Over recent seasons DreamLeague has kind of regressed from a premier tournament that many of the big teams would take part in to a tournament for tier two European teams.
This isn’t exactly through a fault of their own, the scene has changed dramatically, top teams are attending fewer events and more events are vying for their attention, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it has reduced the tournaments stock quite a bit.
But when Season 6 was announced a few months back it boasted the best team list we have seen for a long time. Two time major winners OG, TI5 champions Evil Geniuses and Shanghai Major winners Team Secret all committed to playing in the league, albeit with very different rosters to those that they won tournaments with.
Fan favourites Na’Vi, Alliance and Team Liquid were also involved with Escape Gaming and Vega Squadron rounding out the field. Things looked good, Season 6 looked to be the premier tournament of the pre-Major season, and there was a good chance the LAN final at DreamHack Winter would feature a ton of former TI winners.
Then the dates for the Boston Major were announced, and with just a week between the end of DreamHack Winter and the start of the Major OG, EG and Secret all dropped out, in order to give themselves a long time to prepare for the Major beforehand. They were replaced with The Imperial, Virtus Pro and Team NP. Solid replacements, but certainly not teams of the same calibre or fanbase.
As the tournament progressed Na’Vi also dropped out, and were replaced by Ad Finem. Then as the season neared the end Team NP, who had already played the majority of their matches, dropped out and received losses for all 14 games, even the ones that they had already played.
Finally – or at least we hope – Virtus.Pro dropped out of the league after securing a spot at the LAN finals, citing a heavy travel schedule. They have been replaced at the LAN by Alliance.
That makes a total of six teams that have dropped out of the competition at one stage or another, which is almost unheard of and would kill many other tournaments. But DreamLeague soldiered on, and amazingly was often the most popular stream on Twitch during the online league play portion of the competition.
So just how did a tournament that saw the biggest teams in the world drop out, and then even saw some of their replacements call it a day, manage to become one of the most successful online streams of the new Dota season?
There is a ton of reasons behind DreamLeague’s success, but perhaps the most important is the broadcast talent. DreamLeague has always had a slightly different feel to other tournaments, with a more relaxed atmosphere but with analysis that often goes incredibly deep.
This season Jorien “Sheever” van der Heijden returned as the host of the event, with Jake “SirActionSlacks” Kanner and Ioannis “Fogged” Loucas splitting co hosting duties.
A weekly rotating guest analyst provided some much needed professional opinions and kept the broadcast team feeling fresh. Finally Owen “ODPixel” Davies and David “GoDz” Parker served as the main casters for the event.
This broadcast team could rival any of the major casting studios out there. Sheever has improved dramatically as a host over the last year, arguably becoming the best Dota exclusive host out there. ODPixel quickly rose to fame last year, and this year has only furthered his skill set, easily becoming one of the top five hype casters in the world.
The analyst style of GoDz was similar enough to DreamLeague regular Andy “Draskyl” Stiles that it didn’t change everything, but it did make things feel a little different. Then SirActionSlacks was there to provide the comedic entertainment, and ask the questions that average joes wanted to know.
Slacks’ role was arguably one of the most important, and one of the main reasons for DreamLeague’s success. While the event has always had a comedic side Slacks pushed it further than before, providing constant entertainment during the breaks between games.
DreamLeague’s trademark red button moments also provided the team with the tools they needed to create entertaining content, such as forcing them to play Jenga, try and make terrible jokes sound like a natural part of conversation or making a giant chicken and gorilla act out a story about McDonald’s.
It’s moments like these that get shared on social media and Reddit, and in turn they bring in more viewers.
Of course the incredible production also helped. DreamLeague’s studio is a full TV studio setup, with experienced professionals, multiple high quality cameras and multiple areas to broadcast from. No other Dota event outside arguably The International has production values as high as DreamLeague, and even though things don’t always go smoothly the stream never looks low quality.
Small things like bringing the casters into shot when a pause happens makes sure viewers don’t turn off after looking at a static screen for 5 minutes, and reliable countdowns to the start of the next section, which never exceed five minutes, keep viewers engaged in the stream when little is happening, which is where a lot of streams fail.
While the broadcast talent and the production are easily the most impressive parts of DreamLeague – and what should really be applauded – the Dota turned out to be better than anyone could have expected. EG and OG have both looked pretty strong since starting with their new rosters, and many think that if they have stayed in DreamLeague they would have easily made it to LAN. The less said about Secret the better.
However with two big contenders gone, and the likes of Liquid looking shaky at best, the group stage was incredibly open. Escape ended up becoming early favourites after some of their most impressive performances ever, Alliance looked like two different teams at times and Imperial surprised everyone with how good they are.
Outside of Team NP, every team won at least 5 of their 14 games. Three teams ended 10-4 and the final place at LAN came down to the final series of league play. Long group stage tournaments don’t get much closer than that.
This meant that every series was exciting and had high stakes and as Vega found out, one slip up in a series can cost you a spot at the LAN. With OG and EG in the field, and even Secret to a lesser extent, the league play would have probably been a lot more predictable and less exciting as a result.
DreamLeague Season 6 may have had a team exodus like we have never seen, but they soldiered on, and with the stellar production and the best broadcast team outside of Valve events they made the tournament the most entertaining one between TI and Boston.
Sure other events may have had bigger names, but few of them managed to match the streaming numbers of DreamLeague over the last few weeks, proving that great production, great talent and close Dota matches will always outweigh the big superstars.
GGWP DreamLeague, now bring on the LAN.