“The presence of NAVI at the tournament guarantees the presence of at least 100 thousand viewers at its broadcast” - such stereotype has long been in the minds of Dota 2 fans from the CIS.
Indeed, the streams of “Born to win” are bound to gather the fans and haters alike without much regard to the team's current roster and results. But does that make them number one on the regional and global levels?
Let's take a closer look at the popularity of CIS-based Dota 2 organizations among the Russian-speaking audience in 2019 – all while assessing the impact of the transfer-related dramas and the level of popularity these organizations enjoy in the other regions.
Winstrike: the 5th spot (regional) / 4th spot (worldwide) among the CIS-based teams
The calendar year has included only the qualifiers – but that doesn't stop Winstrike from remaining one of the most popular CIS-based Dota 2 organizations. Across the 2019 the regional viewers have spent a total of 2.7 million hours watching the performance of their team rosters. Worldwide, Winstrike has occupied the fourth spot by gaining 800 thousand hours more from streams in other languages – raising its hours watched indicator to 3.5 million.
The qualifiers for The International 9 were the main source of the club's success. Winstrike has managed to reach the finals of these qualifiers, which was watched by 216 thousand peak viewers – and that's only when counting the Russian-speaking ones. TI9 qualifiers were responsible for attracting almost 2 million hours out of the organization's worldwide indicator of 3.5 million hours watched. Unfortunately, this event has also ended in the team's defeat.
Winstrike has managed to once again show great performance at the LAN finals of StarLadder ImbaTV Dota 2 Minor. Based on the number of views, the team first became one of the most popular ones on the regional qualifiers, and then participated in some of the most viewed matches of the LAN finals as well. For example, this is proven by the 52 thousand peak viewers on the Russian-language stream, who were attracted by the quite dramatic group stage match of Winstrike versus Alliance. This number of viewers is also just 7 thousand lower of that of the championship's grand finals.
One more factor to boost Winstrike's popularity comes in the form of member rearrangements in their rosters – which have attracted much attention. The CIS-based viewers have shown much interest to such events as: the team being joined by Ilya “Lil” Ilyyuk, the departure and subsequent return of Bogdan “Iceberg” Vasilenko, as well as the change of coaches. The amount of dramas and publicity generated by these became pretty much a substitute for Winstrike's participation in the LAN finals.
Hellraisers: the 5th spot (regional) / 4th spot (worldwide) among the CIS-based teams
For Hellraisers, the annual results and the related figures are pretty much identical to those of Winstrike. Over the course of 2019, HR has gathered 2.8 million views within the CIS, and a total of 3.4 million views worldwide (that's excluding the figures related to China). However, while Winstrike had to spend the whole year to achieve this, HR's performance has only really started in September – when it returned to start the new Dota 2 season.
The organization was quite lucky to have such a roster – which is not as much about its efficiency, as about the media presence of some of the participants. The return of the popular player and streamer Ilya “ALOHADANCE” Korobkin to the pro scene was closely followed by his fans. HR became the second most watched team during the CIS-based qualifiers for MDL Chengdu Major, overtaking even Virtus.pro. That's considering that HR has ended up failing to qualify for the major.
However, the team rosters fans have finally rejoiced when the latter has succeeded at qualifiers to DOTA Summit 11. For HR, the road to this championship has started with departure of ALOHADANCE (a scandalous event in its own right, which attracted further public attention to the team) and ended with taking the honorable third spot at the minor. During this venture, the organization has also gathered more than 850 thousand hours watched from various broadcasts.
Gambit Esports: the 3rd spot (regional) / 2nd spot (worldwide) among the CIS-based teams
In case of Gambit Esports, the tournament year was quite successful, as seen by the figures achieved. The Dota 2 roster has managed to gather nearly 9 million hours watched at the Russian-language broadcasts alone. The successful international-level performances have attracted new fans – but also ensured Gambit's superiority: with 16.2 million hours watched worldwide, Gambit Esports has even managed to surpass the respective figure of NAVI.
The recipe for Gambit's success outside of the CIS includes trips to various LAN finals. Over the course of 2019, the team has marked a variety of events with its presence. This included participating in the minors, qualifying for the majors, as well as stepping into the highlight of several tournaments not related with the DPC system. Gambit's matches at ESL One Katowice 2019 have gathered the viewer following no less than the matches of OG and Secret. Meanwhile, ESL One Hamburg 2019 has nearly become the team's triumph, gathering a total of 2.5 million hours watched – a figure that took Winstrike a whole year to achieve across the Russian-speaking viewer base.
