You might think US$2,000 is a bit much for an esports tournament, but that’s the going price for scalped tickets to The International 2019 (TI9) in Shanghai.

The Dota 2 tournament has the largest prize pool of any esports tournament in the world. The pool, which is largely crowdfunded, currently sits at about US$34 million

That’s one reason fans are now frustrated by the sky-high cost of trying to attend the event. Tickets to TI9 initially sold out online in less than a minute, so fans have turned to scalpers who have asked for as much as 15,000 yuan (US$2,120) for a single ticket. That’s nearly five times the original price.

TI9 attendees wave a banner that reads, “Shame on you, Damai.cn.” (Picture: Valve/Reddit)

Ironically, despite the high price from scalpers, fans are now complaining that there are too many empty rows of seats at the tournament. As a result, fans have turned their rage on Damai, China’s top ticketing platform and TI9’s official ticketing partner. Fans complain that Damai is allowing scalpers run rampant, resulting in some seats not being filled.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, owner of Damai.)

As of this writing, tickets for the final two days of TI9 range from 7,000 yuan to 10,000 yuan (US$990 to US$1,400) on average, according to what scalpers told us. These tickets originally sold for 2,099 yuan (US$298) on Damai.

VIP tickets are the ones with the highest asking price. They’re usually reserved for staff and sponsors, but scalpers are offering them for more than US$2,000, according to The Esports Observer.

On the ticket resale platform Mo Tian Lun, some tickets were marked up as high as 14,820 yuan (US$2,092) at one point. (Picture: Mo Tian Lun)

Although scalping is hardly a new phenomenon, this ticketing fiasco is happening with an event that holds a special place in the hearts of China’s esports fans. Dota 2 is a hugely popular MOBA game in the country. 

Thousands of Chinese fans traveled across the globe to see previous TI tournaments in places like Cologne, Seattle and Vancouver to support Chinese teams. Shanghai is now hosting the event as it tries to set itself up as an international esports hub, but many Chinese fans don’t feel the massive gaming event is any easier to attend this year.

“Chinese gamers found that the longest distance in the world is not when TI was held in Seattle, but [when they were] in China,” a Chinese game columnist wrote. “But instead, it’s the distance between the ticketing platform and [gamers] when TI is being held in Shanghai.”

Complaints against Damai’s handling of TI9 tickets cropped up almost as soon as tickets went on sale three months ago. After the event’s 26,804 tickets were snatched up in less than a minute, scalpers were flaunting the hundreds of tickets they had stockpiled. 

Fans who struggled to score tickets started accusing Damai of colluding with scalpers, and their allegations were amplified by Chinese state media. The Shanghai Morning Post reported that fans accused Damai of not giving them the correct tickets. A scalper also told the state-run newspaper that “the big scalpers” have control over the much sought-after second-floor seats.

Some people have also said scalpers sold them fake tickets for TI9. And outside the venue, some scalpers were reportedly escorted away by local police.

So far, Damai has yet to respond to the allegations. 

But even though esports ticket scalping has become a big issue in China, it’s not unique to the country. Ticket scalping has always been an issue for large esports events around the world, and some are calling for better management of ticket sales at esports events.

“Ultimately the only people who get hurt by scalpers and the mismanagement of tickets sales are consumers who can’t get access to a ticket at a reasonable price, and who might find themselves out in the cold when they realize the ticket they bought is counterfeit,” Esports Observer's Hongyu Chen wrote.

He also noted that Tencent and Riot Games are already taking actions to address the issue. The League of Legends Pro League (LPL) is checking attendees’ government-issued IDs when they purchase tickets online and again when they enter the tournament venue.