Gabe Newell has sat through thousands of interviews. His conversation that aired nationally on Sunday evening, though, was particularly unique.
Newell, CEO and co-founder of Bellevue-based gaming company Valve, had an interview broadcasted to millions of people on ESPN2 as part of a 30-minute show about the massive Dota 2 tournament happening at Seattle’s Key Arena.
Newell spent five minutes talking about Valve and the tournament itself — also known as “The International” — that attracts the best Dota 2 teams from around the world and this year features a record-breaking prize pool of nearly $11 million.
Many outside of the hardcore gaming community may not understand the popularity of The International, or why thousands of people are showing up in droves at Key Arena to watch others play video games.
Newell said that growing interest stems from something rather simple: the Internet.
“The Internet is changing what entertainment and sports is,” Newell said on ESPN. “It’s not just a few people authoring an experience for others. It’s really growing out of what everybody does.”
Newell explained how when someone has an impressive performance during an online multiplayer battle games like Dota 2, it benefits everyone — people creating content for the game, people running tournaments, people competing on an international stage.
“Every single element of the game allows the community itself to participate and create,” Newell said.
The rise of eSports is undeniable, and the fact that ESPN — which is streaming all the matches via ESPN3 — used a primetime TV slot on Sunday evening to broadcast a Dota 2 championship preview show that included highlights and analysis is proof of that.
Meanwhile, the prize money pool, which is crowdfunded by Dota fans themselves via $10 digital tournament guides, speaks for itself. The dollar amount has grown exponentially from a $1 million prize for the first Dota 2 tournament three years ago.
“For a lot of these people, it is really life-changing money,” Newell said of the competing teams. “This is a spectacular opportunity for them.”
When asked about his favorite Dota 2 tournament moment, Newell told a story about a mother in her late 50s who attended The International last year in Seattle. She had never heard of Dota 2, but her son wanted to check out the competition, so she obliged.
During the tournament’s final match, the crowd was going crazy — including the mother herself.
“We’re all just standing on our feet, jumping, and I then I see her doing the same thing,” Newell recalled. “The fact that we can take someone who had never seen the game before, turn them into a screaming, raging fan in four days — that’s my favorite moment.”
You can watch the ESPN segment below. Newell’s interview starts at the 20-minute mark.