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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

July 9, 2014 at 6:09 PM

World’s richest gaming tournament coming to KeyArena

There’s more than one global sporting event going on now that has fans glued to their screens, watching elite players battle for an enormous prize.

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This other event – played as the World Cup takes place — is The International, a video game tournament in Seattle this month that has a breathtaking $10.6 million prize pool.

The cash pot puts The International in the same realm as $10 million-plus events such as the World Series and the Super Bowl.

“From what we can tell in pro sports, it puts us in the bottom of the top 10,” said Doug Lombardi, spokesman for Bellevue game company Valve, which is hosting the event.

You’d never know it from a peek inside sparse conference rooms at the Westin hotel in Bellevue where qualifying rounds are under way this week. While Argentina battled the Netherlands in Wednesday’s World Cup match, teams with names such as Titan and Mousesports were fighting through grueling matches of “Dota 2″ behind banks of souped-up gaming PCs.

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Inside a ballroom, giant screens  display the action while announcers and analysts call the matches for online broadcasts in English, Chinese, Korean and Russian languages.

Dota 2″ is a fantasy-themed action and strategy game distributed by Valve’s Steam game service. It has more than 20 million players worldwide who compete online. During a peak period last spring, Steam hosted 853,969 “Dota 2″ players at once.

The final eight teams in the tournament will compete from next Friday to Monday, July 18-21, at Seattle’s KeyArena — from center court, with action shown on a ring of giant screens. The 10,000 tickets for the event sold out within an hour.

Valve has been hosting The International for four years and contributes $1.6 million to the prize pool. The rest comes from the sale of a virtual booklet called the Compendium, which details of the event and has bonus material for players. For every $10 booklet sold, Valve contributes $2.50 to the prize pool.

For last year’s tournament at Benaroya Hall, Compendium sales raised the prize pool to $2.8 million, breaking records for video game competitions.

This year’s event broke that record three times over. The prize pool stands at $10,524,891, of which $4,841,450 will go the winning team.

Valve started the tournament as a way to market “Dota 2″ and diverted its advertising budget to the event. Now the event itself is a huge business.

Rather than expand into the event-production business, Valve is using The International to develop tools others can use to organize and build prize pools for other game tournaments.

“What we’re trying to do is build tools and pieces of transferrable mechanisms, if you will, to make these tournaments more interesting and the prize pools bigger,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi said organizers of a tournament for players of Valve’s “Counter-Strike” action game used the tools to raise $250,000 from the player community. That’s not too shabby, but still only half what the eighth place team in The International will take home next week.

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Dota 2 screenshot from Valve

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