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My time as a DotA 2 sponsor

My time as a DotA 2 sponsor

I don’t know how to write short statements and I am a poor writer, so apologies in advance for what you are getting into.

The DotA 2 scene: An outsider’s experience

Skip to general impressions of the scene
Skip to my future plans
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I have played DotA for over 13 years now.  I played “competitively” in CAL 12 years ago, I tried out HoN when Icefrog gave S2 permission because the graphics were prettier, and then I came back to DotA 2 in 2011.  I also used to host maps for Mr. Frog and did some beta testing stuff as well.  My history with the game goes back a long time, and when I started my hot sauce company in 2014 I wanted to get involved with eSports/Esports/e-sports/35p0R75/electronic sports.

At that time I knew absolutely nothing about the culture how things worked with teams or personalities, so I tried using twitter to contact teams at TI so I could bring them free hot sauce and maybe open a dialogue.  I failed.  Sporadically I did things like look up the business registrations for organizations like BTS and others and just mailed them hot sauce out of the blue with a note.  I tried some other stuff as well throughout the years, but it wasn’t until after TI6 that I got some traction.

Why did I want to get into video game advertising and why specifically DotA2?

Do what you know.  I know video games, I have lan parties, I have lots of friends that play video games and follow them, I think I understand that type of person and connect with them.  I sell an online product, and video gamers are generally cool with purchasing things over the internet and hot sauce is universally enjoyed.  The years of DotA experience made it a logical place to start.

I am also tired of seeing gambling websites propping up the scene, and would like to see something a little more wholesome I guess.  Don’t get me wrong, we would not be where we are today without those sponsors and they are needed at this point.  Ultimately though I think there is a market for more than 5 sponsors though, and I think they are needed to make gaming more mainstream. 

When EE created Team NP I finally got in touch with someone.  After many hours of conversation and negotiation we came to an agreement that we thought was mutually beneficial.  I am a small business, I can’t afford to drop 10’s of thousands of dollars on something and have it not work out.  Basically what we agreed that we would just try and make me break even.  They were guaranteed money so they could survive, I gave them the profits of my sales, and I gained new customers.  It was a win/win situation for both parties.

After we had agreed to an arrangement I saw a reddit post on a Sunday morning talking about how this guy was tired of shitposting while we were waiting for the new patch and wanted someone to post something of substance.  I thought I would test the waters of hot sauce in DotA and made a post asking if people would care if I sponsored something and the response was pretty positive.  I was pretty giddy to make the NP announcement at that point as the community really seemed to respond and want the same things that I did.

Soon after, the sponsorship was announced and it was an extremely exciting time.  NP qualified for the Summit 6, NA Beat, and then the Boston Major.  Since my money went to paying for bootcamp I felt like I was able to help be a part of something awesome and that I was partially responsible for the team success.  Maybe I helped by relieving some monetary stress so they could focus on the game, or maybe I helped by having a bunch of fans get on board and get some positive momentum, or maybe I did nothing and it was coincidence.  Whatever happened or didn’t happen I felt like I was part of it.

During this time I made some waves and tons of people get in contact with me about sponsorship opportunities.  I talked with Moonduck, I talked with owners of organizations outside of DotA, I talked with random twitch streamers, and I talked with tons of people’s agents or managers or whatever.

I also talked with Complexity.  I told them my plans and what I wanted to do, and they told me how they could help me reach those goals.  They offered me streaming time and placements on so many other things like Counter-Strike, Hearthstone, among others.  We planned a launch in November that would expose FYM to millions more people on twitch than just DotA before Christmas to sell my new beer sauces.

I also talked seriously with Swindlemelonzz/Melonzz/Swindlezz/Kyle about him buying into the company and us working together.

Now all of the sudden is time for the Summit 6.  I had never met any of the guys in person, but it was super cheap to fly down so I could meet the dudes from NP.  I got to show up and hang out and meet a bunch of the personalities and players; it was a great time.  I played mafia with them and found out Charlie Yang is pretty decent and he told me I was real bad.  The next game 7ckingMad and I were mafia together and he didn’t realize I was mafia and got me voted off on the first day round.  He won that game though so I guess I won also, but it just doesn’t feel right claiming that as a W. 

