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Video gamers vie for $10 million prize pool

Eric Johnson, a programmer with Bellevue-based video game company Valve, says 18,000 fans will pack Key Arena this weekend as competitors vie for millions in prizes playing Dota 2. (Kim Shepart/KIRO Radio)
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Video games are no longer just child's play. Top tier players can now make millions of dollars, and the biggest video game competition of its kind starts Friday in Seattle.

Around 18,000 fans are massing at Key Arena for The International. Teams from around the world will compete in Dota 2, an online role playing game created by the Bellevue-based company Valve.

Dota 2 has now surpassed World of Warcraft with nearly 8 million subscribers. The Dota scene has become so large, some gamers are now getting paid millions of dollars to play.

"A lot of professionals who are going to play in this have chosen to do this instead of go to college for now, or have taken a year off of college," says Valve programmer Eric Johnson. "They practice at least 6 to 10 hours a day."

Johnson says many teams travel the world competing for large cash prizes.

The prize pool at The International is more than $10 million. Valve contributes $1.6 million. The rest is raised by the Dota community through the purchase of an add-on in the game itself.

"This community is acutely aware of the perception that people outside of the community could potentially have of it," says Johnson. "A lot of people around the world, they get fired up about that prize pool being as big as it can be."

Among the teams that have made it to the finals is Na'Vi, a team from Ukraine that won the the first International and placed second the last couple of years.

Johnson says they care a lot about their players and are aware that the climate at home could affect Na'Vi's play in Seattle.

"As the political climate was changing in Ukraine, making sure those guys were doing OK was pretty important to us," Johnson says.

Na-Vi has continued to travel and win Dota 2 tournaments, and they remain one of the favorites to win The International.

Tickets have already sold out, but you can watch the play live online at espn3.com. ESPN 2 will be broadcasting the final match of The International live on its television network.

Johnson says he expects more than 10 million people around the world will be watching the competition.

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