This is not to say that I think everything ESL did was right, but it’s understandable that they wanted to stop people like AdmiralBulldog or BananaSlamJamma from broadcasting matches live to 20k or so people on Twitch while Facebook streams were showing viewership numbers between several hundred to a couple thousand. People seem to rage against the idea that a company exists to make money, but if we want Dota 2 tournaments, those organizers need to make a profit to stay in business.
ESL’s move makes even more sense when considering Valve’s statement from a blog titled “Broadcasting Dota 2” posted in October of last year.
“To that end, in addition to the official, fully-produced streams from the tournament organizer itself, we believe that anyone should be able to broadcast a match from DotaTV for their audience. However, we don’t think they should do so in a commercial manner or in a way that directly competes with the tournament organizer’s stream. This means no advertising/branding overlays, and no sponsorships.”
For a bit of background, Valve made the post after a pair of incidents between GranDdGrant and DotaPit, then AdmiralBulldog and StarLadder. Both had been broadcasting qualifier matches from those events and were asked to stop by organizers.
The situation sparked plenty of discussion and led to Valve’s uncharacteristically lengthy response, but, despite the length, it still didn’t serve as a concrete answer to what is and isn’t allowed. Most of the post was spent explaining that “the community should have broad license in terms of what is allowed.”
When you consider this Valve dream of allowing community members “broad license” alongside the later section we’ve copied in full above, things get properly confusing.
The crux of the issues that arose from this statement were centralized around what Valve said people shouldn’t do – that is, directly compete with a tournament organizer’s stream and broadcast a tournament in a commercial manner.
If someone is broadcasting Dota matches to a much larger audience than what the official tournament stream has, it’s no stretch of the imagination to say that they’re directly competing.
Valve attempted to explain what they meant by commercial, saying that a broadcaster must have no advertising, branding overlays or sponsorships. In the specific examples of streamers like BSJ or Bulldog, they are each sponsored by a professional team – compLexity Gaming and Alliance respectively. Even if they turned off all ads, removed all overlays and took out the various ad buttons on their channel, broadcasting the matches is a benefit to their channel, which has the potential to increase their stream-related income in the long term.
A few of the advertisements displayed on AdmiralBulldog's Twitch channel (screenshot taken Feb 1, 2018)
If you need an overview of what happened next, you can check out our news articles on the situation starting with coverage of several streamers being banned, then Valve’s statement.
Neither the behaviour of ESL nor the Dota 2 community were perfect over the course of those few days, but a large part of the drama could have been avoided if there was more clarity from Valve. Their second statement may have been meant to explain their stance, but gave very little in terms of answers, instead opting to essentially say “we have the final say.”
If Valve were actively involved in the community, this statement might be a source of some comfort to both streamers and tournament organizers who could both feel like their interests are being protected. Unfortunately, the idea of Valve keeping a close eye on which streams are and are not infringing on an official tournament streams and then cracking down on those breaking the rules seems very unlikely.
A position like Valve’s which is meant to encourage members of the community to create new and wonderful ways to celebrate the game we all love is an admirable one, but we need to acknowledge the other side of the coin.
If we want Dota 2 esports to thrive, to allow more people to make a living from playing, working with a team, organizing tournaments and even writing articles like this; then allowing tournament organizers to turn a decent profit must be a part of that.
If Valve continue to only step in when things catch fire and provide so few guidelines, we'll continue to run into issues like this one.
Header photo: Valve