Retrospective: Dota 2 Shanghai Major

The problems that came up during the Dota 2 Shanghai Major are best summarized by Weibo user 际部歌王_Storm:

Game delays, equipment failure. The orchestra under suspicion of being fake, and now it’s coming out that teams’ personal equipment was pulled out of their rooms for cleaning. The most upsetting thing is that all the Chinese teams lost, while showing pictures from TI2 and TI4 on the screen. If the game isn’t perfect next time, you’ve lost face for all Chinese people. @DOTA2 @PerfectWorld @EsportsHaiTao @JinghouzheDC

It all began during the Group Stage when there were broadcasting problems during the English stream of the event, leading to the unceremonious firing of host James “2GD” Harding, the production crew from KeyTV, and an end to the official English broadcast. Subsequent games were broadcast raw, leaving viewers to either watch it without casting, watch unofficial casts, or watch in a different language until Valve could get an English panel back online. Bonnie, the translator-turned-director wrote up a neat summary of what went down backstage during this meltdown, writing that there were issues with equipment, staff not getting enough sleep, poor Internet, and poor communication about problems.

Things didn’t get any better during the Main Event, when more complaints started pouring out from teams and fans attending. There continued to be problems with equipment (including losing a player’s keyboard) leading to game delays of up to 2 hours, streams lagging and disconnecting, player booths not being properly soundproofed and smelling strongly of glue, terrible food, an awkward opening ceremony, no buses taking talent home after the show, and games going as late as midnight local time.

Why Was 2GD Fired?

His firing, along with the firing of the production company KeyTV, was the herald of things to come for the Shanghai Major. There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason for why he was fired, but the most reasonable speculation I found was the nature of the jokes he was making on air. Esports is known for being playful on air, of making jokes that might be considered low-brow, and to many that’s just what 2GD was doing. However, Chinese culture is very different from Western culture, and there are lines you don’t cross, one of them being questioning the Party. 2GD didn’t make any government jokes, but he did make pornography jokes, and pornography is banned in China, so suggesting that he was watching some the night before the broadcast implies he got around censorship to watch something the Party has explicitly banned. That got him a warning, but the next day he made a joke calling a player a “bottom bitch”—a reference to prostitution. To build rapport with the Chinese government in order to continue having Dota events in China, it would have been necessary for Valve to remove someone causing tension and disrespecting the laws of the Chinese government, even if it seems unreasonable to Westerners.

The Problem with KeyTV and Perfect World

According to a Perfect World insider’s post to Tieba (a forum), the problems with KeyTV come from a somewhat soap opera-like problem. Perfect World has exclusive rights to market and distribute Dota 2 in mainland China, according to an agreement with Valve made in 2012. A man named JingLing runs the Dota 2 branch of Perfect World, and he is married to Ruru (LGDRuru, the owner of LGD; KeyTV is also her company). The head of KeyTV, T-boy, refused to listen to Valve and would only listed to JingLing, who was not present at the Major. Really, the only reason KeyTV got the production rights was because of the Chinese concept of guanxi: a system of social networks and influential relationships which facilitate business and other dealings.

Whether or not that’s how it really happened, or if it is Perfect World trying to cast all the blame on KeyTV, is unknown, but Ruru and Jingling’s relationship does cast some doubt on the true ability of KeyTV to handle the event if they got the deal as a result of nepotism.

We might never know who to truly blame for all the problems at the Dota 2 Shanghai Major, it’s likely a combination of many elements coming together to form the perfect storm. Its possible Perfect World didn’t allow Valve to get a word in about who to hire for production, and did all of the preparation at the arena themselves. However, some oversight needed to be present to stop at least some problems before they got out of hand—such as the non-sound-proof booths and the smell of glue. Regardless, it has damaged the reputation of Dota 2 as an esport, and of China as a desirable location for future events. It turned the country and Valve into laughing stocks, so as  际部歌王_Storm writes, things will have to be perfect next time.

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