A leaky Valve: Tightening up for the sake of eSports

The rundown of Valve's handling of the Dota 2 Shanghai Majors, the response from James Harding, and why any of this matters to the future of eSports.

This was originally intended to be an article about the Dota 2 Shanghai Majors: one of the biggest eSports tournament of the year, with some of the best players in the business fighting it out over their share of a $3,000,000 prize pool. It was intended to be a rundown of the stories that unfolded there. Who came out on top? Who fell to the opposition?

Ultimately, it was intended to be about who won, who lost, and why. 

We suppose it still is. 

If you've been following us as we explored the drama unfolding at and around the Dota 2 Shanghai Majors, then you know the focus of this tournament by the community and participants has been on almost everything about the event, except the games. If not, go on and get yourself up to date. We'll wait.

Because there's more. In a (currently) seventeen-page long response to Gabe "Gaben" Newell's personal Reddit post calling him "an ass", James "2GD" Harding takes offense at what could be a personally and professionally devastating call-out, but responds more or less in kind: bringing to light some questionable decisions by Valve, LLC over the last few years. If you don't want to sift through nearly twenty pages that read like dictation from a fever dream, never fear -- the gist is essentially: 

1. James alleges that the "issues...at previous events" are actually him lobbying for the casting talent of The International (TI from now on) 4 to receive some form of base payment, instead of their compensation being wholly based on sales of in-game items. And, in the case of TI2, arguing for any of the casting talent to be paid at all. While other casters have corroborated the TI4 information, it seems that it was applicable only to the Non-American casting talent as fellow caster Kevin "Purge" Godec recalls the American sector having base pay.

2. "2GD" goes on to explain that he believes his firing mid-broadcast of the Dota 2 Shanghai Major was due to either a personal transgression against a Valve employee circa TI4, or essentially "for being himself," which he was told to do. Granted, "being himself" here was making a pornography joke near the beginning of the show, but his argument that this is his "brand" of commentary, and exactly what he was told to do by extension, isn't totally without merit. 

So how did this happen, and why do we care?

First off, it's important to understand Valve. How it works. While it's not quite a total holacracy, Valve is what's known as a flat organization -- as their onboarding site says, they pride themselves on "working without bosses". Flat organizations tend to work in smaller, autonomous circles or groups that do their particular work how they see fit, and then try and piece it together with what everyone else is doing. To be fair, some of their results have been pretty good

Then again, sometimes the left hand isn't totally aware of what the right is doing, and you get unpaid casting talent, strangely vague wording on supporting your favorite broadcasters with compendium sales (when what you're actually doing is crowd-funding their pay), or the Dota 2 Shanghai Majors - all incredibly unprofessional strikes during iterations of (or in Shanghai's case a lead up to) one of the most prestigious eSports events in existence, and all without anyone to directly call to account for these mistakes. 

This, of course, brings us to why we care that James "2GD" Harding was fired mid-broadcast: 

Which is, of course, that we don't. James Harding, the person, isn't that important.

Hiring and firing of personnel is, as always, up to the people shot-calling a business's decisions - which, in Valve's case, amounts to "kind of a lot of people, though some more than others". At the end of the day, if James wasn't correct for the broadcast, and Valve chose not to work with him again, then that is absolutely their decision.

But they didn't wait until the end of the day, did they?

It was the Dota 2 Shanghai Majors - the second outing in Valve's attempt to add prestige, hype, and class to what is already one of the biggest eSports tournaments in the world. 

But on top of hiring a production company that had already given older broadcasts issues (KeyTV), Valve hires a media personality they have worked with before, summarily cans said personality for doing what they paid him to do, then asks him to keep talk of the goings-on "on ice" until the CEO and Managing Director of their company personally slams said caster on a public forum. 

James Harding's inclusion, his firing, his exposure of the payment structure for TI2 and TI4 originally mirroring the words every aspiring artist or performer fears ("do it for the exposure"), Valve Time being a well-known meme - these all matter not only to Dota 2 fans, or even Valve fans, but eSports fans. All of us.

Whether you're in with Riot's League of Legends or Hi-Rez's SMITE, a CS:GO player or Call of Duty professional, we're still under the same banner. While eSports is certainly out of its infancy, it's still an adolescent or awkward teenager at best. As debacles like GamerGate and similar show, our industry is still in a constant fight for credibility, recognition, and identity. 

Valve is currently running the biggest money tournaments in the eSports world, and as such are one of the premier faces of eSports. For example, League of Legends' world championships are around 2/3 of the payout for the Dota 2 Majors leading up to their big game, The International. Whether or not you play Valve games isn't relevant -- they're one of the biggest names in gaming, they set an example in the industry, and they're one of the biggest fronts for gaming to the outside world. 

This isn't really about James Harding at all

With that in mind, James Harding's firing and the circus that ensued is important not because of James Harding, but because the handling of it was sloppy and unprofessional. How can eSports, as a community and an industry, ask for professional treatment if our biggest flagship companies don't act professionally? The Dota 2 Shanghai Majors fiasco is important because it brings to light how much Valve needs to "tighten up" -- not only for its own sake, but for all of ours. 

Players and fans, writers and readers. The professionals and the casuals. If you're an Invoker, a Viktor, or an Agni. Whether you're an AWP-er or a Barrett .50 Cal fan, whether you call in Titans or bring Goliaths online -- we're all still in this together, and we can't afford another public, unprofessional blasting of James Harding (or possibly even his employment). We can't afford hiring people and paying them in "exposure," and we can't afford some of the biggest tournaments of the year to be barely watchable, if they're watchable at all. We are all invested in Valve upping its professional game, because when the rest of the world looks at Valve and its eSports productions, it sees gamers as a whole.

Since they're looking at us: as gamers, as people, as a community, and as fans of eSports, one thing has been made abundantly clear:

We can't afford another incident like the Dota 2 Shanghai Major. 

Can we? Let us know what you think about Valve, its tournament scene, or the Dota 2 Shanghai majors below. After all, we're all in this together. 

Published Feb. 29th 2016
View Comments
  • Rothalack
    Master O' Bugs
    There are so many factors to this it's just insane. The side I lean is that we don't really need professionalism. Pyrion talks about it in an interview at TI4. I could care less what ESPN or the rest of the world thinks of us. We got to where we are by not being like them, by carving our own path and we aren't here to please them, we're here to please us, the eSports fans. If you don't play games, if you don't watch eSports, I couldn't care less what you think. Yes, Gabe handled this unprofessionally, but we don't need our production to become more like an NFL halftime show. We got here without them and we can move forward without them or their style.
  • Jay Ricciardi
    That said, I can sympathize with the counter argument: rough-around-the-edges is how esports got to where it is, but is that how it progresses from here? From the POV of the companies in charge, they want more people watching, they want to continue to grow. They *want* outside people to get into esports so they can expand the industry to be bigger, better, and more lucrative. What is the best way to do that? Well, no one really knows - but right now, many are looking to traditional sports as a case study. Whatever worked for ESPN or Korean esports outlets is being used as exhibit A of "that's what worked, that's where we should find inspiration."

    I'm not sure that's 100% the correct way to go, but that's the mentality people in the esports industry seem to be approaching growth - and it kinda makes sense.

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