. Even as ESL's Facebook stream seemed to resolve some of its earlier issues, its viewer count peaked at just 50,000, a far cry from what it could have gotten on Twitch. It remains to be seen if this move will pay off, but ESL seems to think it will.

"The intial stage wasn't how it should have been and that obviously impacted how people thought about it," said Schulze. "I think what we need to do is work on everyone's feedback and make sure people don't have an experience than what they have before."

Schulze added that the company sees a lot of long term potential in Facebook, especially with two billion users worldwide, especially with the ability to connect to existing Facebook pages of teams and players as well.

If anything, ESL has plenty of tournaments ahead to figure it out. And if Facebook can implement similar features to Twitch, we could see a war of streams in the near future as Facebook takes on the Amazon-owned streaming platform.

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