Made-for-TV Dota 2 Documentary ‘ELEAGUE: Road to The International’ Tests New Waters

Dota 2 documentaries are becoming more frequent, ever since the very first iteration back in 2014, which chronicled the 2011 International Tournament. Produced by Valve, the documentary Free to Play followed three different players from three different teams and showed that behind every weird story is a person with a genuine one.

Since then, it’s been the goal of documentarians to capture the people behind the headline. Rather than simply marvel at the oddity of a multi-million tournament for a video game, documentaries about the topic since have sought to explore the people who participate in them, and capture their very real struggles, related to the game or otherwise, on film. Now, it’s ELEAGUE’s turn, and they’re coming out swinging with ELEAGUE: Road to The International Dota 2 Championships, which will cover the journey of several teams as they attempt to make it to the $23.5 million tournament and prosper while they’re at it.

And it’s breaking into a new market: television. Road to the International will air in four parts as a weekly series on TBS. The first episode, of which GameRevolution received an advance screening, will air tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT. Alternatively, you can watch it right now on ELEAGUE’s YouTube page.

First thing you’ll notice about Road to the International, especially if you’ve seen Free to Play or True Sight, is that it’s very TV. The previous Dota 2 documentaries were markedly under-produced, letting the characters in front of the camera do most of the work. Road to the International has near-constant background music, dramatic voice-overs and even very TV-esque transitional moments, such as the one below:

It’s at this point that it hit me that Road to the International isn’t really a documentary; it’s a reality series. Taking this new perspective on it, it’s easy to ignore these more kitschy aspects and enjoy what they have to offer, which is a lot like if the child of HBO’s Hard Knox and MTV’s Cribs got really into Dota 2.

That said, it is still disappointing to see that Road to the International let some really interesting stories completely pass them by, even storylines that would typically play well in this reality-series milieu. For instance, one of the teams Road to the International follows is compLexity Gaming, which prominently features Jimmy “DeMoN” Ho. DeMoN was also featured in True Sight, where they outlined his relationship with his girlfriend that is strained by constant travel and distance stemming from the frequent Dota 2 trips.

In Road to the International, on the other hand, the only mention of DeMoN’s girlfriend is how he briefly forgot to put her picture up. Now, that drama may have dissipated since True Sight, but if they did miss it, it raises the question “what else did they miss?” I can understand if they don’t want to re-hash stories that have already been covered, but there are always more stories. That said, there are still three episodes to go to complete this series, so we’ll reserve judgment, hoping it plays out with more human moments in the future.

Not to mention that Road to the International still had plenty of human moments, whether or not it was seeing the immediate, frustrated reactions of players after a loss, or just a team of players hanging out on a boat. It’s an intriguing look at Dota 2 from the inside that deserves a watch, especially as a companion to the ongoing International tournament.