On 17 October, Russia’s Team Spirit triumphantly lifted the Aegis of Champions. The team of five youngsters – the oldest of them only 23 years of age – looked somewhat out of place, dwarfed by Romania’s biggest stadium. The International 10 is no ordinary sporting event: it is the world championship for multiplayer online battle arena video game Dota2, and comes with an $18.2mn prize – the biggest in eSports.
For seasoned cybersports fans, Team Spirit’s ascendency was entirely unexpected. After a series of embarrassing losses during the regular season and the open qualifiers, few had Team Spirit down even to make it into the finals. Their unlikely victory drew acclaim at home; the team appeared on Russia’s Channel One the same evening, and even received a congratulatory message from President Vladimir Putin. Perhaps even more surprising than the team’s sudden rise to fame, though, is the report by online newsletter The Bell that an “extensive skins empire” could be among the team’s backers.