The prize pool for the first edition of the tournament, in 2011, was a staggering USD 1.6 million, sponsored entirely by Valve. The second edition had an identical prize pool but introduced the option of players being able to watch the tournament in real time.
The third iteration of the tournament saw a significant change with the introduction of the compendium - an item that granted access to specific tournament and event features. Buyers of compendiums could also earn cosmetic items, with custom effects and animations. For every compendium that was bought, a quarter went to the total prize pool for The International.
The introduction of the compendium was a stupendous hit. It helped Valve recover its initial investment by the third season itself as the amount earned from the sale of compendiums exceeded USD 2.8 million.
The International Battle Pass replaced the compendium in 2016. The introduction of the battle pass meant that even casual fans could enjoy all the cosmetics that came with its purchase. The edition also saw Quests making their first appearance. Valve stated that if the prize pool for the previous edition was bettered, all battle pass owners would receive three Trust of the Benefactor treasure chests. The move worked well, as the final prize pool for the season stood at USD 20,770,460.
2017 saw the return of the level 1000 reward and The International broke its previous prize pool record yet again, raising the bar to USD 24,787,916.
The International 2018 saw the tournament move out of the U.S. for the first time since its inaugural edition in Germany in 2011. The Promise of Revival Treasure Chest was introduced at Level 615 as the prize pool saw a marginal increase to USD 25,532,177.
The tournament was hosted in Asia for the first time in 2019 and saw Valve release four prestige items. The prize pool was in excess of USD 34 million as The International reclaimed its position as the tournament with the top prize money, toppling Fortnite, which offered a total prize of approximately 30 million dollars.
Valve’s ability to innovate continuously and offer great cosmetic products and engage competitors that are not high-level players to participate in the tournament has seen it improve on its total prize money in each of the last 10 years with the battle pass setting it apart from its competitors and proving to be a significant competitive advantage.
Words by Nikhil Kalro