Unless something absurd happens, Dota 2 is done for 2019. This has been an up and down year for the game at both the professional and casual levels.
There were some very high highs as new teams posted some memorable performances and old favorites found new heights of success. Unfortunately, there were also some low lows brought about by a player exodus and mismanagement from developer Valve.
Let’s take a look back at Dota 2 in 2019 and pick out the best and worst of what the game had to offer.
Worst: The short life and quick death of Dota 2 card game Artifact
Riot Games and Valve have both been looking to milk more out of their popular MOBA properties.
League of Legends fans have been reaping the benefits of this in a big way.
Riot has collaborated with Marvel Comics to create multiple mini-series based on champions from the game. There have also been multiple hit songs created by Riot Games that have caught the eyes and ears of people that aren’t even gamers. Moving forward, they’re looking forward to things like novels and a bunch of interesting new spin-offs in a variety of different genres.
What did Dota 2 fans get? Well, they got Artifact.
The collectible card game was supposed to be Valve’s answer to Hearthstone. Instead, it’s one of the greatest commercial flops in video game history.
Though Artifact itself was lauded by many critics, the monetization system kept lots of fans from buying the game and turned off many of the people that did purchase it. This resulted in a fairly quiet launch that saw players quickly leave the game.
Valve has seemingly abandoned the game entirely, as they haven’t even posted on the game’s blog or social media channels since March 2019. With how quick Valve was to drop the game, it’s hard to feel all that enthusiastic about any other new projects they have in the works.
Best: Dota Auto Chess creates a new genre of video game
Where Valve failed miserably, fans succeeded.
Towards the start of the year, Dota 2 enjoyed some of the highest player counts in its history. It wasn’t because of a battle pass or major, though. It was because of Drodo Studio’s Dota Auto Chess. The user-made game mode lit the world on fire and attracted hundreds of thousands of fans to Dota 2 for the first time.
It was immediately easy to see why. Though there was no spoon-feeding of directions, and the game was deep and compelling in a way few games are.
Dota Auto Chess faded quickly as Drodo Studio created its own standalone version of the game on other platforms while Valve and Riot Games both made their own knock-offs in Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics. Still, this was a high point for Dota 2 in 2019, even if it feels like it happened an eternity ago.
Worst: EternaLEnVy's pizza parties become the norm
Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao has long had a bit of a bad reputation for his willingness to kick people off his teams. From Team Secret to Team NP to Fnatic, controversial roster moves were almost guaranteed when it came to him.
Fans have long been frustrated with him for this, but things hit another level at ESL One Mumbai when Nico "Gunnar" Lopez and Jason "Newsham" Newsham were kicked from Team Team in the middle of the event.
This led to a famous rant from player-turned-caster Kyle "melonzz" Freedman, who bashed EternaLEnVy for the move during the broadcast.
While there’s a debate to be had about when and where scruples trump sporting concerns, Team Team was far from alone in making moves like this. Organizations earning spots in important tournaments and then kicking players they saw as weak links has been a pattern over recent years.
Unfortunately, we’re still seeing this today and it doesn’t seem like this practice will stop any time soon.
Best: Valve steps up its game with updates
Dota 2 fans have griped about an apparent lack of interest in the game from Valve in years past with complaints of "dead game" and calls regarding Diretide.
While there are some lingering issues with Dota 2 that Valve seemingly can’t be bothered to fix, 2019 has seen the publisher really step up its efforts to be transparent with future plans for the game.
This has been especially common over the last few months with the updates to ranked matchmaking, which has seen Valve give players a step-by-step breakdown of each change to the game coordinator.
Valve has shown its willingness to try new things. Though the Outlanders Update has garnered mixed reactions, there’s no questioning the amount of time and effort Valve put into the game.
Worst: Valve mishandles Kuku controversy
On the flipside of this, Valve has done an embarrassingly bad job of operating the pro Dota 2 scene this year.
This can basically be said for any given year, but things were especially bad in 2019.
Late last year, Complexity Gaming player Rolen Andrei Gabriel "Skemberlu" Ong and TNC Predator player Carlo "Kuku" Palad were involved in a pair of incidents stemming from their use of racist language against Chinese players.
If this happened in League of Legends or Overwatch, the people in charge would have given the players involved a fixed suspension and fine. But in Dota 2? Valve basically just sat back and hoped it all went away.
Needless to say, things didn’t just go away. The controversy grew and grew, which eventually prompted a statement from Valve that didn’t really say anything at all.
When people within the pro scene started saying that local governments were going to interfere with Kuku’s ability to compete in the Chongqing Major, Valve issued another statement saying this wasn’t true and that they themselves had banned from the second major of the season.
Unfortunately for Valve, it turned out that what they were saying was untrue. Later in the year, Kuku was unable to compete at the WESG 2018 Finals due to the incident with racist language.
It’s possible that Valve outright lied to fans in its statement on the matter. The other possibility isn’t much better, as it would have meant that Valve just hadn’t done its due diligence in operating a Dota 2 major.
Regardless, all of this likely would have been prevented if the company hadn’t just stuck its head in the stand at the start.
The competitive field was stronger than it ever has been, with a number of teams looking like potential winners. The meta was also in a good place, which made for exciting games. Naturally, there were a bunch of big plays and upsets that made stars out of players. The prize pool smashed every prior record at over $34 million.
All that said, the best part of TI9 was the amazing performance of OG.
Much like at TI8, the fan favorite team came into TI9 as something of an underdog thanks to a rocky stretch where they struggled in the first half of the season, but once they reached Shanghai, they were on another level.
On the server, they were creative and confident. Off the server, they made no effort to hide how badly they wanted to win another championship.
All of this combined to make OG’s victory one of the best esports moments of all time.