Charlie crushed me this game of Mafia

I went out to dinner with Bulba, Aui, 1437, Charlie, MSS, and Phil from EG and got to talk about ways to prevent level 1 suicide to neutrals for an hour, it was really fun listening to the way professionals think about the game.  I got to win cornhole with GrandGrant and Prove, and tilt Sheever and ODPixel into a rage quit by being bad at Overcooked (it was my first time playing ever but now I am good at it and have done some practice).  I had a huge amount of awkward introductions and conversations with people that clearly did not want to talk with me.  Overall it was a great time and I enjoyed myself.

When I got back to Portland I found out that Capitalist lived about a half hour north of me and we met for a meal at Shari’s.  We later had a board game night at my house where I scared him off.  I also got to be a witness at his wedding which was pretty cool.

I gave NP all of my numbers of direct traffic and supporters and they ended up using that information to get more sponsors.  I wouldn’t be in the sponsor tag much longer in the games, but I was still on the pennant in game and that was cool.

So then it is time for The Boston Major.  If you cared to read this far you probably know about me getting robbed by my Uber driver.  Beef from Complexity was a lifesaver.  He helped me out so much by loaning me a charger for my phone and a laptop when I needed it.  He had gotten me a cool jersey with my name on it (unrelated but awesome of him).  Overall a super nice guy.

Early on I got to talk with Jason and Sabina from Dotabuff.  They are awesome people and I enjoyed very much the time we spent together drinking and eating and more drinking and stuff.  I have been a plus subscriber since it came out (and I recommend everyone subs because it is awesome) so it was nice to meet the people who had a product I use all the time.

I went to a dinner with Matt from Monster and Cap and I got to talk about sponsor stuff and our thoughts on the Overwatch league.  As expected I got to have more awkward introductions and conversations with people that didn’t want to talk with me.  I got to go to my first after party which was fun.  I got to watch MVP.Phoenix karaoke “Gangnam Style” which was awesome.  I got to help a player that was far too drunk to stand, and hang out with a popular streamer who would later forget me when I approached them at TI7.  It was a fun time.

Hanging out with the fantastic Mr. Blitz

The Day after TI7 was over there was a huge 25 person mafia night where I got my first experience with SirActionSlacks.  That guy…That guy is something else when he plays mafia.  We played a game with Bulba where he made some ludicrous claim that he was the sheriff and that @Naroiclime was mafia (she wasn’t) and we all voted her off.  The next round he told us the truth that he wasn’t sheriff but he had some master plan that would win the town the game (town lost).  It was hilarious see RTZ make his way through the ranks as mafia through the sidelines and crush it.  At one point I made Cr1t rage quit a mafia game because I was shifty or something; I don’t think he liked me much.  I was medic that game and made a game winning save though and it was awesome (we won that game).  The Ad Finem guys, oh man.  The Ad Finem guys were hilarious and excited and some of the nicest (and loudest) guys to be around.  They loved to make this hand gesture as if they are washing their hands of the situation and are a general blast.

That was Boston.  Started out poorly, but ended up being a fun time.

After Boston neither NP nor Complexity were very happy with their results.  CoL and I had some disagreements and I exercised my right to terminate the partnership.  It was actually quite frustrating.  I was sent a bill for the renewal of the contract and I didn’t feel that the terms of the initial contract were fulfilled yet on their end.  I sent an email about how I felt and never heard back from them.  I was eventually removed from their website and that was that.  I think they were just happy I didn’t pursue it any further and just cut off all contact since they agreed with me.  I was sad though that I was sold that we would work together and they considered people they work with family, yet when I expressed disappointment they didn’t even respond.  While I think Beef is a super nice guy, I didn’t like how this was handled.

I felt really uncomfortable about talking with teams and personalities after that to be honest.  I could tell that NP was having some difficulties meshing (everyone figured that out shortly after) so I never wanted to bother them with stuff.  I wanted them to focus on playing and being the best NP they could be as ultimately I just wanted them to succeed.  I also was ending up spending a bunch of time on my Uber case and my stubbornness to right a wrong ended up with me back in Boston and in court for the Kiev Major. 

