We’re approaching the end of the year 2018 and so far KITAMEN has had its fair share of events, spanning across various states in Malaysia. So, naturally, the opportunity to attend the Kuala Lumpur Major, a non-KITAMEN event, is seen as both a well-deserved holiday for the team as well as a chance to gain insight into the scale of events the company strives to achieve. Throughout the 3-day event, I was at Axiata Arena with a fellow colleague, Megat, to experience a Dota 2 Major first-hand.
For the uninitiated, the Dota 2 Pro Circuit (DPC) consists of 5 Majors and 5 Minors spread throughout a yearly competitive season that ends with The International (think Club World Cup, but for Dota 2). Top teams from all over the world have to compete in these Majors/Minors not only for prize money but more importantly, DPC qualifying points as they are the only way to land a shot at the prestigious Aegis of Champions during The International. The prize/DPC points pool for the Majors/Minors are $1,000,000/15,000 and $300,000/500 respectively. Luckily for us Malaysian Dota 2 fans, Kuala Lumpur was the host for the first Major of the 2018/2019 DPC season. The participating teams are as follows:
Europe: Team Secret, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Alliance
CIS: Virtus.Pro, Gambit Esports
China: PSG.LGD, Vici Gaming, Team Aster
SEA: Fnatic, TNC Predator, Tigers
North America: Evil Geniuses, Forward Gaming, J.Storm
South America: paiN Gaming, paiN X
The main event kicked off on Friday the 16th and upon arriving on-site at around 9.30AM to pick up our media passes (thank you Astro and eGG Network!), I noticed that the turnout wasn’t of epic proportions. Understandably, it was a working day and matches didn’t start until noon onwards. Though, seeing how Dota 2 has a huge following in both East and West Malaysia, I expected fans swarming the gates of Axiata Arena chanting Dota 2 voice lines and Twitch memes. Apart from the matches held within the arena, they were various booths propped up in the building including, Hyper-X, Acer Predator, Thermaltake, U-mobile, Monster, KFC Delivery and my personal favourite, Supa Dupa Circus (for making cute balloon sculptures of Dota 2 heroes). The official Kuala Lumpur Major merchandise booth stood right in front of the entrance and sold T-shirts, hoodies and accessories adorned with Dota 2 imagery as well as (pre-loved) gaming chairs by Secret Lab. I must admit, had I had enough money and/or the prices were a bit more affordable, I’d probably be lugging around shopping bags for the entirety of Day 1. I’m not so sure whether it was the layout of the building or positioning of the booths but it honestly felt quite drab walking around Axiata Arena while there weren’t any matches which leads me to another issue: scheduling. If you aren’t familiar with Dota 2 matches, trust me, the games are long. Best-of-3 matches with each game going on for approximately 30-40 minutes left little wiggle room for the organisers to set up side events outside the arena. There were various games and competitions going on outside the arena while matches were being played inside so it was either I missed the matches or the activities held at the booths outside. Obviously, I chose the matches; its not often that I get to see all these players whom I’ve admired behind a screen on Twitch streams and Youtube videos for so long live in the flesh in front of me.
Upon entering the arena before the opening ceremony (if playing a video, albeit done beautifully, on the big screens counts as a ceremony), I was taken aback by the lights and production setup. I mean, the Kuala Lumpur Major was my first major Dota 2 event so I didn’t really know what to accept but I was quite overwhelmed at first. At this point the arena seats were quite bare and there were a handful of people at the media seats setting up their cameras and laptops. The stage was minimalistic; 5 PCs arranged in an L-shaped on both sides with the trophy upon a pedestal center-stage. Long red carpets laid across the arena leading to player entrances/exits on opposite corners seemed to further highlight all the empty space surrounding the tournament area. The lights show and the large HD screens were really impressive. Every bit of detail, from the cosmetics of the heroes in-game to strands of hair on the players, was clearly visible on-screen. As each drafting phase ended, the lights would be dimmed and the arena would only be illuminated by the huge screens. Animated LED panel strips ran along the walls of the arena and were synced with the game, so the strips would display the classic “FIRST BLOOD”, “DOUBLE KILL” and so on so forth. Production value at its finest, I can’t get that on my laptop. Kudos to the camera crew for recording funny moments with the crowd. There were so many memes caught on camera and it was heartwarming to share smiles and laughter with everyone in the arena.
