Not just a good videogame documentary, but one of the best documentaries. Period.
Dota 2 is one of the most competitive and popular online games today. While Valve’s complex strategy game may sound intimidating to someone unfamiliar with the massive online battle arena (MOBA) genre, the goals of the game are fairly straightforward: Two teams of five players are engaged in a territorial tug of war and the ultimate goal of each match is to destroy the enemy base. While the premise is relatively simple, the depth and skilled required to master the game has captivated millions around the world.
Free to Play centers around teams duking it out in a Dota 2 tournament for a million-dollar cash prize.
Before I saw Free to Play, I was skeptical that Valve could put together a compelling and engaging film centered around a videogame. I am happy to admit that my initial hesitations were proven wrong as Free to Play not only turns out to be a great documentary about e-sports and video games, but one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen. Period.
Valve's documentary Free to Play is also free to watch.
Before I delve more into the review, I should let you know that I don’t play Dota 2 or know anything about its online community. As a matter of fact, I have never really followed e-sports in general. Regardless, this did not prevent me from enjoying the documentary one bit.
The film’s story centers on the first Dota 2 International tournament held in Cologne, Germany, in 2011. This unprecedented tournament featured a prize pool of 1.6 million dollars. The winning team would walk away with a million dollars, which at the time was the largest single cash prize for any e-sports tournament ever.
The film highlights several international teams, but focuses on three major players that include “HyHy” (Benedict Lim Han Yong) of Singapore, “Dendi” (Danylo Ishutin) of Ukraine, and “Fear” (Clinton Loomis) from the US. The film shows how each player got into the game and throughout the process, you see trials and tribulations that any person could relate to, whether they play videogames or not. You get a strong sense of their passion and see how much they’ve had to sacrifice to become the best players in the world. The story is fantastic, emotional, and definitely something both PC gamers and non-gamers can enjoy. It’s a film even your non-gaming mother could appreciate and be entertained with.
The pacing of the film was also well done. We watched the documentary in a theatre packed with journalists and game developers, and by the time it ended, we were surprised that only an hour and sixteen minutes had passed. Valve said they will have more content coming in the next few days, and they will roll out new snippets periodically. The company also said they filmed over 100-hours of footage in the making of Free to Play so hopefully all of that starts trickling online soon.
In the end, we highly recommend watching this documentary because it is truly a fantastic film with a strong story, great pacing, and fun, likeable characters. This is the movie you’ll want to show your family and friends that don’t understand why you play competitive online games.
Instead of giving the movie a review score, we’re just going to simply say that you should watch it. It is free to play after all, what do you have to lose?
The movie is currently available on Steam and YouTube, and will be coming to iTunes soon.