DOTA 2 has been listing for a couple years now, after 7.0 hit player count has either treaded water or slowly sank ever since for a host of reasons. Not that unusual for even the greatest games. Growth can't last forever and DOTA 2 has never been good or even seemed to really care about onboarding new players. Eventually they were going to have to confront that (the new-ish Turbo mode inspired DotA's -apem was a very good addition recently) when they hit their player count ceiling.
Part of that changing reality meant that a change to the business model was probably inevitable. Eventually people probably have the hats they want, and the only way to sell a meaningful amount of new ones is to get new players. And if you can't get new players, then well you gotta sell something else.
Unfortunately Valve broke perhaps one of the key tenets of what made the game great. Today valve released DOTA Plus, an ongoing subscription that replaces the old Seasonal Battle Pass structure. All well and good so far. I want DOTA to be financially successful and if they need to charge a sub fee to maintain the game at a high level, so be it.
The problem however is the contents of what they are selling
And DOTA is now near dead to me as any anything other than an occasional social play.
What Valve has essentially added into the game is free Ai machine learning driven coaching and access to live stats that non-paying players don't get. [EDIT: removed inaccurate information. Hat tip to @krayzeegloo. Thank you for the catch]
For full details of what is included in DOTA Plus see their webpage here: http://www.dota2.com/plus
Now Dotabuff, opendota etc all have been around and are available to players today, but unlike this that was something you could really only analyze outside of the match (yes you could have a window open with it, but it doesn't tell you what to do on the fly generally). And while coaching slots are built into the game allowing people to pay for outside help in unranked causal modes, DOTA Plus Assistant as far as I can tell is currently available in all modes, including . Not to mention it's a lot more convenient to use DOTA plus than coordinating a coach.
It also remains to be seen how useful any of this AI advice is but I don't see how you can argue that this doesn't at least intend to put free players at a disadvantage. If it didn't, why would anybody buy this? Why mention it as a selling point? Clearly they want to give the impression at least that this will help you win games.
Is it really any more acceptable if this only provides a small advantage? To me, it isn't.
To me this symbolizes that Valve doesn't value the principle of fair play enough that all successful sports operate on. It is a sign to me that going forward Valve may go further down this path and will likely focus new and best future features on subscribers primarily as they are financially incentivized to do so.
YMMV may vary if this bothers you, but I personally don't like to invest time into games that forces me to pay to stay competitive. It's why I don't mess with stuff like Hearthstone. You never know when they are going to jack up the price on you further and eventually price you out of being able to play well. And frankly I think it kills a game's sustainability when it does this.
I'm hopeful Valve makes some changes to this, but the fact they released this at all doesn't give me a lot of confidence that they understand or care about implications of what they've done here.