$18 million prize pool: The biggest tournament you've probably never heard of

SEATTLE -- When you think of video games, what first comes to mind? If you’re like me, it was sitting on the couch as a kid, playing Super Mario Bros. and eating Lucky Charms until being told to run outside. (True story: we didn’t have Nintendo so I would just desperately try to convince my friends to let me play at their house. I was still just awful at it. Sorry, Mario.)

This is NOT that kind of video game. DOTA 2 is a game that brought 16 teams to Seattle over the weekend to compete for a total of over $18 million; it’s a game that brought thousands of people to Seattle’s KeyArena to watch them play it live; and it’s a game that brought hundreds of thousands more, if not millions, to the live stream of the event.

DOTA 2 is a video game by Valve Corporation (based in Bellevue, WA), played on the computer, between two teams of five. To super-simplify what is actually a very complicated game, each team works together on the DOTA map to try and knock down the tower of their opponent. However, there are many, many ways to win the game and the strategy all starts with a ‘draft’ of heroes (the characters you control in the game). So whereas I fought my friends to play Mario versus Luigi, DOTA 2 players look at a range of over 100 heroes, and as a team choose five to play based on their strategy for winning (and based on what they see their opponents draft as well).

The game is played by millions all over the world. People enjoy watching the pros play the same way those of us who casually throw a football with our friends enjoy watching the Seahawks not at all casually throw the football around.

And, boy, are the DOTA pros amazing: these are teams from China, Russia, the U.S., South Korea, and more: teams who practice hours upon hours every day; who study how opposing teams play; who take this very, very seriously as something that is forever challenging and changing. 16 of these teams made it to The International this year, the DOTA 2 grand championship now in its fifth year.

After 6 days of intense competition through brackets (think March Madness with college basketball), the U.S.-based team Evil Geniuses triumphed, winning over $6.5 million to split among the five of them. (2nd place through 6th place teams also scored over a million each, on down the line to 16th place taking home just over $55,000.)

I participated in this event for the third-year running, hosting interviews with fans and players, and trying to bridge the gap between the knowledge of in-the-know DOTA 2 experts, and casual gamers who are trying to learn more. Any of you who know me know I am terrible at video games of any kind; but let me be the first to tell you, a lack of video gaming prowess does not prevent one from appreciating and enjoying the excitement of this game and this community. I challenge anyone who has ever thought of gamers as the kind of lazy Lucky Charms eaters I once was to rediscover what gaming has truly become: a legitimate, strategy-filled ESport that combines teamwork with hard work, and rewards the players who commit to greatness. Isn’t that the same reason we love watching the Seattle Seahawks (or any sports team for that matter)? The thrill of knowing the people you are watching prepared intensively for something that they now have a lot on the line for; the emotion, the grit, the clear determination to be successful. It’s all here, in this community you may have never heard of, that actually consists of millions of people from all different countries and cultures joined together by a love of something that is challenging and engaging and downright fun to be a part of. I’m not asking you to play it, necessarily; I am asking you to take a look and perhaps consider giving gamers the respect many of them deserve.

So parents: the next time your child tells you he or she wants to be a gamer for a living, consider that the best of the best literally do exactly that. And some of them just brought home millions of dollars.

To learn more about DOTA 2, click HERE.

Thank you to the DOTA 2 community for embracing a mainstream media lady like myself!