Gambit's situation could've turned out even better, had it displayed successful performance at the DPC ranking tournaments. So far, the best result of 2019 for the Dota 2 team was taking the second spot at The Bucharest Minor, which has allowed the roster to gather a total of 1.7 million hours watched worldwide (CIS included). But when it comes to the majors, the roster was not able to reach anything higher than the 7th-8th spot.
The failure at the qualifiers to The International 9 was by far the biggest detractor to the Gambit's indicators. Where other organizations have managed to earn millions of hours watched, the team of Artsiom “Fng” Barshak did not enter the playoffs, and neither the top 5 teams by the hours watched. In the scope of broadcasts in all languages, even FTM has managed to overtake the team by this indicator. Still, despite this setback, Gambit has ended up overtaking NAVI in the worldwide viewability ranking. After all, the importance of The International has its limits.
Natus Vincere: the 2nd spot (regional) / 3rd spot (worldwide) among the CIS-based teams
Natus Vincere is an example of an organization that needs not to rely on producing outstanding results in order to attract the attention of the CIS-based viewers. The “Born to win” tend to gather a large enough audience even when merely playing in the group stage of qualifiers. In 2019, NAVI collected a total of 9.6 million hours watched across the CIS alone. This was made possible to the powerful media presence of the brand and the constant interaction with its fan community. At the worldwide scale, this indicator has increased to 14 million hours watched.
Similar to the situation with Winstrike, The International was the major factor contributing to NAVI's popularity. However, while Winstrike had to make do with the results of the qualifiers alone, Natus Vincere has enjoyed an extra opportunity by actually entering the LAN stage of the Dota 2 world championship. While the team was also one of the first to leave it, the relegation match versus Mineski has earned NAVI almost 510 thousand peak viewers. As for the CIS-based audience, most of it has only spectated the grand finale.
The last year has further decimated the stereotype of NAVI being the number one team of the CIS. While its Dota 2 roster manages to gather its audience on a regular basis, the club itself may soon lose its current positions – if no significant achievements will be made. We are looking at Gambit who have collected more hours watched without even visiting TI... so what should we expect in case “born to win” will happen to miss the next The International?
Virtus.pro: the 1st spot (regional) / 1st spot (worldwide) among the CIS-based teams
It should come as no surprise to anyone that the Virtus.pro have claimed the first spot in this ranking. During the second half of 2019, it has attracted extra viewers who wanted to take a closer look at the updated roster of the “Bears”. As such, during this year the Russian-language broadcasts saw the viewers watching the VP matches for a total of 18 million hours. When taking the broadcasts in other languages (aside of the Chinese one) into account, the figure exceeds 33 million hours watched – which is twice as much as the results of the closest rivals in the ranking.
The success of Virtus.pro can be seen as a combination of all the advantages displayed by the other clubs. Virtus.pro had many appearances at the major tournaments, including having entered the last season's top 3 majors, thrice. The viewers had high hopes for the team's performance at The International, and their relegation match versus RNG became the third most popular one among the CIS-based audience. VP has not lost its momentum, despite not being featured in the qualifiers for TI – the very origin of the lion's share of views collected by NAVI and Winstrike.
Even when VP has only managed to take the 5th-6th spot during the season's first qualifiers for the MDL Chengdu Major, it has managed to keep the third spot by the number of the hours watched. At these qualifiers, the VP's Dota 2 roster was overtaken only by Hellraisers and Old But Gold. The same situation could be seen at the international tournaments of the second half of 2019. While in the end VP did not manage to enter the top 3, it has succeeded in attracting and retaining the interest of the audience.
It may well be that VP will continue to maintain the popularity leadership among the CIS-based clubs throughout the 2020. As proven by NAVI, the loyalty of the audience tends to last quite a bit if the team has achieved good results in the past.
Be it a well-known roster, a popular tag, or good results being displayed – all of these factors can bring a CIS-based club the much-needed popularity, both at home and abroad. The main criterion is ensuring stable media presence, since a single trip to The International is not all that it takes to win over the hearts and minds of the fans.