A photo of the ESL One Katowice 2018 Dota 2 Major trophy on-stage

Ben ‘Noxville’ Steenhuisen on the changes the Dota 2 Pro Circuit needs

© ESL/Helena Kristiansson

The inaugural Dota 2 Pro Circuit is close to conclusion, but it hasn’t been without blips. We spoke to Ben ‘Noxville’ Steenhuisen about what needs to change going forward.

It seems like an age since the Dota Pro Circuit was announced, with the community delighted at some sort of method to Valve’s normal Dota 2 madness. There’s been tournaments aplenty: from epic Majors such as Dota 2 Asia Championship to low key Minors. It’s not felt like we’ve really had a week off in quite some time, and that’s set to continue until the conclusion of the DPC with the Super Major in China. The winner of the event will likely secure a spot at The International if they haven’t already made it after a long season with storylines aplenty.

As with everything new that Valve tends to introduce, it’s been far from perfect and there’s arguably a lot to be improved with the Pro circuit itself. We spoke to the master of Dota 2 statistics, Ben ‘Noxville’ Steenhuisen about what’s gone wrong this year, his thoughts on the ideal tournament format and what needs to be changed to create the perfect ecosystem moving forward into 2019 – and beyond.

It's safe to say you've been a vocal critic of a lot of the tournament formats around. Starting on a positive, what's been the best tournament this season format-wise and why?

Having reasonable formats is really important for the competitive integrity of the season. To see an event with an intentionally poor format just feels like event organisers genuinely disregarding the highly-skilled esports players who want to show off their their skills and place well in a competitive event. Often it's frustrating seeing events have the time and means to do a good format but sabotage themselves by making somewhat baffling deviations from the time that they have.

From the season thus far, two tournaments really stand out I think. The first is MDL Changsha which will have a decent best of two round robin (with two groups) group stage and it will filter well into a well-tiered double elimination bracket. I think it’s a very solid event format that rewards group play well, but doesn't eliminate too many too soon. The Dota Asia Championship format was slightly better statistically, but unfortunately had poor tiebreaker rules and this led to loads of additional games. With better tiebreaker rules I'd have taken DAC format over MDL.

And what's been the worst? Is that format considered the worse as it's likely to bring out the least statistically optimal outcome?

Captain's Draft has had the worst event in terms of tournament quality. It was a minor, it tried to give diverse matchups (and did) and it was highly enjoyable to watch. That said, it had a very low chance of the top teams making it far – so was inherently random.

On a side note, I think that Captain's Draft should be a bit more widespread as a game format next Dota Pro Circuit season, but be given a bit more love and balance too. It's vitally important that this be announced before the season starts. The draft format really rewards innovative drafts and hero diversity, so that’s great.

Do you think there should be some sort of Valve regulation on tournament formats? The fact that some teams can fly across half the world only to play two matches and then be knocked out seems a little harsh?

I think that Minors and Majors have different expectations and should have different regulations. Majors have way more points up for grabs and should have some regulations on key things such as group stage formats, minimum numbers of series and minimum number of days in the arena or venue. I think the Minors have been totally fine this season, but maybe we could have some basic principles on format and matches. The basic premise of the DPC has been that the points on offer should be proportional to the prize money, but I think this is way too simplistic. At the end of the day, there are lots of other factors which differentiate events and these should be accounted for.

How do you feel the DPC has been run all season – has it been an overall net positive for the Dota community?

I think it's been okay for its first iteration, but perhaps we've been lucky. There are a couple of key areas that need some addressing. The first I would say is player swapping. This only really affected Natus Vincere, with Ilya ‘Lil’ Ilyuk coming in and boosting their points – but this definitely needs better regulation. Whilst it’s abundantly clear that Valve will not go the full Riot or Overwatch League approach in terms of monitoring and regulation, there definitely needs to be improvement to keep the system fair. I think if it remained the way it is at the moment, we’ll see widespread abuse in the future.

We also definitely need more verbose and clear rules. Some of the rules were only made or clarified after the roster lock deadline, which is inherently unfair. These need to be done up front. I also think part of this is a better and more clear character of key events and timings through the season.

What are your thoughts around direct invites and the like? They also seem to be surrounded by ambiguity.

Direct invites need to be more clear and transparent. Too much of the season is determined by the nature of which teams are popular. This is inherently anti-competitive behaviour. Teams that are ineligible for The International shouldn’t be able to be directly invited to events, and maybe even barred entirely from the Super Major that we have at the end of the calendar.

I also think every event should have open qualifiers. Having a four team closed regional qualifier allows for abuse and unfairness. The open qualifiers can remain mostly single elimination, but I do think the regional qualifiers need to be executed in general.

There also probably needs to be improvement with scheduling of qualifiers. We’ve had some drama related to it throughout the season, but organisers generally try their best to keep fair and reasonable but have fallen short at times. Perhaps if the next DPC is slightly less packed, it’ll be better, or if event organisers learn from the past and make their tiered invites more helpful to teams that are at the events, so qualifiers can begin when ongoing events finish off, we could see improvements.

What are the Noxville magic remedies to make the DPC fabulous for next year?

I definitely think it’s worth experimenting on some different ideas next year, and naturally I’ve thought up a few zany ones. The first is a pair of East and West events next season. That means an eight team Minor event for North America, South America and Europe and then a eight team Minor event for CIS, China and Southeast Asia. These could happen on the same weekend as they would be at totally different time zones, or alternatively on consecutive weekends. If the scheduling is good – it could give teams a bit of a break during the otherwise hectic event cycle between two Majors.

Since both events are Minors, it won’t skew the regional points too much. In fact, it’s definitely less skewed than the current regional invites are. Being closer to home, having under ten hours of travel and not crossing five time zones is really important as teams are feeling super burnt out during the constant travel. The South American teams often have to travel for 30 hours to events. It also reduces the cost for flights for event organisers. I think having a pair of these events after a Major would be great for a break, perhaps after DAC 2019.

My second idea is that winners of Minors should get slots to the next cycle of Majors. Majors have to have 16 teams next cycle, so having two to three of the direct invites given to Minor winners seems really cool. I think we should see more of a cycle in the DPC next season – a series of Minors, and then a Major, repeated four or five times for the year and then rounded off with the Super Major.

The most daring idea I have is doing a true Super Major, with 24 teams as the season finale before The International. It would have a proper six round best-of-three Swiss format with a break to a top eight double elimination main event. 18 of the teams can come from qualifiers, and the rest would be recent Minor and Major winners. The winner should receive a direct invite to TI, and points beyond that should be allocated as they currently are, but without the 1.5 times multiplier. That way TI can stay with 18 teams. It would have the Super Major winner, eight DPC winners, six regional winners and three wildcards. At the moment I feel it’s a shame that for the current Super Major, many of the regional spots are blocked by teams ineligible for a TI invite.

It looks like we’ll have to wait and see if Valve take notice of Noxville’s ideas, and if they’ll be implemented into the DPC next year – keep your eyes peeled, as you can bet that Valve will be shaking things up soon.