I use the nice belt I got in Boston to keep my head up when I sleep on long flights 

Incoming roster change for NP and a time of uncertainty.  Again I was rooting for the guys, but staying out of their way.  I talked with their managers several times about some administrative stuff and payment issues (banks refusing wire transfers, wrong conversion rates), then it was time for TI qualifiers.

Once the qualifiers were over and NP had made it to TI7 I found out that they were going to become C9 (again?).  That was so hard to keep quiet especially when Valve put C9 in the patch notes I had this secret that I wanted to tell and it kind of ate me up a little.  Jacky sent me a skype message telling me that he would try and get me on board with C9, but he appreciated what I had done and would even continue to promote my sauce for free.

So now after the year I don’t even know if I will get my name on anything for TI7.  Obviously that would be good for my company, with millions of people watching having FYM being displayed…somewhere.

I get to eventually talk with the owner of C9, and it is 2 weeks before TI7.  We go over what my agreement was with NP and see if anything could be done.  With 2 weeks before TI it was too short of time to get my logo on the jersey.  I am not a big sponsor anymore so I get 0 in game recognition or logo placements (rip pennants).  I wanted to get autographed photos of the players so I could mail those out with hot sauces; that was do-able supposedly but never happened (I did get autographed photos of the old team before the disband although selling NP 1437 pictures didn’t seem right at TI).  I was told that a C9 jersey would be shipped to Seattle with my logo on it but I never did receive it. 

I did get permission to make a custom sauce, but by the time I got approval on use of the C9 logo and artwork I couldn’t have the labels made until after TI.  We had talked about potentially making a C9 sauce just in general for their website, but after they were eliminated in the bo1 I never heard from anyone at C9 again.  Then the team disbanded and it appears C9 doesn’t want a sauce anymore.

So what happened at TI?  Well I had planned to do giveaway things in conjunction with games, but there was only 1 game so I was left in a conundrum.  I ended up giving most everything to the people that hosted the reddit secret side shop.  Before C9 lost I had given them some stuff (30 bottles of sauce and a bunch of tshirts).  On the day of their shop I brought them about 40 more shirts and a bunch more sauce.  The dude was really confused at first when I dropped off a massive box as no one had told him I had more swag and tried to turn me away for a second.  It was kind of funny.

I mostly ended up hanging out alone in the C9 suite to watch TI.  There was constantly mac and cheese and chicken strips being ordered to the room.  I ate so many chicken strips and mac and cheese.  Like multiple times a day, that was all I ate.  They really like chicken strips, like reaaaaaallly like chicken strips, one of my main take aways.  I occasionally tried talking to some people/personalities/players that I had met prior but no one really seemed interested.  I am sure they were busy with stuff and I understand that I am not entitled to their time. 

I want to make it clear that in no way am I upset that people either did not want to talk with me or did not make an effort to talk with me or anything.  I am not important, I do not exciting things to say, I am not close with any of these people.  I tried, if I didn’t get a response I left them alone.  I did meet some people that talked with me for a bit and that was cool.  I think the only person I really talked to on C9 was Aui, and he was super nice to me.  Not sure if he felt sorry for me and that was his reason or not, but I super appreciated it.  In general though I felt really awkward most of the time being the guy that just “was there.”  I had already paid for the trip though so I thought I should stay in Seattle for the tournament anyways rather than heading home.

I got to do a content piece with Slacks and 80 other people one day and that was super fun even though it was cut.  He wanted us to win a techies game in a pub, but make sure it was the most cancerous thing possible.  I used to be rated one of the top techies on dotabuff before the patch change and I stopped playing them so I had to get in on this, also Slacks was the one whose youtube video made me want to learn techies in the first place so I felt I had to pay him homage.  I totally won the game for my team and also drew the game out until they said that we had to finish because they were running out of time.  No one likes playing long games so I drew it out until I was told to finish then got 2 ultra kills and we throned after being 4 rax down.  It was fun but I was really sad when it didn’t air.

We super won that game

Other than that it was cool seeing Liquid win and watching all the crazy games.  I enjoyed the experience, but I will probably only go back to TI if I can get someone to go with me so I have someone to share it with.

