By Mohammad Abubakr, OnRPG Journalist
Almost all of my gaming time is currently being spent playing Dota 2. If you are unfamiliar with the game, please check out my first impressions. The game has changed quite a bit since my first impressions article was published, for the better, but the game is still in closed beta. A full review will be published upon full release.
Dota 2 is the successor to, you guessed it, Dota. As a Warcraft III map, the developers were unable to implement many features due to limitations in the Warcraft III engine. After moving over to Valve's source engine, many new features such as the ability to reconnect to matches were added. Valve went further to implement a major feature to Dota 2, Dota TV.
Dota TV is the evolved form of the traditional spectator system seen in other games. Just like the Dota Store was first tested using Team Fortress, a similar viewing experience can be found in Team Fortress 2 with its Source TV. Valve really loves using Team Fortress 2 as its guinea pig.
Besides the features you would expect in all spectator views such as the ability to watch your friends and control the camera, Valve has added many more features allowing Dota TV to serve as a replacement to TwitchTV streams. Now you can watch competitive Dota 2 games for all major tournaments within the game client with no loss in video quality.
This is achieved by allowing broadcasters to share their microphone audio, screen location and even pointer location through the Dota client. When a tournament is live, the Watch tab will allow viewers to tune into ongoing tournament matches just like a live stream. After the game loads, viewers are presented with an option to choose between their favourite casters and even switch mid game without having to reload. It is just like watching a live stream!
Dota TV is a great method to tune into live games without using a lot of bandwidth. Due to the client only requiring information on hero, pointer and screen locations along with broadcaster audio, a lot of bandwidth can be saved. This is great for those unfortunate individuals facing bandwidth limits. However, audio quality does seem to be on a lower level than that offered by streaming services such as TwitchTV. Initially during its early stages, Dota TV's audio quality was a huge turnoff but as of now it is by no means bad.
Tuning into live games can be troublesome due to our busy lifestyles and tournaments taking place in other time zones. Dota TV offers replays for all tournament matches with the same quality offered during live games. Currently the replays include audio for all broadcasters present during each tournament game and are fully downloaded before allowing them to be viewed.
Valve allows viewers to easily tune into active tournaments.
For those familiar with live streams, a problem with Dota TV may have come to mind. The majority of gaming tournaments are free to watch and rely on advertisements played during the stream for revenue. If there are no advertisements played during the tournament, how will the organizers be able to continue hosting tournaments? Instead of allowing viewers to tune in for free and face advertisements, Valve has allowed organizers to sell virtual tickets for their tournaments.
These tickets can cost as little as $0.99 and go up to $11.99. With these tickets purchased from the Dota 2 store, you are given access to the entire tournament for as long as Dota TV is available. You can even purchase tickets for tournaments that have already come to a conclusion.
The ticket costs do not only vary due to the size of the tournament. More and more major tournaments are beginning to include virtual items alongside their tickets. I personally tune into tournaments using TwitchTV but I have still purchased tournament tickets simply because they give out a limited edition courier.
Initially I believed that this ticket system would not be very profitable for organizers and would simply act as another way to make a little extra cash on the side. I was proven wrong when the GD Studio announced that they made thousands from ticket sales. While I was unable to locate the exact amount, it was able to compete with ad revenue from TwitchTV.
Ticket sales can also allow income to continue to flow even after the tournament has come to a conclusion.
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All of this sounds great but it still feels like something is missing. I still find myself preferring to tune into live streams when a major tournament is in progress. One of the main reasons is due to Dota TV lacking content during down time. Dota 2 matches often take time to setup and you are forced to wait before the games popup in Dota TV. Tournament organizers have fixed this issue by offering content in between matches such as game analysis and even simple banter between the crew.
In the Dota client, when the game has finished, you can either find something else to do while waiting for the game to start or tune into the live stream. The first option causes you to become less immersed in the Dota 2 tournament and can even cause you to miss parts of the game due to a lack of alerts from the Dota 2 client. Tuning into the live stream defeats the purpose of using Dota TV. You also have to manually load the next game unlike the automated experience found in live streams.
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Valve does seem to be improving Dota TV to allow for viewers to get more features offered in live streams such as overlays. I would hate to miss the Bruno stats during tournament games by tuning into Dota TV. With the latest patch to Dota TV, pop ups indicating big item pickups will help to improve viewing experience, as seen at Beyond the Summit. Broadcasters can now even add their own pop ups within Dota TV. You won't be missing any Bruno stats by choosing Dota TV over TwitchTV.
In conclusion, Dota TV is showing other games how spectating should be done. It is a great alternative to live streams but still has a lot of room for improvement. As of now it does not serve as a replacement for live streams but maybe that will change in the future. The International is near, maybe we will see more updates to provide Dota TV users with the same experience as stream viewers.