I recently watched Valve’s Free to Play documentary, which, like the Dota 2 game it chronicles, is free to play on Steam. I had it queued up there, but it also landed on one of my favorite websites, topdocumentaryfilms.com, in its YouTube form, so I watched that version instead.

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Valve continues to impress. I have wanted to know more about Dota 2 for a while now, so this was a timely answer to all those questions. The Dota 2 tournament scene reminds me of the early days on the Magic: the Gathering circuit, where I met my husband. I have often wished that someone had done a documentary on those early days. I mean back in the nineties, when you would see Richard Garfield strolling around the ballroom during a tournament (in a patchwork blazer if I recall). Back when M:tG artists would sign cards for you, even the ones you sent in the mail.

An inspiring theme running through the film is the growing legitimacy of video games. It’s not just the idea of big-money tournaments, but the idea of big audiences watching those tournaments. These are legit sports (I believe in the film they said in China video games are a legitimately recognized sport, just like chess). It’s kind of funny that the US, as entertainment-oriented and consumptive as we are, has not yet embraced the sport of video gaming to the degree that some other countries have.

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Watching a really skilled player play a video game is exciting. It’s one reason the “let’s play” video genre and twitch are all the rage right now. Valve did a killer job of capturing some really visceral moments in Free to Play, and showing just how exciting that can be.

Now, the people at Valve aren’t stupid. Dota 2 is a Valve game, so there’s naturally an element of self-promotion here. The inbound marketer and documentary filmmaker parts of my brain approve. Making it free and accessible, of course, means it will get out there. And by out there, I mean beyond the gaming community. The Polygon article I just read about how the attempt at an indie game dev reality show just went down in flames further reinforces this point. Gamer culture wants to be understood, and is trying.

By putting out a film like this,¬†Valve’s doing its part to help educate non-gamers. Thanks for that, Valve, we need that kind of marketing.

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