The story of WePlay Esports and invented Dota hero Danko

06 November 2020


Unique stage designs and innovative storytelling are two things that have become synonymous with WePlay Esports’ brand. Beyond providing typical esports competitions, WePlay Esports has attempted to diversify its offering time and time again by bringing a new level of entertainment to its broadcasts.

In September, WePlay Esports took its entertainment offering to the next level by introducing Danko the Dolphin to the English-speaking broadcast of the OMEGA League. A gift to the Dota 2 community after The International was postponed until 2021, Danko is a concept character that the team behind WePlay Esports developed from the ground up.

Since OMEGA League finished, Esports Insider caught up with the team behind Danko to find out more about the character’s origin story, as well as its strategic purpose in the broadcast.

Credit: WePlay Esports

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First, it’s worth providing some more context about Danko’s concept. The Dota 2 community has become familiar with new in-game character announcements at The International – the crown jewel of the competitive Dota 2 season – but many fans were left disappointed when the tournament, and by extension the character announcements, were postponed until 2021 due to the coronavirus. In an attempt to uplift the community and put on a show, WePlay Esports introduced Danko and this special dolphin didn’t disappoint.

We had the opportunity to hear from Graphic Designer Denis Murasov and 2D Artist Anna Kravchuk. They described the great lengths the people behind this project went to in an effort to design the dolphin character. Murasov explained that each of Danko’s abilities derived from his research in different games, characters and even the aesthetic features of a pufferfish. Anna explained that the angle of the main artwork, the colour scheme, the direction of the character’s gaze and many other details were made so that Danko would seem fierce, agile, and dangerous.

Credit: WePlay Esports | Maksym Bilonogov

Maksym Bilonogov, General Producer at WePlay Esports, shared: “Danko was a gift to the Dota 2 community, a community which was left without The International and all its flair this year. Danko created so much hype and recognition due to the gradual build-up throughout the event and because it was completely unexpected.”

Dota 2 fans revelled in Danko’s announcement towards the end of the OMEGA League and some viewers even thought that Danko was an official character produced by Valve, the game’s publisher. Several endemic and non-endemic publications jumped on the story and the fanfare around Danko exceeded the expectations.

“It’s hard to compare and measure the success of such creative concepts because the size of their target audiences is different.” Vitaliy Ivanenko, Chief Design Officer at WePlay Esports, added. “The coverage of Danko on our own website gathered over 48 thousand views and the main source of those views were Reddit threads generated by viewers. Analytical tool CoverageBook estimated that the articles about Danko in the global press gathered more than 300 thousand views.”

The entertainment factor of events is of paramount importance to WePlay Esports, and the tournament operator dubbed itself an ‘esportainment’ company in the past. The team behind WePlay Esports has pushed the boundaries of what viewers have come to expect with engaging props, sets and even technological integrations such as augmented reality. When we spoke, Bilonogov noted that Danko was yet another example of WePlay Esports’ mix of esports and entertainment.

“We never focus on the competition alone and try to create a full-fledged story that gradually unwraps parallel to the matches. This way, viewers get to enjoy the games, and they also want to stay tuned to the broadcast between the series to see what will happen next. Danko was one of many examples of experiences and fun that we create,” said Bilonogov.

Credit: WePlay Esports | Vitaliy Ivanenko

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Whilst the inclusion of these entertainment-focused segments may separate WePlay Esports from most other tournament operators, Bilonogov suggested that his team is more than capable thanks to their experience in a variety of different roles. “Most members of WePlay Esports’ production crew have real-life experience or background in television, filmmaking, theatre, motion graphics, and other relevant fields.”

Singling Danko out from WePlay Esports’ roster of different engaging projects, Ivanenko talked of the resource-cost that went into bringing Danko to life in OMEGA League. “The project was a combined effort of the design team, studio, editorial team, broadcast talents, and other specialists. It took a couple of weeks of effort, though most of the work was done in a span of a couple of days.”

It is fair to say that the level of resources that WePlay Esports invests into these projects is a testament to the tournament operator’s commitment to producing engaging content. WePlay Esports hasn’t announced it’s next big event yet, but the company does have extensive plans, and we look forward to seeing where creative projects take this esports media holding!

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by WePlay Esports