The Kuala Lumpur Major began with Team Secret facing off against PSG.LGD, runners-up for TI8. A Malaysian in each team, this first match was honestly the best way to kick off the event as the arena, albeit not being at full capacity, was brought to life by the cheers and roars of avid Dota 2 fans. We were all cheering with Malaysian pride, supporting our local boys who have made it to the big leagues. For all 3 days, whenever the camera panned to MidOne (Yeik Nai Zheng) or xNova (Jian Wei Yap), the crowd went wild, myself included. Just to be clear, it’s not like the crowd was silent during other matches. Rest assured, the crowd was just as loud when big plays were made, and there were tons of high-skill moments throughout the 3 days. Malaysians really appreciate Dota 2, since before the glory days of Mushi (Chai Yee Fung) and ChuaN (Wong Hock Chuan) which leads me to another highlight of the Kuala Lumpur Major; the press conference on Day 2 with YB Syed Saddiq, Minister of Youth and Sports.At the press conference, YB Syed Saddiq was joined by Lee Choong Khay, Chief of Sports for Astro, Silviu Stroie, CEO of PGL and Zhang Zexi, COO of Imba TV. The main theme of the conference, at least from my understanding, was the growth of esports both regionally and locally and how all these different industries and governmental bodies can work together to bolster, innovate and sustain esports. YB Syed Saddiq made rather powerful remarks during the press conference, ranging from direct criticism of local organiser(s) to reforming the current esports body in Malaysia: Esports Malaysia (ESM). At the time of writing, the past month or so has been quite a roller-coaster ride for the esports scene in Malaysia, with the government allocating RM10mil in the national budget for 2019 and technological powerhouse Razer from our neighbouring country, Singapore, following suit with RM10mil of their own to be pumped into Malaysian esports and not to mention the rather controversial Malaysia Esports Convention earlier this month, which saw the local esports community working hand-in-hand to salvage the event itself. Nonetheless, there’s more than enough proof that esports in Malaysia is thriving and yearning to expand, more than ever before. As someone who plays games, watches esports and appreciates gaming in general, its quite surreal to have a government that is so supportive of what used to be the subject of nagging and scolding for so many years. Instead of “I want to play games for fun”, perhaps soon we’ll be able to say “I want to play games to represent Malaysia to the world”. At the very least, we now have a guy on the inside who shares our line of thought.
On to day 3, the final day of the Kuala Lumpur Major. My first agenda of the day was the cosplay competition which began at 10/11am (adjusted for Malaysian timing). A total of 22 participants hopped, skipped and jumped across the runway/stage in their meticulously crafted costumes. Some could barely move, some performed actual in-game moves and some had wardrobe malfunctions on-stage. However, it was all good fun seeing happy faces of these dedicated fans who worked hard to bring their favourite characters to life. The competition had a prize pool of RM30,000 and the champion, dressed as Night Stalker, walked away with RM10,000 courtesy of Tamago. The cosplay competition was followed by the lower bracket finals between Evil Geniuses and Virtus.Pro with the victor, in this case being Virtus.Pro, moving on to face Team Secret in the grand finals. Usually, grand finals are decided in a best-of-5 format and I assure you, every single person in Axiata Arena was prepared and hopeful for all 5 games to be played. True enough, we were given 5 games of intense, high-skilled Dota 2 and after every game, the crowd kept on getting louder. Ultimately, Virtus.Pro emerged as the champions of the Kuala Lumpur Major, walking away with $350,000USD and 4950 DPC points while Team Secret and Evil Geniuses took 2nd place and 3rd place respectively.
With all the hype and excitement of the event, I wouldn’t be entirely honest if I said everything was perfect. Poor scheduling, scarcity of food and beverage choices, technical issues during matches, to name a few. As mentioned above, I couldn’t enjoy the entire event fully without having to sacrifice something in return. I would have loved to join the competitions and giveaways that were ongoing outside the arena, but the matches were simply too important to miss. I had to either drive out of Bukit Jalil Stadium to skip the long queues at the eateries in the building or the food trucks outside or simply push through the hunger so I wouldn’t miss any games. I happened to stumble upon a multitude of posts on social media complaining about how hard it was to look for water during the event. Thankfully, there were peddlers outside the building selling more choices of beverage and food (at marked-up prices, obviously) but it just didn’t fit in with the image of this supposedly world class event with participants and fans that come from all around the world. For the most part of Day 1, I could barely understand the casters and analysts due to how the sound bounced around within the arena. I particularly pity those who used their hard-earned money for the more expensive seats only to realise that there’s barely any difference between the ticket tiers: Ancient, Divine, Immortal. I got in free, so I can’t complain, but the overall layout of the seats didn’t really justify their prices. For a first-time Dota 2 Major event-goer, I can’t help but feel that perhaps the planning and execution of this event weren’t as smooth as they would have wanted it to be. First time for everything, I suppose. On account of not wanting to sound ungrateful, I’d like to clarify that despite all the points aforementioned, I enjoyed all of the 3 days of the event at Axiata Arena. I was at the venue for about 12 hours, from morning to night, every single day. Was it because of my personal passion and interest for Dota 2? Mostly, but it was also because I wanted to experience an international event held on local grounds, made possible with the collaboration of outside and local parties.
My time at the Kuala Lumpur Major made me realise an important facet of esports in Malaysia: we are hungry, now more than ever, for not only more top-tier esports events but a higher standard of competition in esports as well. MidOne and xNova, despite having to go overseas to reach their full potential, are still born-and-bred Malaysians. Alongside Mushi and ChuaN, they proved that Malaysia has what it takes to go head-to-head with other nations. It’s a new age for esports in Malaysia; with the government pledging its support and the rise of new stars in the younger generation across a plethora of games, I’d say it’s about time we give esports the attention it deserves and the execution it demands.