Valve's MOBA game Dota 2 may be free to play, but it looks like they will be charging you to watch high end competitive tournament play.
In a blog post today, the Dota 2 team announced the first of many upcoming features designed to "improve Dota's support for high end competitive play". The first feature, aimed at connecting tournament organizers and professional players to their fans, will be a Tournament view in the game client.
Unlike many competitive games which provide free streams to their tournaments, supported by advertising, it looks like Dota 2 will be charging players to tune in to their tournaments. In the game client you will find current and past tournaments, and "choose which ones you think are worth paying to watch". For the ones purchased, you will see a breakdown of the tournament's matches and watch them immediately from your game client. Your money spent will be shared with the organizers of the tournament.
Valve will be testing this new feature with The Defense, and if successful, will being rolling it out to all tournaments.
"This won’t be the end of our features for tournaments, or players, but we think it’s the right first step – helping tournaments become more financially stable helps all the players participating in them," they wrote.
"Our goal here isn’t to replace web-based streams – we think those are fantastic, and we’ll continue to do the best we can to support them. Some customers will always prefer to use their web browser to watch matches. But we think there are some customers who’d like to invest in a higher fidelity, richer experience that they have more control over, and we hope to be able to provide that with the in-game Tournament view," the Dota 2 team defended in the post. "We also believe that external companies providing financial support for tournaments is a crucial component to the competitive scene, and we have several ideas for how to provide them with features that will work in both the Tournament view and web-based streams."
It's an interesting concept, but risky when you consider the fact that Dota 2's biggest competitor, League of Legends, provides free streams to those who wish to tune in to tournament play. Not only does League of Legends provide free livestreams for tournaments, but a recent update has added a Spectator Mode to the game which allows players to watch friends or high elo games in the game client, as well. This in-game spectate feature also irked some professionals who rely on their personal streams for revenue, but Riot has defended the option for a in-game spectate mode with the fact that individual streams still allow for more personalization with the professionals. You can hear their commentary and thoughts, while spectating in-game doesn't allow for any of that (though you do get a ton of other neat features).
I've reached out to Valve and the Dota 2 team for further clarification on the reasoning behind charging for tournament streams. It certainly doesn't seem to be a smart way to increase viewership.