The trouble with transparency in Valve’s Dota 2 invites

The International 2016’s qualifiers are over. The 18 teams who will travel to Seattle are set. At this time of the year, the building anticipation has the power to stall all other discussions in the Dota 2 world. Unfortunately, that includes the discussion of how we got here: How Valve determined who was invited to its tournament and who would have to compete in qualifiers.
All this has happened before and all this will happen again. Every time Valve announces invites to one of its majors, complaints arise about how its team determined who to invite. And, every time, the dust settles after a few weeks and we move on to other topics. Until the next major. It’s time for a proper investigation into Valve’s operating procedures with respect to its Dota 2 events to determine whether there is room for improvement.

Scrutinizing Valve’s process immediately presents itself as tricky because the process is opaque to us. How do we judge if Valve is making the best decisions possible if we don’t have access to its decision-making process? It seems that Valve feels it is unnecessary for other stakeholders to be able to inspect its processes, provided it offers satisfactory outcomes. As a private company, this sort of thinking is not unusual. But as a regulatory body dictating the workings of a competitive industry, questions need to be asked and answered.

The place to start would be to ask what exactly “direct invites” are. Does Valve hand out direct invites to particular teams because of some measure of objective merit, or is the decision completely at Valve’s discretion? The latter option allows for arbitrary judgement, which is obviously unwanted in a competitive field. Thankfully, all evidence suggests that the truth is the former, that Valve does have reasons for who it invites to its events.
Indeed, in the past year, some patterns in Valve’s invites have even become so consistent that we’ve come to treat them as norms, despite never being confirmed by the company itself. For example, the top four teams of the previous major have always been invited to the next one. Furthermore, there has always been at least one team invited primarily due to its achievements in non-Valve events.
So, it is clear that Valve does have an internal qualification process for “direct invites.” If you are directly invited to a major, it isn’t like getting a lucky invite to a cool party. It’s recognition that you’ve done something that qualified you to be at the event. What have you done? We don’t know. But Valve does. The question then becomes why the developer feels uncomfortable sharing its reasoning with us.


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