Free To Play | Review

In 2011, DotA 2 was just becoming a popular game, giving the developers a chance to introduce it to the competitive tournaments. How they did this shattered the record prize pool of any tournament at the time; with The International under way, teams fought to get into a $1.6 million prize pool. Free To Play gave us a chance to look further into the players and what eSports is becoming worldwide. Released on March 19th of this year, this Valve-filmed documentary follows three ambitious DotA 2 players in their quest for glory.

It’s odd reviewing a movie, considering that I’m a better gamer than I am a movie-goer. I wanted to try my hand at this movie, however; it was right up my alley. My only concern was that I wasn’t incredibly fluent with how MOBA (that’s Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, in case you want to know) games worked, especially DotA 2. I have plenty of friends who play it competitively, but I just wasn’t into the whole “competitive scene.” How would this movie explain how everything worked and would people who have never played a MOBA game understand it?

Well, for the most part, yes. They explain the core basics of the game so people who have never played or seen the game can at least understand how the game works. Two teams of five battle in a single arena, the team who destroys the opposition’s “core” wins the match. That’s all you really need to know to understand how it works. However, some major things like how abilities work, how the game plays (controls, buying items, and duration of games), and how various characters play are for the most part left out. This might be problematic considering that a few things are key to understand how difficult they are to pull off. Valve also animated key moments from each match, giving a usually top-down game a cinematic and intense feeling.

The purpose of the documentary is to explain the growth of eSports and how popular it already is in countries like China and Korea. However, the hero-villain dynamic is represented by three ambitious competitive DotA players fighting to get first (our “heroes” will be explained later), against eHOME, a Chinese team known for being the best team in the world. As the tournament rages on, teams are eliminated, leading to the final match. To avoid spoilers (besides the backstories of the highlighted players), I’ll stop here.

As the movie goes on, we learn more about our main characters. “Fear,” an ambitious Oregonian gamer whose father walked out on his family, went to gaming as a release and decided early on in life to play games for money. “Hyhy,” a DotA player from Singapore who tries to juggle his schooling and competitive gaming, which is something that his family doesn’t much approve of. Finally, we have “Dendi,” a Ukrainian who lost his father to cancer, found DotA and found peace. All of these players have more or less unique stories, which curiously tie into their playstyles in DotA and are explained as well throughout the movie.

Along with these players, we get commentary from various other people, like the captain of Clan PMS (a female-exclusive DotA team) and the host of The International. Among the audio you’ll hear in the movie are high-quality versions of the commentary from the event that took part in each match; plenty of shouting and fast-talking comes from this,  fueling the adrenaline everybody felt at the event, viewers and players alike. Everything flows well and feels natural. Nothing overwhelms you throughout the entire movie.

I plugged my laptop to an HDTV and watched the whole thing in the highest quality possible. Everything from the CGI-animations to the cinematography are just gorgeous and flow very well. The music goes from calm and relaxing to high-action and heated, then might slow down and give you a somber feeling. That said, there are flaws. If you’ve never played/seen a MOBA game before in your life, then you might get lost while watching the key matches and wonder why the commentators are freaking out.

Final Score: 8 (Great)

For a free movie, however…this is a must-watch for anyone that has a friend or family member that is very ambitious in the gaming scene. It gives you incredible insight to a gamer’s mindset and won’t overwhelm you with confusing information. It’s a small pill that’s easy to swallow and, for all it’s worth, was a great experience to watch for the first time. The cinematography, CG, and sound quality are very high-quality and flow together incredibly well; and along with this, there are no Wilhelm screams, so you have that going for you.

You can watch the entire movie for free on YouTube, or you can watch the better, higher quality version for free on Steam, which has full subtitle support and extra features. (Let’s be brutally honest here, just download Steam for free and download the movie there. It’s a much better experience.)

Written by: Tyler Busler

I'm an adept gamer with 15+ years of experience in the best and worst of gaming history. I've always believed that gameplay is the most important part of a video game in most instances. My favorite games are Super Mario 3D World, Journey, Yoshi's Island, Paper Mario, and Dust: An Elysian Tail.