The qualifying system for Dota 2's majors has its roots in an egalitarian impulse where—theoretically—a team of amateurs could win an open and then regional qualifier, and find themselves competing in a major against professionals. But for the upcoming Kiev Major, that egalitarian has ran smack dab into the reality of tournaments with only one or zero teams, and a team of commentators conceding in a final because they were accidentally winning.
The major system—there are three majors this year, counting The International—serves as the closest thing Dota 2 has to a regular season. Millions in prizes can be earned, and Valve looks to the winners and best performers at each major when it comes time to send out direct invites to The International, Dota 2's multi-million dollar World Cup.
For each major, Valve directly invites several teams to compete based upon a mix of recent results, roster stability, and whatever logo comes up in Gabe Newell’s magic eight ball. For Kiev, eight teams got direct spots, while the other eight will go to the winners of the regional qualifiers.
Regional qualifiers also have a mix of direct invites, as well as teams that qualified through the open qualifiers—an amateur tournament where any team can and does compete, full of teamless-but-talented players, and pro teams that changed their rosters after the roster-lock date.
Veggie Esports is a team of commentators that compete in the open qualifiers of every major and International. Featuring players like William “Blitz” Lee and Austin “Capitalist” Walsh, their day jobs are providing the play-by-play and analysis of some of the biggest games in Dota 2. Their participation in the qualifiers is a gag, meant to draw a little more attention to the amateur scene and for the commentators to have some fun playing, before they inevitably lose in the late rounds.
Except for Kiev, where the Veggies made it to the finals of the North American open qualifiers against Wheel Whreck. After going one and one in a best-of-three series, Veggies had a huge lead in the third and decisive game until they conceded, so that its players could, you know, do their jobs and broadcast the regional qualifiers and major, instead of playing in them.
The flipside of Veggide conceding is Wheel advancing, making their support role player Marielle “Layla” Louise the first female competitor to advance to a Dota 2 regional qualifier.
As for how Wheel got into the regional, it isn’t that out of the ordinary for an open qualifier. In Veggies’ quarterfinals match, the opposing team had to surrender because a player needed to go to work. Another team had to play down one player, due to them reportedly getting DDOS’ed. “Tactical pauses” plagued several of the Southeast Asia games, where players paused at suspect times (usually, pauses are reserved for technical issues).
Compounding the decidedly amateur nature of the open qualifiers are the brand new Champion’s Cups, introduced for the Kiev Major. Valve offers Battle Passes for each season of Dota 2, which include tickets that allow players to form teams and compete in weekend tournaments called Battle Cups. Teams that won enough Battle Cups and had a high matchmaking ratings could compete in Champion’s Cups in lieu of the open qualifiers.
Despite allowing teams to skip the gauntlet of open qualifiers, Champion’s Cups were a sparsely utilized path to the regionals. The North American cup was cancelled because no teams signed up. Only one team signed up for the Southeast Asia cup, and they were a North American team that literally moved to Southeast Asia to compete in the cup. (Shoulda stayed home guy!) Europe only had two teams show up, so a 2-0 win for team IKEA got them an automatic spot in the European regional qualifiers.
Open qualifiers—like the FA Cup, or tennis and golf’s various open tournaments—are a longstanding tradition in sports, and allow for wonderful storylines like semi-professional Lincoln City’s current run to the FA Cup quarters. This happens in Dota 2 as well, like popular Chinese team EHOME losing to a no-name squad in the early rounds of the China open qualifiers, or the first glimpses of TNC Pro Team, who won a spot at The International 6 through opens and finished 7th/8th overall. But if this year is any indication, the Dota 2 major qualifying system could use a bit of work.