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How The International builds esports' biggest prize pool every year

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Where does this $21 million (and growing) come from?

Once again, Valve has done it—or its fans have, rather. The International is once again not only the largest tournament in Dota 2, but in all of competitive gaming. Fans can argue that it’s not for nothing, as many attending have played Dota 2 and its Warcraft 3 iteration for over a decade, and even the most recent players require not only skill gained through thousands of hours of play, but unrivaled chemistry and teamwork in the five-player composition.

The $21 million dollar prize pool didn’t appear overnight, nor did it come out of nowhere. It’s a culmination of work put into an in-game goody bag that not only the pros that fight for the money, but also the fans that invest—literally and figuratively.

The annual crowd-funding effort began in 2013, as The International 3 Interactive Compendium. Fans contributed $9.99 to earn an in-game “compendium,” and 25% of each sale (or, about $2.50) would be put into a prize pool. This money is on top of Valve’s base contribution of $1.6 million, which was the prize pool in prior years, with the top team earning $1 million.

While the Compendium itself is still a part of today’s Battle Pass, this iteration didn’t include a number of the bells and whistles of the current iteration. The Compendium focuses on The International itself, plus the teams and players that traveled to be there. It included a few items, including a Battle Point Booster, which at the time increased the rate at which random items dropped, plus a Smeevil courier, extensive player profiles, game progress, chests and more.

Also introduced were Stretch Goals, which gave fans a chance to unlock rewards, such as courier levels and immortals. For this event, fans only missed a single stretch goal: picking what Hero would be imported from the Warcraft 3 mod into Dota 2, at $3.2 million.

In the end, the prize pool was a solid $2,874,380, meaning fans contributed $1.2 million and spent nearly $5 million on the compendium itself.

The main edition to 2014’s Compendium was key to future expansion: users could earn “levels” for extra rewards by either spending money on “Compendium Points” or working their way towards them. The prize pool jumped that year, up to a whopping $10,930,698, as fans climbed their way up for rewards. The leveling system has been a staple of future event

Both the contents of the “Compendium” and the prize pool only gotten bigger each International, and this year is no exception. With a myriad of “quests,” items, predictions and other goodies, getting today’s Battle Pass isn’t solely a sign of support anymore. It’s now a way to get some of the game’s most interesting and elusive items, and fans are reaching deep into their bank accounts to earn them.

As Valve has gotten creative each year in how it’ll reward its most loyal fans, and other esports are changing their own tournaments in Dota 2’s footsteps, it doesn’t seem the crowd-funded prize pool is going away anytime soon.

And some have worried that the growth has slowed, with the prize pool’s exponential growth going a little more flat. Perhaps any shrinkage in this growth may not be a sign of death, but instead of a plateauing of the financial efforts of one of the most loyal fanbases in esports. After all, a game with 14 years of history, plus so many contributing fans, would take an obvious tragedy to kill.