Freewheeling Valve churns out big video-game bucks despite some growing pains

Bellevue-based Valve has become one of the most successful, and low- profile, video-game companies in the world. It’s known for an unusual freewheeling corporate structure, which some industry watchers say has gotten Valve into trouble as it has grown.

On Monday morning, the first two five-person teams will file into soundproof boxes, take a seat in front of custom-built computers, and test their reflexes and strategy in a quest for a cut of a $23 million prize pool.

In a darkened KeyArena around that stage, thousands of mostly young fans will follow the action broadcast to the video screen above, with the fantasy-movie sounds of in-game clashes and live commentary blaring through the arena.

But before all that, a curious opening act: a few words from a burly, bearded man in his 50s.

Valve by the numbers

$23.7million

(and counting)

The prize pool for this week’s “Dota 2” tournament, the largest in esports history.

12 million

Number of people who played “Dota 2” in the last month

$25 billion

Estimated 2016 PC game sales. (Valve’s Steam may have processed $3.5 billion of that total)

1996

Year Valve founded

325

Valve employees

7

Valve games ranked in the top 100 best reviewed PC games of all time

4

Valve games ranked in the top 10 best reviewed PC games of all time

Sources: Valve, Metacritic, Newzoo, Steamspy

That would be Gabe Newell, one of the most powerful figures in video gaming.

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Newell’s company, Bellevue-based Valve, builds “Dota 2,” the video game whose signature tournament kicks off this week for its sixth year in Seattle. He typically takes the stage at the outset to thank fans for coming before acknowledging that they’re not here to see him.

That bit of public humility is typical from a man who maintains he isn’t the boss of the company he owns.

At Valve, there is no formal hierarchy, and no job titles. Workers vote with their time on what projects are worthwhile, wheeling their desk to a different corner of the office when they’re ready for a new task.

Some former employees dispute the vision of a boss-less utopia, but there is no doubt the unusual corporate formula, however it works, has made Valve one of the most successful video-game companies in the world.

The maker of “Dota 2,” “Counter-Strike” and “Half-Life,” Valve also operates Steam, the main digital storefront for…

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