One year ago, Sean "Day" Plott decided to really give Dota a shot. It was just after The International 2016, and for whatever reason, Elder Titan stuck in his head. Elder Titan made him sit down and learn Dota. One year later, Day is hosting TI7's main event.
Day has been a big name in the esports scene for more than a decade. His career started in the early 2000s, when he was one of the United States' best StarCraft: Brood War players. Day moved to more of a casting, hosting and streaming role in the StarCraft scene once StarCraft II came out, before branching out into other games, like Hearthstone and Dota 2.
Day says the journey from casual Dota fan to player started with Elder Titan. He'd watched The International for a few years with his friends, who always tried to get him to play, but at The International 6, Elder Titan broke him. It wasn't about how good the hero was, or even how well people played him at the event, it was all about how cool he sounded.
"That hero is just so f***ing cool," Day told theScore esports. "The audio of Elder Titan tipped me over the edge on TI6. The audio in this f***ing game is just insane. You don't hear the type of sounds coming out of any other game. The visuals are beautiful, but I definitely got totally shook by the audio."
At first, Day says he had the same mental block a lot of newcomers have when they think about playing Dota 2. The game looks incredibly complicated from the outside, with over 100 heroes, tons of items and a ridiculous number of ability and effect interactions, and all that combined makes the game seem too hard to get into. But instead, once he started playing Day found that he didn't need to know any of that — he was just having fun.
"I was f***ing surprised at how easy it is to have fun in Dota. You don't need to know shit to have fun in Dota. Stuff blows up. I'm Lina and hit R, I just click on someone. I don't even have to skillshot, I just click and they f***ing instantly die!"
Day eventually started up a show on his Twitch channel called Day learns Dota, in which he was tutored by Kevin "Purge" Godec. Now, 1,000 hours into Dota 2 later, Day still thinks it's not that hard of a game to learn, it just takes a lot of time.
"The game is very f***ing easy to learn. Super unbelievably easy. But the game has so f***ing much to learn, that that's where the depth and complexity comes from," he said. "I have never felt confusion as much in games, I have never felt like I played 20 games and I can't even say what one thing I could do better. I play each game and I feel like there's 40 things I could work on, and I'm not sure about the big game state, but every single game I can acquire some good understanding. It's a weird experience, because in each individual game I would have a bunch of fun, I would have something in my head I wanted to learn, and in the end, whether I win or lose, I generally have a great time and generally would have some very clear thing that I wanted to do in the next game. And after 1,000 hours, I go, 'Holy shit did I not know what I was doing in month two, oh my god.' But during month two, I didn't feel helpless or lost or confused."
The 1,000-hour journey to learning Dota caught Valve's attention. Early in the year, soon after Day learns Dota started, Valve reached out and asked if Day wanted to work a Dota event. It wasn't until the summer when they approached him about TI, and he couldn't say no.
For Day, even though he's casted and hosted plenty of events in the past, TI feels special. He didn't hesitate to take the gig, even though he had never hosted a Dota event before and Valve was starting him off with the biggest possible one. Day says that getting to be part of the event, getting to stand so close to the stage and watch these games enhances the spectator experience for him, and it's an experience that he only gets to have as a host.
"Also, let's be honest," he added. "TI is a huge event, and they asked if I wanted to be part of it. If they wanted me to f***ing towel off sweaty players it would be a f***ing honor. This is one of these events that is so important in the esports industry, and esports is so important to my growth as a human being. As a kid that was how I defined myself, I was part of the StarCraft community, I was into esports, I watched competitive events, I knew about Evo. When there's something that is the modern incarnation of that, emotionally it just feels so special to me. That kind of why I was over the moon about the invite, I was vibrating with excitement."
That's half of why Day is calling August 2017 the best month of his life. The other half is the release of StarCraft: Remastered, which is letting him relive his favorite game of all time. StarCraft: Remastered has revitalized interest in Brood War's competitive scene, particularly in Korea, and Day believes that it's poised to give StarCraft a comeback in the global esports space, given the timing of the game.
"I think that Brood War is now in this ideal position where there has been strong vetted evidence that demonstrates that it is the right choice in terms of having something as an esport product," Day said. "It is complex, it has fun silly modes like Big Game Hunter for your average bears, it's relatively easy to follow, it tends to have quite a clean interface, there's not shitloads of different unit types on the screen, with pathing the units spread themselves out quite a bit, the viewership and fanbase is clearly there. I think that there is perhaps no better time for Brood War to be reintroduced."
Another part of the reason Day says it's the right time for Brood War to be reintroduced to the larger esports space is because the scene and the developers and publishers involved in it are coming around to the idea of difficult, complex games being the most successful ones. Day remembers when esports were confusing to developers, and publishers and sponsors preferred to move from new game to new game, regardless of merit, to keep their money behind the newest game with the most attention. While esports has gotten bigger, the change to the current system was gradual, Day says, and there are still things to learn.
"One, games need to be f***ing hard. And I don't mean they need to be obnoxious to get into, and I will use Counter-Strike as an amazing example," he said. "Counter-Strike you just shoot people with a gun. you only really manage one gun. You only buy AKs or an AWP. Those are the two different kinds of gun. CT has their own kind of rifle, fine. But that's it. That's all you buy. There's not a lot of complexity there. Rocket League. Crash this car into a ball. It's so easy.
"These games also happen to have incredible depth and complexity that keeps going up. That needs to exist. It needs to be hard. That's one thing I hope emerges from the developer standpoint. The second thing is that I really hope there can be people who understand that communities decide what games are the esports, not necessarily top down. That there needs to be audiences who play and crave this shit."
These days, the most popular esports titles are games that have been around for a relatively long time, especially Dota, which has a lot of contiguity between DotA Allstars and Dota 2. The history and community is just as important to building a successful esport as the game itself, and Day hopes that as more publishers and developers dig deep into esports, they keep that in mind. After all, that complexity and history is part of what got him to play Elder Titan after TI6, and without all that, he wouldn't be hosting TI7 this year.
Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.