At $18,656,487 at the time of this writing (and still climbing), the 2016 iteration of Dota 2's world championship, The International, stands alone as the largest esports tournament of all time in terms of prize pool. It surpassed last year's world championship of $18,429,613, of which $6,634,661 was won by Evil Geniuses from North America.
How did it get this large? The Compendium. Valve, the developer and publisher of Dota 2, puts together a purchasable item. The Compendium gives players a hefty value with new seasonal terrain, weather effects, quests to unlock cosmetic items and more. From the purchase, 25 percent goes toward the International prize pool.
Two short weeks from kicking off one of the most highly anticipated esport events of the year, let's take a step back and look at the previous Dota 2 world championships and how the competition (and prize pool) have grown the past half-decade.
2011: Rewinding to Cologne, Germany, in 2011, Dota teams didn't know if this supposed "The International" was a real thing. A tournament with, at the time, a preposterous overall prize pool of $1,600,000. It was Valve's chance to expose the game to a worldwide audience (only the pro teams had access to the game before the event, in order to prepare for it) and push the game as a global esport. Although China's legacy in the first version of Dota had its team considered the favorites entering the 16-team competition, it was Natus Vincere from Ukraine who became the winners and protagonists of the first Dota 2 world championship.
2012: The prize pool stayed the same, at $1,600,000, with the champion taking home $1 million, but the setting switched from Europe to the Valve's home of Washington state. In Seattle, 16 teams faced off once more for the Aegis, and this time it was the Chinese who proved to be the superior Dota 2 nation; four of the top six spots were occupied by Chinese clubs. The final pitted defending champions Natus Vincere against Invictus Gaming from China. iG battled through the lower bracket to win it all.
2013: This was the first year Valve allowed the community to generate a greater prize pool for The International with its innovative interactive Compendium. The base prize pool of $1,600,000 was bumped up to $2,874,380, with $1,274,380 added from the Compendium. The almost $3 million prize final once again featured the main characters of Dota 2, Natus Vincere, as it took on fellow Europeans Alliance for Aegis. Na'Vi made it to the finals for a third straight year but fell in again. Alliance won what is still considered one of the greatest esports finals of all time.
2014: Like the year prior, The International's prize pool grew through people buying the Compendium and buying points to level it up. This time around, the Dota 2 community outdid itself again by pushing the treasure of gold from $1,600,000 to a staggering $10,923,977 -- $9,323,977 from Compendium purchases. The event itself saw a reverse from the year before: Two Chinese teams played in the final instead of two European teams, and Newbee, led by the dynamic duo of Chen "Hao" Zhihao and Zhang "Mu" Pan, captured the Aegis. The Chinese side turned around a shocking 7-8 start in the group stages, barely made it into the Main Event stage of the tournament and, by the end, won a crisp, first-place prize purse of $5,025,029. This was also the first year in the KeyArena, an arena with a capacity of more than 17,000.
2015: As mentioned in the opening, the money jumped to $18,429,613, with $16,829,613 of it added by the community's Compendium support and purchases. The biggest difference this year was how the prize pool was distributed. Unlike the year before, when Newbee took home nearly 50 percent of the cash, 2015 winners Evil Geniuses pocketed only 36 percent. EG took out Chinese club and last qualifier underdogs CDEC Gaming in the final to continue the tradition of a western team taking a championship subsequently to a team from China stealing back the Aegis and so on. Evil Geniuses' Syed Sumail "SumaiL" Hassan became the youngest winner of the tournament and won the biggest cash prize esports tournament to date at only 16 years old.
2016: By the time you read this, the $18,656,487 prize pool for the sixth The International will have already gotten larger.
The winners of two Dota 2 majors this year, Frankfurt and Manila, European OG will want to add its first TI championship and become the undisputed best team in the world. Perennial Valve-sponsored runners-up Team Liquid from Europe will want to knock off its rivals from OG and capture the Aegis.
Evil Geniuses will return with a majority of last year's Aegis-winning starting five intact to defend the shield. Hao and Mu are back to try to become the first two-time winners of the event, alongside teammate and former Invictus Gaming member Wong "ChuaN" Hock Chuan. Team Secret, captained by the calculated legend Clement "Puppey" Ivanov, will look to rewrite past history and bring the Aegis to Team Secret. Even in South Korea, where the game has no server, MVP Phoenix thinks it can win it all in the KeyArena, come the second week of August.
As the prize pool has evolved, so has the competition. From a modest beginning and audience at GamesCom to the overflowing crowd and weeklong event in Seattle, The International has proven that when a developer, teams, players and fans work together, something astonishing can take place in the world of competitive gaming.