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Dota 2 players plan boycott of ESL pro games on Facebook after Twitch bans (update)

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Fans and streamers bristle at Facebook-exclusive streaming deal

dota 2 international Valve

Dota 2 fans and players are planning a boycott of official ESL tournaments that will stream on Facebook after top Twitch casters were banned for hosting unauthorized streams.

The ESL One Genting tournament kicked off this week in Genting, Malaysia. The tournament includes a prize pool of $400,000 and a chance to win qualifying points for Valve’s annual Dota 2 grand tournament, The International.

The decision to boycott is rooted in frustration Dota 2 players have been dealing with in recent days. There’s been unrest in the community since ESL’s announcement last week that Facebook is the new, exclusive streaming home of Dota 2 pro tournaments. The first streams on Facebook under that deal weren’t without their issues.

Viewers complained of major technical problems with the Facebook stream and problems with finding the stream. Unlike Twitch, which has a major Dota 2 hub on the front page, ESL’s stream was a little more difficult to find. More importantly, fans became frustrated with the apparent banning of other Twitch streamers and Dota 2 players who were hosting unofficial streams of ESL One Genting matches. BananaSlamJamma, a Dota 2 player on VGJ.Storm said he was banned from Twitch for hosting an unauthorized stream. Henrik “AdmiralBulldog” Ahnberg, a streamer for Alliance, also took down his stream over concerns that ESL could issue a copyright strike against his channel.

It’s easy to see why ESL is worried about competing streams. On Twitch’s main Dota 2 page, there are ESL One Genting streams with tens of thousands of viewers. ESL’s official stream on Facebook hovers around a paltry 3,000 viewer count in comparison. It should be noted that tournaments are watchable using in-game clients, like DotaTV, and it is typically much more difficult for sponsors to get viewers using in-game clients. This means people could cast and add their own commentary without having to worry about sponsorship and breaking ESL’s rules. The confusion over who could stream games on Twitch and who couldn’t prompted a response from an ESL spokesperson, via the Dota 2 subreddit.

“Anyone can stream Dota, as Valve stated after TI7, as long as they are community streamers free of commercial interest,” the representative said. “Keeping with these guidelines, and the agreement we have to broadcast ESL One, we are not going to allow any streams that are competing with our main language streams and we cant let streams that monetize content from this tournament stay up.”

That statement echoed a blog post from Valve from October 2017 that addressed similar streaming concerns.

We believe that anyone should be able to broadcast a match from DotaTV for their audience. However, we don’t think they should do so in a commercial manner or in a way that directly competes with the tournament organizer’s stream. This means no advertising/branding overlays, and no sponsorships. It also means not using any of the official broadcast’s content such as caster audio, camerawork, overlays, interstitial content, and so on. Finally, this is not permission for studios to broadcast each other’s events. In general, everyone should play nice together, and we think the boundaries should be pretty clear.

Essentially, if Twitch streamers are broadcasting the same tournament in English and profiting from it, they run the risk of a stream being taken down. This led to a boycotting call, with viewers proposing to band together and stream from their own channels or support better known casters willing to take on the burden themselves. The boycott call, posted on Reddit, reads:

Dota was a custom mini-game that the players and viewers made into what it is today. Dota is nothing without all of us - they don’t get to tell us how and where we watch a game. ESL legally owns the casting and content, but Valve owns the games that you can view in their own client, and they permit streaming on Twitch. ESL does not own the pro players. ESL does not own Dota. Dota is so special because it grew out of the passion of players and fans, and we need to carry that legacy forward to keep the integrity of the game and community.

When ESL did release a statement on Twitter, after declining to comment to Polygon about the situation, the confusing language only seemed to anger the community further. The boycott, if it occurs, is scheduled to take place for the rest of the tournament.

Addressing the problem

It wasn’t until yesterday when Ulrich Schulze, the senior vice president of product at ESL, addressed the confusing language during a Reddit Ask Me Anything session.

“We talked to [Valve] about the policy in the context of the Facebook deal,” Schulze wrote. “Overall, we feel that the policy is still far to open to interpretation. At the moment, even if an organizer has an exclusive deal with Twitch, anyone could just stream DotaTV of the matches on Youtube. I believe there will be more discussion around this in the coming weeks.”

The situation simply comes down to money. ESL struck a deal with Facebook to stream its tournaments exclusively on the site. Even if ESL team members were upset with the technical platform, there’s little the company can do. Facebook could terminate the contract with financial repercussions, leaving ESL in a bind. Schulze tweeted about this on Jan. 23.

“Here is how many Dota tournaments there are going to be in the future if no one is taking money for broadcast rights anymore: Exactly one (The International),” Schulze said. “Having your cake and eating it too never works.”

Schulze followed up on his tweet during a Reddit AMA, apologizing to viewers for the lack of transparency over the past couple of days and addressing technical problems.

“Let me apologize on behalf of ESL and Facebook for the issues you’ve experienced throughout the start of our ESL One Genting broadcast,” Schulze wrote. “The technical issues should not have happened and the fact that the viewing experience on the Facebook platform is not yet where they or us want it to be, is clear from the feedback you’ve given. It is something everyone involved has been working on around the clock — but obviously that is not enough at this point.”

Schulz added that ESL saw the decision to partner with Facebook as one of the best options for long term growth. He said that platforms buy streaming rights, but not every platform — Twitch, Facebook, YouTube — is interested in the same games or tournaments.

“For Facebook, both things worked for the decision — we can make the events happen, and we also believe in the long term opportunity given what kind of platform Facebook is,” Schulz wrote.

Polygon has reached out to ESL and Valve for further comment about the situation.

Update: Valve released a statement today about the situation, addressing on reported bans, DMCA takedowns and addressing who can and cannot stream.

“No one besides Valve is allowed to send DMCA notices for games streamed off of DotaTV that aren’t using the broadcasters’ unique content (camera movements, voice, etc),” the company said. This means that neither Twitch or ESL can issue takedowns; only Valve can.

The company also clarified questions over who is allowed to stream. If you’re an individual streamer who doesn’t belong to a competing organization, you should be fine, according to Valve.

The statement reads:

The second issue is regarding who is permitted to cast off of DotaTV. We designed the DotaTV guidelines to be flexible in order to allow for up and coming casters, or community figures like BSJ or Bulldog that occasionally watch tournament games on their channel, to be able to stream off of DotaTV. It is not to allow commercial organizations like BTS to compete with the primary stream. It’ll be our judgment alone on who violates this guideline and not any other third party’s.