General impressions with professional DotA:

The one thing I have to say in all aspects of environment is that it is very chaotic and disorganized.  From the top level down it is all crazy, inconsistent, last minute, and difficult to manage and understand.  Communication is at odd hours or lacking, and egos are massive.  Yes a lot of people are very talented and put in a lot of hard work and have made a lot of money so to some extent egos are warranted, but at the same time we are all just people and general decency goes a long way.

I think a lot of the disorganization at the top level has something to do with Valve’s corporate structure.  There seems to be a lot of contention around lack of communication with people there all over the place, and that is warranted.  If there is no hierarchy it is hard to make sure that people are communicated with as it is no one’s specific responsibility to decide to whom and what gets communicated.  Not knowing people at Valve I may be way off, but this is just my general impression after seeing behind the scenes and hearing stories.

Lastly, people are way too mean to Bulba.  Yes he makes some really odd decisions sometimes that lose you mafia/DotA games or may sometimes annoy you, but he doesn’t deserve to get treated in a cruel manner.  Despite the fact that he refuses to learn my name despite having spent many hours together, I ultimately think he is decent person that people use as an easy target to make up for their own insecurities.

What do I plan to do with DotA in the future?  Will I be back to sponsor more?

I definitely want to do more sponsoring in the future.  I approached a team about becoming Team FYM but they were not interested and asked for far too much money to become interested.

I tried to contact Valve about hosting a minor, but I never heard a response back and they now have 50 tournaments scheduled so I doubt I am going to be able to make that work out.  They were planning dates and events way faster than I expected as they hadn’t announced dates for events in the past in a reasonable amount of time.  On that front they seem to be improving so that is a good sign for the future.

I might try and make some content with some of the DotA personalities.  I have some ideas that I would like to bring to life so that is something that is on my plate.  I also super like playing mafia and some of the other games, so I have considered hosting a mafia lan because it hasn’t been done in a long time and I think it is the only way I will ever be able to play it again.

I might branch out into other games for sponsoring, but it really will depend on the teams/people/communities.  I only want to sponsor people that will actually enjoy it rather than just be another title on a screen.

Sponsors are key to everything and they make the world go round in all events.  I have lined up some other big companies that I am going to be bringing into the sponsorship fold with me.  I think it will be beneficial for the community and the companies involved.  I really wanted to debut that with a Team FYM, but I think that ship has passed.  I was planning on using the footage from TI7 with my logo on stuff in games and on jerseys to meet with some large food companies here in Portland to show the benefits of advertising in this new market, but I had to change my presentation around since I got cut out.  I am still able to make the presentations, but at a much higher difficulty than if I wasn’t cut out at the most watched and hyped event of the year.

Having just watched SirActionSlack’s video on sponsorship I can really sympathize with him as I have done the calling up and research side of things.  I have worked with massive companies in the past and it is not at all easy.  Good on him for working hard to make it work.  My offer still stands to make him a limited edition Midas mode hot sauce that he can sell for a crowdfunding campaign to make his tournament happen. 

Did I make tons of money doing this?

That is the question that everyone asks me.  “Oh man you must have made tons of money doing this and must be rich now.”

I did not make any money doing this.  I did not try to make any money doing this.  Will I make money in the future from this?  If I get a bunch of repeat customers then yes I will make money.  Right now I have a pallet of sauce sitting in London that I am trying to sell at a loss because my fulfillment company is moving and needs the space.  I will not make money on that part.

I tried to break even, and give all the money to the teams so they could succeed.  In the future I am not looking for immediate profits, I just want to pick opportunities to make sure I don’t lose that much money and I help build and develop the scene making it easier for other companies to see success and want to get involved. 

My ultimate goal is to help make a positive change in the community so that it can thrive.  This involves flexibility on all parties as I have a different product than most (something you can buy over and over unlike a headset or keyboard).  Maybe more organizations will be interested in custom sauces/special edition labels or something that they can sell to make money all year round to fund their operational costs.  Who knows what the future holds?

I used a lot of bubble wrap to ship out hot sauce for everyone

Sorry for making you read more words than Miracle-‘s mmr, I don’t know how to be concise.  I hope this was beneficial to you and I thank you for taking the time to read it.

tl;dr: DotA is an interesting and disorganized place with lots of personalities and egos and it is hard to sponsor but I want to keep it up because I want to make it a better place and people are too mean to Bulba