I've had my own thoughts on this subject for a long time, but they were never fleshed out enough where I felt comfortable sharing them publicly. Finally today, I stumbled across a discussion on Reddit where a workshop artist was arguing that the current system needs to be changed or even abolished outright.
I don't disagree, but I feel it's long overdue for someone on the other side of the fence to share the perspective of broadcasters and tournament organizers. I love this game, and it pains me to see people pointing fingers at each other and missing the elephant in the room. To me, it seems obvious the core problem isn't greedy/selfish organizers (although there are certainly plenty who exist); the core problem is that the system we have now is inherently flawed.
Hats sell far more than tickets. That's no big secret; it's something that workshop creators, tournament organizers, Valve and the community have known for a pretty long time now.
From this fact, it's natural to assume that hats are just a flat-out better and more valuable product than tickets. That's true in a superficial sense, but you need to go deeper to truly understand the current landscape.
Tournament organizers and broadcasters bring huge value to DOTA 2 and have arguably done more than anyone besides Valve and profesional players to grow the game. Large, well-done tournaments (most notably but not limited to TI) bring the game to a new audience and actually help increase the player base. That's just a fact. Hell, the strongest evidence is that tournaments were around long before the system of bundling cosmetics with tickets ever arose, and they were doing tons to grow the game even back then.
There is huge demand for tournaments and commentators, and they have obvious value. You need look no further than ESL packing a football stadium in Frankfurt with over 10,000 people or a closed event run out of our house racking up well over 600,000 concurrent online viewers for evidence of such.
Over time, thanks in no small part to tournaments, DOTA 2 has grown to the point it's at now, where artists have a large enough audience to be able to make a decent living selling hats.
The problem isn't that tournaments aren't bringing massive value to DOTA 2; the problem is that Valve hasn't found a great *direct* way to monetize what we offer through the client.
You see, the sad truth is that both tickets and compendiums for non-majors have extremely limited value compared to hats. Perhaps the biggest issue is that there's pretty much always a free, high-definition stream with no ads (for the majority of users who use adblock) available.
Sure, some people like to pay for the opportunity to access replays, watch player perspective, or simply because their internet connection sucks, but however vocal such people may be, ultimately the numbers don't lie. People who are willing to pay for tickets are a drop in the bucket relative to the number of people who will tune in to the free livestreams.
You won't meet many people who say they started playing DOTA 2 because of the cool hats (although they are undoubtedly a massive factor in retaining players), but there are undoubtedly hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who started playing because they had an awesome experience attending a live event or watching a tournament broadcast. Many of those same people that tournament organizers brought to DOTA 2 are undoubtedly spending money buying hats right now! In a way, tournaments are a driving force towards making workshop artist a legitimate career choice.
One of the biggest hurdles I see for Valve is that it's extremely difficult to measure how much a particular organizer has done to grow the player base. Valve likes data, and they like to be able to quantify everything. For workshop contributors, they have a system that allows them to do that objectively and with absolute knowledge. Tournaments exist outside of the Valve's system (the game client), and therefore their value will always be more difficult to measure precisely.
Still, here's my personal theory. Valve is well-aware that DotaTV tickets aren't a great product right now. They want to reward the broadcasters and tournament organizers who have done so much (and continue to do so much) to grow and sustain the game over the past 3-4 years. More importantly, they want to create incentives for organizers to continue doing so.
But see, there's a huge problem. Right now Valve really only have one main way to successfully generate revenue on a huge scale through in-game monetization, and that's via hats.
So the result is the extremely imperfect system we have now, where workshop creators are gently nudged in the direction of working with tournaments. Workshop creators are unhappy because they feel like tournaments are 'relying on them' to sell tickets, and tournaments are unhappy because Valve hasn't found a great way to monetize what is obviously an extremely in-demand and valuable product outside of the game client.
Don't get me wrong, the system can be frustrating as hell for workshop creators, and they have every right to be fed up. But try to understand that the current system isn't what tournament organizers want either. DotaTV was an absolutely amazing invention when it first came out, and it's still light years ahead of what other games offer. But as a product, it hasn't really seen substantial improvements in years now, while new categories of hats, types of effects, and ways for artists to make money from the workshop are introduced on what seems to be a near-daily basis.
In short, the simple truth is that nobody's happy with the current system. Workshop creators are unhappy because they'd rather not work with a middleman. Fans are unhappy because those who just want the hats are force-fed tickets they don't care about, and those who just want the ticket often have no option to buy a standalone ticket at a lower price. Meanwhile, organizers are unhappy because their hugely valuable and in-demand tournament products aren't being monetized well through the game client, so they're forced by market pressures into partnering with workshop creators to drive sales.
I don't claim to have all the answers, and I'm not saying making DotaTV a better product or finding other ways for tournaments to generate revenue through DOTA 2 is easy. But we've got a really smart community and one of the most forward-thinking game development teams in the world at our fingertips. There was a recent thread with a long list of improvements and suggestions for Valve on how to improve the DotaTV experience. I seem to recall another thread from a few months back with lots of really cool and more specific suggestions, although I'm struggling to find it right now. Hell, I personally have shared a list of suggested changes to DotaTV on Reddit in the past, but even that's just the tip of the iceberg of potential ways that DotaTV could be improved and rebuilt as a product.
In the end, I'm optimistic that we as a community can come up with some truly awesome improvements. Let's stop pointing fingers at each other, and let's put our heads together to help Valve build a better system.