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Dota 2 fans packed KeyArena last year for The International. Now the big esports event is headed to Vancouver. (GeekWire photo / Taylor Soper)

Update, March 19: Valve provided this statement to GeekWire: “Rogers Arena is a great venue, Vancouver is a great city, and Key Arena is going to be shut down for major construction very soon.”

Original story: The International is headed to Canada for the first time ever.

Bellevue, Wash.-based gaming giant Valve announced this week that its massive Dota 2 esports tournament will be held at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C., from August 20 through August 25. Tickets, ranging from $125 CAD to $250 CAD, go on sale March 23.

Valve held The International at Seattle’s KeyArena for the past four years, drawing sold-out crowds that traveled around the world to watch the best Dota 2 players compete for what was a $24.7 million prize pool last year.

Now the tournament — and its tourism revenue — is headed across the border. We’ve reached out to Valve to learn more about the move and will update this story when we hear back.

(GeekWire photo / Taylor Soper)

There were several clues pointing to a potential relocation.

In late December, a KeyArena ticketing agent told GeekWire that the event wouldn’t be returning to KeyArena in 2018 due to renovation. Oak View Group, the ownership firm trying to bring an NHL expansion team to Seattle, is planning a $600 million renovation project that would begin before the end of 2018 if approved by city leaders. It’s possible that Oak View Group wants to close down the venue before it officially begins the reconstruction.

In October, a stadium banner ad for The International ran at Rogers Arena in Vancouver during a TSN hockey report.

Last year, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell said The International could be moved out of the country as a result of President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown. Competing teams come to Seattle for The International from all over the world; the same goes for spectators.

The tournament, which started in Germany six years ago, was previously held at Seattle’s Benaroya Hall before Valve moved it in 2014 to a larger venue at KeyArena.

(GeekWire photo / Kevin Lisota)

The relocation is a loss for Seattle’s tourism industry, but don’t be surprised if it returns to the city in the future.

Speaking at the GeekWire Sports Tech Summit this past June, Oak View Group CEO Tim Leiweke said that esports is on the agenda for the redeveloped KeyArena. He expects to host 20 esports events per year at the arena once the reconstruction is complete. Oak View Group wants to have KeyArena ready for the 2020-21 NHL season.

“Do I think 18,000 people come into each and every one of those 20 nights to watch people play games?” Leiweke said in June. “I’m not sure it’ll be 20,000, but look, if you do 5,000-to-8,000, and that keeps your building busy, and those are 20 nights that you can schedule around your anchor tenant and your concert business, I think it’s a fantastic addition completely driven by technology.”

Those not familiar with esports may wonder why people travel from halfway across the globe and pay big bucks to watch other people play video games. But for some Dota 2 fans, attending The International can be a life-changing experience.

“It was the best trip I ever went on,” Kyra Slovacek told GeekWire this past August. “I really had no idea how big the Dota 2 community was until I came to The International and saw the line wrapped all around Seattle Center and sat in the arena. It was unbelievable.”

Spectators watch the professionals battle out at center court, where the teams compete in two pits with glass windows. The International has a sports-like feel, from the raucous crowd to the broadcast booths to the press rows to the festivities outside KeyArena. Valve streams the live action to four huge screens inside KeyArena, and any time there’s a heated battle, the crowd roars — the decibel level certainly matches, if not surpasses, what you’ll experience at any other sporting event.

The prize pool for The International has grown from $10.9 million in 2014 to $24.7 million in 2017, the largest ever in esports history.

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