Quinn “CC&C” Callahan closing his eyes after hours of staring at fake block of grey wood.

This is the panel for the Group Stage of the biggest Dota 2 tournament of the year. The one that’s sponsored by Valve and has a prize pool of nearly $24 million. I think it’s time the multi-billion dollar company splurged on some upgrades.

Video games have never been known for their style, and among esports in particular, Dota 2 is hardly the height of fashion, design, or decorative sophistication. But even Dota 2 has looked better than the morass of ashen hues besetting host Alex “Machine” Richardson and his crew of starched collars throughout this week. Before anyone defends the production levels behind this year’s TI Group Stage by simply restating that hey, it is only the Group Stage, let’s take a brief trip down memory lane to four months ago during the Group Stage for the Kiev Major, a smaller Valve-sponsored Dota 2 tournament with one eighth the prize pool.


I’m not going to pretend to have any deep theories about why this set is way more legit, but without a doubt it is. The panel led by Paul “Redeye” Chaloner has laptops for one, which might seem nerdy also beside the point but Dota 2 is a game people play on computers, and it’s full of numbers and stat crunching, so maybe giant glowing calculators aren’t bad props to have around when top-tier analysts and former pros are running their mouths about high level play. There are also cool graphical overlays and lots of segmented panels, as well as multiple stage lighting colors.

Flip forward to TI7 and the analysts responsible for breaking down match after match during the event’s rigorous round-robin phase sitting in the clothing store changing room out of a low-budget dystopia movie. Their props? A lone coffee mug. Their chemistry? Somewhat upstaged by IKEA’s interpretation of the rock Aslan died on during The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.


That dreary slab of veneer and particle board, what Machine referred to as “his lump of wood,” was itself an upgrade not terribly long ago, making its debut at TI6. During the Group Stage for that tournament the panel was mix of weird shit, with nightclub casual and urban lumberjack book-ending ties and tie clips. And of course, because esports, the four grown men were surrounded by toys arranged like protective totems. It was a mess, but it was a fun, colorful mess; a uniquely Dota kind of mess.


The popularity and enthusiasm around professional Dota had outstripped Valve and it’s contracted organizers at TI5, and so TI6 was a chance to step things up. So the game’s publisher decided to, among other things, increase production and replace the plastic crates that doubled as a coffee table the year prior.


Yes, at TI5 the panel, sporting their best world weary, after-prom looks, used fancy black egg crates to hold their coffee and hide their feet. More importantly, you might recognize the mid century-style chair and sofa. The ensemble has stayed together for several years now, lending a consistent level of subdued 1950s flare to event’s proceedings even as the money swirling around it has ballooned year over year.

It’s worth remembering that while the prize pool for TI has grown by millions every year, that value only represents a quarter of the money spent by fans to on in-game items leading up to the event which instead goes directly into Valve’s pockets and, presumably, paying for the event and making the game better, although apparently not a new three-seater. I’d recommend a tufted leather chesterfield, personally.


Who cares about furniture though? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on the players, the games, and simple re-caps? Sure, but sets matter too, as much for the viewers at home as the analysts chatting off-the-cuff in front of them. And I’m not the only one wondering why Valve seems so averse to giving TI the same amount of attention heaped on it by fans. From dead air in-between matches this week to audio issues and post-game discussions that sometimes meandered into oblivion, the start of TI7 this week certainly didn’t feel inline with the prize pool that’s never not being used as a cudgel for hyping it.


Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao seemed to confirm as much in a post written last month that chronicled what the Cloud9 player saw as Valve cutting corners when it came to supporting teams at events. From lack of flight support to issues with food and getting access to coaching staff, EternaLEnVy painted a picture of an austere pro Dota circuit where players and teams are still often left to fend for themselves, even while the game continues to be one of the most successful free-to-play online games of all time. At the very least Valve could hop on Craigslist and invest in a new coffee table.

Kotaku staff writer. You can reach him at ethan.gach@kotaku.com

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