Every four years, the world collectively makes an agreement to suspend disbelief for two weeks and pretend that things like curling and synchronized swimming and soccer are actually sports.
We act like we’re really proud when someone from our country is the best at molesting a perfectly good ice rink with a broom or shooting clay discs. We ask colleagues around the water cooler absurd questions like “did you see the ladies ribbon toss last night?” and we actually bother to tune our TVs to SABC.
Now I love a good bobsledding event as much as the next person, but if your biggest focus right now is men in onesies twirling about on rings, you’re missing out on the actual greatest sporting event of the year.
I’m talking, of course, about The International.
Now hold up there, console gamer. I can feel you rolling your eyes (I’m one-eighteenth gypsy sorcerer) at the mention of this Dota business, like the poor sod who gets cornered at a party and realises three minutes into the conversation that the pretty girl he thought he had a shot with is actually more interested in asking him if he’s heard of Scientology and would he be keen to swing by sometime for a free auditing.
Dota can be a little intimidating to play, but as a spectator sport it’s actually pretty basic. Each person plays a different character with various spells/abilities, and they get money and levels to get powerful enough to kill the enemy team and take out their base.
Quite unlike that time I accidentally wandered onto a nudist beach, knowing the rules isn’t all that important. Still not convinced? What if I told you that there’s a separate stream specifically for people new to the game, with commentary that explains what’s going on and doesn’t assume that you fully know and understand the game.
Right, now that we’ve settled that, let me tell you why The International is to the Olympics what a seven-hour sex session with a supermodel is to a sad Kevin Spacey shower-wank.
The stakes are higher
A gold medal is cool and all and I’m sure grandma will be real proud when you show it to her, but let’s talk real world here, folks – how much Doritos can you buy with that gold medal?
According to my extensive two minutes of Googling, winning a gold medal awards you a rather pathetic $25,000. You might think the 5,868 bags of Doritos that’ll buy you is a windfall, but that isn’t enough to set you up comfortably for life.
As for that gold medal – it’s actually made of silver. Pawning that off will not only disappoint grandma (and by “disappoint”, I mean “kill”), it’ll only get you another 117 bags. That’s, like, a weekend.
This means that every event you watch is pretty small potatoes (DID YOU SEE WHAT I DID TH-ah shit, Doritos are corn chips aren’t they? Move along, sigh), unless you count Slovenia being the best at kayaking or whatever which nobody really does. Ask someone two months after the Olympics which nation secured the #1 spot in trap-shooting and watch their eyes glaze over.
Every game at The International is worth more money than you and I will make in a year. If you’re disagreeing, you’re lying, or your butler is reading this to you aloud and his salary applies instead.
First prize is an eye-watering $8,964,050. To put that in perspective, we’re talking 2,104,184 bags of Doritos. If you took up a strict Doritos diet, you’d never go hungry again. To be fair it’d take two weeks for you to die on a strict Doritos diet so you’d have a lot left over, but still.
Last year a 16 year-old took home more than a million dollars in prize money. That same 16 year-old (now 17) is one match away from making the finals yet again. Everybody wets themselves every time a teenager jumps the furthest into the Olympic sandpit, meanwhile this kid is taking home enough prize money to buy that sandpit and fill it with cocaine and hookers.
The technology is better
You might think it’s pretty sweet to see how fast the arrows travel in the archery event, but when it comes to stats and production value the Rio Olympics are a squirming rat under the big toe of The International.
Every hero picked appears on the ground like a freakin’ Star Wars hologram (except better). I half-expect Tupac to pop out and start rapping every time I see it. Interesting factoids constantly pop up in a sidebar during the game comparing a player’s current stats both to others in the tournament as well as across a mean for the last several months of professional Dota.
The commentary is top-notch, every game is discussed afterwards by experts at a sports desk that would have Darren Scott weep with jealousy, and an interactive monitor is used to break games down play by play. Then there’s the far more impressive crowd, lighting and general production that makes Brazil’s television efforts look like a primary-school play starring circus apes.
The hype is real-er
Olympic events have a way of feeling very tepid. Everyone has to be quiet all the time, and after the race there’s a smattering of applause and the commentators stop eating long enough to talk about what a jolly good race that was and how interesting it is to see Michael Phelps butterfly across the pool faster than everyone else for the 17th year in a row.
The International is nothing like that. The crowd booms with energy and when a big play happens, even if you don’t fully understand it, you’ll be swept away by the roar of tens of thousands of gamers losing their collective minds.
Just yesterday (no spoilers) something happened that has never happened before in the history of The International. The audience went so wild in that game I thought Oprah had stumbled in drunk and started throwing out sets of car keys.
I guess what I’m trying to articulate here is that The International is special. I play very little Dota during the year, but I always watch The International. I guess in that way it’s like the Olympics, as I don’t care too much about what’s going on the rest of the time. But unlike the men’s 500 metre ice-sweep, The International is a beautiful, beautiful spectacle with more money on the line than any other sports tournament in the world (except for soccer, which we’ve established already isn’t a real sport).