The life of a Dota 2 fan is like adopting a puppy that you know will die in six months.
Fans like this player or that player, this logo or that logo, and regularly migrate from team to team, rarely having that sports fan moment. Everyone who follows traditional sports knows what I'm talking about: it’s something that happens when you've become a grizzled survivor, sticking by your team through the tough times, watching fair-weather front running fans leave for greener pastures. When the success finally comes, you believe you've earned it. And honestly, you're right. You've watched your team lose and struggle and suffer, yet you're still here. You deserve it.
Don’t believe me? Ask an EG fan about the dark age B-team days of Bdiz and Bamboe. Ask an Empire fan about the red-hot Wisp-Chaos Knight combo team that died to a Funn1k relocate. Ask an Alliance fan this year. Pain is more memorable than unearned joy.
This is probably why it feels so empty to pick a team to root for after The International qualifiers: it’s like adopting a son after he’s already taken his SATs. Can you really be happy that he got into Harvard? You weren’t there for him when he studied past midnight, or when he got bullied in middle school, or when he asked out that popular girl and got rejected. Dota fans miss that one of the most difficult but ultimately rewarding things about sports fandom: perseverance through adversity.
Traditional sports fans can wait decades for that moment: Red Sox fans waited 86 years for a World Series win in 2004 and Cubs fans have been waiting for more than a century. Dota fans… well, most of us pick a team that is doing well, and when that team wins, we’re moderately happy, like when we barely catch a train in the morning or find twenty bucks in our jeans. It’s nice, but not truly memorable.
The volatile nature of Dota 2 roster shuffling has encouraged the idea that you can be a fan of many players and thus many Dota teams. This ultimately means you’re actually a fan of nobody, because if you have ten teams you like then there really isn’t anything on the line for you when one of those teams plays. You need the fear. The “oh crap, this might be it for my team this year” fear. Without it, cheering for multiple teams in TI is like playing roulette with $20 on black and $19 on red.
Before you get mad at me for calling you “actually a fan of nobody” because you like multiple teams, please allow me to clarify. What I meant was that if you like so many teams… it’s not really your fault that you’re a fan of nobody. SingSing and EnVy and Puppey and UNiVeRsE are all likeable guys. It’s hard to just pick one of them. But to get a true fan moment, to earn your cred, you can’t have them all.
I’ll concede the rules of fandom are more flexible in Dota. You simply cannot avoid being a front-runner to some degree, because it’s rarely worth it to invest time and energy following a team that doesn’t make TI. Sure it might be cool for a while to be a hipster eHug fan but by the time they are getting out-farmed for the fourth time in qualifiers, you’re already thinking: “man, those EG pennants and couriers look nice.” This is due to the fact that the International isn't really like the playoffs in traditional sports, because a sports fan can easily say “there’s always next year”, whereas just about every team that doesn't qualify for TI disbands.
But there have to be some limits, right? You can’t just decide to be a Newbee supporter fifteen minutes into the do-or-die game of TI4 finals as rOtk’s Venomancer is feeding his fourth death and xiao8 is already thinking about what color BMW to buy for his girlfriend.
So let’s make a pact, you and I.
We’re going to pick a team before DAC play-offs on February 5th.
None of this “my first team is X, my second team is Y” bull. When we pick our team, we are officially their fans and their fans only until the end of 2015. We are not going to care about other teams’ results. We will track our team’s progress through every tournament and never miss a match. We will follow their players on Twitter and care that they’re cool people. We will celebrate their wins and lament their losses. We'll even post on internet forums.
We will buy and actually wear one of their shirts to a non-Dota social gathering, where someone’s going to ask “what does your shirt mean” and you’re going to say, “I’m a fan of this Defense of the Ancients electronic gaming professional team” without breaking eye contact.
Soon, we’ll be noticing things about the players that casual fans don’t. We’ll be predicting drafts better than the analysis desks. And when TI5 rolls around, when we’re watching our team play in brackets while wearing our team shirt, we’re going to feel something real in our stomachs, and it’ll be genuine, legitimate 100% give-a-shit.
And we’ll have found that special sports fan moment in Dota 2.
Ken "Hot_Bid" Chen is an eSports interviewer that has worked for Team Liquid and currently runs eSports Express. He will be doing video interviews for Beyond the Summit at the Dota 2 Asian Championships. You can follow his Twitter here.