The road to Seattle, one game at a time

Gamers competing at an MWEB LAN tournament. (MWEB)
Gamers competing at an MWEB LAN tournament. (MWEB)

Johannesburg - On July 21, 2014, two five man teams from China battled it out for a $5.025m - equivalent to R59.9m - cash prize in a tournament that had seen competitors from all over the world meet in Seattle, the United States for 11 days of action, starting from the qualifiers to the grand finals.

The tournament, referred to as The International, is the world championships of Dota 2, a computer game where two teams attempt to destroy each other's bases, going through each other in doing so.

Dota 2 is the sequel to a Warcraft III map-mod called Defence of the Ancients, first released in 2003. The mod gained a cult-following of its own following its release, with several designers working on different versions of the Defence of the Ancients, later shortened to DoTA, up to its closure in 2010.

Far away from the glitz and glamour of Seattle, on the southern tip of Africa, Dota 2 has found its own niche, with a small but not insignificant community doing battle with one another around the clock, every day of the week.

Previously, South African players had to play on servers in Europe if they wanted to play online, as no servers were run by Valve, the company that owns the Dota 2 brand, on the African continent.

However, in March 2013 this all changed when two servers became available in South Africa.

"One of our priorities in the MWEB GameZone team is to secure gaming servers for the local community in an effort to improve their online gaming experience," says Desmond Kurz, digital and gaming manager at MWEB.

"When Dota 2 was launched, we knew that the game was sure to be popular amongst SA gamers given the popularity of the Warcraft mod that it was derived from. So, we contacted Valve with a request to provide local hosting for the title, which was met with approval."

Since that initial launch, with the first two servers placed in Cape Town, four additional servers were added in Johannesburg. Beyond MWEB, one other company hosts Dota 2 servers in South Africa. From a wider view, MWEB hosts over 250 servers for over 70 titles in South Africa.  "Since we started tracking incoming requests to our Dota 2 servers in April 2013, the peak number of IP address connecting to the servers were a little under 8000 in a single day," Kurz said.

"Since launch, South African IP addresses peaked at just under half those connections per day, with the majority of these users coming from MWEB ADSL subscribers."

Servers are no simple machines. Kurz said MWEB'S servers all sport 64 to 128 gigabytes of RAM and multiple server-class processor cores, worth a small fortune in rands. They ensure that gamers are able to play at a speed requisite to their input, very important when in the middle of a battle.

Having such server power located in-country has proven a boon for South African Dota 2 players. However, while they have excellent latency, they still have a way to go match their international counterparts, says Colin Webster, general secretary of Mind Sports SA (MSSA).

"The MSSA has been actively involved in eSports (electronic sports) since 1998, but it was not until 2005 that it selected its first team to go to an international championships," he says.

"The MSSA first ran championships for the first DoTA, the Defence of the Ancients, and then once Dota 2 became viable, for Dota 2. However, it was not until 2013 that the MSSA first selected a National Protea Team for the title."

On April 18, MSSA hosted its annual on-line champions for Dota 2, along with another legacy game called Counterstrike: Global Offensive.

"The on-line championship is an integral part of the qualifying process as it is deemed to be of the same status as any other provincial LAN championships," Webster says.

"Gamers qualify to play at the MSSA's national team trials by finishing in the top three, or top 20%, whichever is greater, at any MSSA provincial or national championships."

It is at the national team trials that the best performing team is selected to become the official Protea Dota 2 team.

"While there is a great deal of competitiveness between teams, the South African standard does lag behind that of their overseas counterparts," he says.

"The dedicated server provided by MWEB is a great boon to the gamers that play Dota 2 in South Africa. However, the gamers must take advantage of the servers by continually 'upping' their game."

Through increased international competition, South Africa will be able to lift its standard of play to a point where maybe, one day, they will fly the flag in Seattle and challenge the best Dota 2 teams in the world.

Until that day arrives, the battle for South African supremacy shall continue, with all its digital goriness, one game at a time.

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