Free-to-Play: The Movie Review

Free-to-Play: The Movie focuses on stories of sacrifice, struggle and fighting for what you believe in and who wouldn’t want to watch that?

Around 7 million people play DotA 2. Like most games played by millions of people, DotA 2 is highly competitive. Only a handful of the players that are part of the gigantic player base take the game very seriously and ever a smaller part make DotA 2 their full-time jobs. Free-to-Play focuses on three professional players from around the world (Benedict Lim from Singapore, Danil Ishutin from Ukraine and Clinton Loomis from the United States) as they compete in the very first International, a prestigious DotA 2 tournament that offers a million dollars in price.

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Jeremy Lin: “With pro-gaming that’s one of the toughest parts – living game to game.”

The documentary starts by explaining the rise of e-sports (or competitive gaming) and more importantly, the rise of DotA 2. A commentator explains DotA 2 as the combination of soccer and chess which I think is a pretty accurate description of the massive online battle arena game. But once the documentary presents the game’s background, it shifts to what’s really important: the players.

The film follows three of the players that participate in the tournament. Despite living in completely different countries, these young people have some things in common, they have financial responsibilities, potential careers and relationships and they are more than willing to give it all up for the upcoming tournament. So no matter who you are, where you’re from and what you like, you’ll sympathize with these players.

Suddenly, the documentary isn’t about just a game; it’s about the people who play it, about relationships gone sour, growing up, taking an important decision that might change your life forever and about feeding that drive, that passion your mom and dad will probably never understand. This is a film about proving that the silly game you like so much means something.

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Benedict Lim: “It’s tough being a gamer.”

Like most documentaries, different point of views are introduced in the form of interviews. One of the things I enjoyed the most about the documentary is that it isn’t a one-sided conversation, so not only do you watch interviews with the players, but also fans, family members, commentators and well-known celebrities you probably didn’t know played the game (such as NBA player Jeremy Lin.)

But the biggest compliment I can give to this documentary is that at no point does Free-to-Play feel like a marketing tool to promote the game (for the uninitiated, the documentary was made by Valve, developer of DotA 2.) Instead, the film focuses more on the people playing the game and not necessarily the game itself. As a consequence, Free-to-Play is so accessible that people who have never heard of DotA 2 (let alone play it) will have a great time watching it.

It’s easy to see why people who don’t play games on a regular basis will appreciate the documentary. After all, this a story of sacrifice, struggle and passion and those are universal topics that pretty much anyone can relate to. In this regard, Free-to-Play is quite similar to Indie Game: The Movie, since both films are accessible enough that most people who aren’t necessarily familiar with the source material can appreciate.

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Danil Loomis: “Something knocks you down, you need to learn to get up.”

Apart from interviews, a few matches are shown and to explain specific strategies or moves, little to no jargon is used. Additionally, something that caught my attention is that to better illustrate what happens in certain matches, the documentary alternates between actual gameplay and computer generated imagery that looks absolutely stunning and actually makes sense in the context is used.

In the end, Free-to-Play is a great documentary that succeeds because it bridges the gap between DotA 2 fans and people who have never heard about the game or the genre before. But most of all, this is the story about sacrifice, struggle and fighting for what you believe in and who wouldn’t want to watch that?

Editor’s note: Free-to-Play: The Movie is now available for free on YouTube (embedded above,) Steam and Twitch.