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Esports, as one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, has rapidly gained fans and an audience thanks to streaming services such as Twitch and several significant esports tournaments, such as the League of Legends World Championship, CS:GO Majors, and Dota 2’s The International (TI). While fans, participants, and sponsors have a passion for these larger-than-life esports events, there are groups of people whose only love is in making fast money. When it comes to this year’s The International, there is no one with more to gain than scalpers (people who either buy tickets in bulk or counterfeit them to resell at a higher price) and the organizations that are working with them to make money through questionable means.
In this article, The Esports Observer takes a closer look at how these scalpers managed to buy so many tickets meant for TI fans and how the lack of real authority and oversight affected the highest prize money tournament in esports history.
Massive Chaos in TI9 Ticket Sales
Recently, the esports industry in China welcomed the $33M USD The International to Shanghai. Between August 20-25, 14 professional esports teams will compete at Shanghai Mercedes-Benz Arena, and 18,000 attendees will witness this highest prize money tournament in the history of esports each day. Some TI9 attendees paid an incredibly high price to get into the event by buying tickets directly from scalpers. Even some attendees who bought tickets for the official price reported that Damai, the exclusive Chinese ticket sales platform of the event, switched their tickets with lower viewing experience seats (typically seats in the upper rows, or “nosebleed” sections of the venue).
Unlike previous TI events hosted in countries such as the United States, Canada, and Germany, this is the first time the event has come to China, and also the first time that there has been a problem with the way tickets have been sold. These problems helped scalpers to buy and sell bulk tickets with ease:
Paper Tickets for TI9
In the previous TI, the ticket was actually a badge made of plastic. Due to the event using paper instead of plastic this year, scalpers have found it easier to secretly carry these tickets in and around the arena, and sell them to fans. In addition, it is easy to make counterfeit tickets. For fans, badges are more commemorative and harder (but not entirely impossible) to counterfeit.
Pictured: an online re-selling platform priced the tickets based on seat locations. Credit: Mo Tianlun
In every stadium, there are places with the best and worst viewing experiences. At the previous TI, seats were random, so that attendees are not able to choose where they want to sit to make the purchase fair and to keep tickets at a reasonable price. But this time, seat numbers are on the tickets, which allows scalpers to set pricing specifically based on the seat location. As the above picture shows, the second-floor tickets are higher than fifth-floor tickets, and more front-facing to the stage with a higher price point.
More dramatically, some attendees who bought tickets reported that Damai switched their tickets for improper trading. “The ticket number on the ticket is not the one I received in my order receipt,” one attendee named Miss Gao told The Esports Observer. The Shanghai Morning Post, a Shanghai government-backed newspaper, printed an entire page reporting that Damai is in a possible partnership with scalper organizations. One scalper told the Shanghai Morning Post that Damai is cooperating with “big” scalpers and that they hold most of the second-floor tickets. Either Perfect World and Damai (both involved in facilitating ticket sales in China for TI) have not made official comments at the time of writing.
The Controversial Early Access Code
During the ticket sale dates in May, Valve announced a new rule in order to prevent scalping. Dota 2 players who owned a Battle Pass or an active Dota Plus subscription could receive an Early Access Code, which gave the holder a one-hour early head start to purchase a ticket after the opening sale time. Bad internet connections were common during the ticket sales process, and a number of Chinese programmers (as reported on multiple Chinese outlets) warned that the ticket system had a serious security hole that scalpers could use to develop third-party applications to bypass the process of typing in an Early Access Code. This helped scalpers get a few seconds ahead of Early Access customers to purchase a bunch of tickets. As of this writing, Perfect World and Damai have not made any official comments on these issues.
Sources close to Perfect World told The Esports Observer that
- According to the policy, all tickets had to be paper.
- Daimai is the exclusive ticket selling partner of Mercedes-Benz Arena, and Perfect World/Valve had no other choice but to use the company.
Who’s Taking Responsibility for TI9 Ticket Scalping?
At the time of writing, no one from game publisher Valve, Chinese Dota 2 distributor Perfect World, or ticket selling platform Damai have made any comments on the ticket scalping situation or taken responsibility. When faced with similar issues, Tencent and Riot Games made a number of decisions to make sure that tickets are sold fairly for its events.
On July 22, TJ Sports, a joint venue of Tencent and Riot Games, announced ticket purchasing rules for its League of Legends Pro League (LPL). All tickets have to be purchased by using a Chinese national ID-card, and attendees need to bring their own national ID-cards and a corresponding ticket to the venue. For the non-Chinese audience, attendees will require a passport and a ticket.
Scalpers told The Esports Observer that the final two-day tickets of TI9 are ¥7K-10K RMB ($993-$1.4K USD) each, and elimination two-day tickets are ¥1.5K ($212) each. The original ticket price was ¥2099 ($298) for the August 24-25 two-day ticket, and ¥250 ($35) for the elimination each day.
Sources close to the TI participating teams told The Esports Observer that each team only has 20 VIP tickets for its staff, sponsor leaders, and players’ families. For example, esports team PSG.LGD has ten sponsors, including Betway, HLA Jeans, Monster Energy, and China Citic Bank Credit Card. Tong “CU” Xin, the CEO of esports organization Newbee, who recently acquired the full roster of Forward Gaming to attend TI this year, joked to The Esports Observer that VIP tickets are incredibly high priced on the scalper market.
(Editor note: VIP tickets are not available for purchase by the public, but can be bought from scalpers with a minimum price ¥15K ($2.12K) for the final of TI9.)
In the esports industry, young people are the major players and customers; most of them are students, and highly unlikely to afford hundreds to thousands of dollars to buy tournament tickets.
“For those who didn’t successfully purchase and [are] not able to afford tickets, they should blame themselves. [they are not quick to purchase and they don’t have money],” a scalper said, “We don’t know Dota 2 or esports, but all our tickets were collected from multiple individual customers, including poor students. In some ways, we are helping them to get a better life. Does Dota 2 give them money?”
It’s reasonable that when the ticket price broke a significant point, some purchasers would sell their tickets to scalpers. In some ways, in this scenario, everyone could become a scalper without an authoritative body to make some rules on what a ticket buyer can do with a ticket after purchase. In addition, there are a few customers who reported that they got cheated by scalpers who sold them fake tickets. Ultimately the only people who get hurt by scalpers and the mismanagement of tickets sales are consumers who can’t get access to a ticket at a reasonable price, and who might find themselves out in the cold when they realize the ticket they bought is counterfeit. Valve and Perfect World may also take a hit to their reputations in the long run, for the way ticket sales were managed.
TI is a classic esports tournament series which uses a crowdfunding system to generate revenue for the total prize pool. This year, TI surpassed $33M in total prize pool, and only $1.6M of that prize money was provided by Valve. As the only esports tournament series to take the crown of “highest prize money in esports history,” TI9 generated $31.4M in prize money from the community (through digital sales), and $94.2M was earned by Valve due to only 25% of Battle Pass purchases being added into that prize pool.
TI only has partnerships with NVIDIA’s GeForce gaming/hardware brand and Secretlab as its official chair provider, so in many ways, the Dota 2 community is the “main sponsor” of The International.
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