Welcome to the Smite: Battleground of the Gods Professional League’s (SPL) fourth season! I threatened last time around to start discussing this stuff regularly, and I am nothing if not someone who sometimes follows through on things until he forgets or decides not to any more. Anyway, welcome to a new, ongoing discussion of the professional league of Smite. For those of you unfamiliar with the game, Smite: Battleground of the Gods is a third-person behind-the-back perspective Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) with characters stemming from the mythology of various cultures. Like most of these type of games, it’s a largely PvP experience, though there are PvE elements that are crucial to succeeding in the game, such as objective capture/destruction and creature killing. There are several different game modes offered, but the professional league centers around the Conquest mode.
Conquest is a large 5v5 map with three wide paths, called lanes, with two towers for each team on each path, and marked by a powerful phoenix turret at the end of the lane.The aforementioned three lanes are referred to as the duo lane, middle lane, and solo lane, respectively. Beyond the phoenixes lies the titan of each team. The game ends when the titan dies, or one team surrenders. In between the lanes is the jungle, an area consisting of NPC creatures in clusters called camps, and they reward either buffs, such as a damage bonus, ability cooldown reduction, or movement speed, or provide a limited vision or mobility bonus. Each half of the jungle also has a larger boss, the Gold Fury and the Fire Giant. The Gold Fury, as you might expect, grants a large, scaling over time, gold bonus to the team that kills it. The Fire Giant hands out a meaningful buff that stacks with any other buff you might pick up, increasing power, hp and mana regeneration, and grants additional damage against structures – the towers and phoenixes. Maintaining control over the jungle and the larger objectives is critical to securing victory.
Game roles in Conquest are split into five areas: support, hunter, middle lane, jungler, and solo laner. The hunter role is similar to the ADC role in other MOBAs, but ADC is a pretty meaningless designation in Smite, as it is a MOBA holdover acronym for attack damage carry. This is the role that scales the best later in the game, and the role is meant to dish out the damage and help your team push to victory. ADCs are typically ranged physical damage characters in other MOBAs, but Smite allows for hunters, ranged physical characters, and a few mages, ranged magical damage characters, to fulfill this role. These mages are usually referred to as magical hunters. Several of those magical hunters were impacted with the advent of Smite Season 4, but Freya is as amazing as ever, if not better. Anyway, the point is, this is your biggest source of single target, focused damage…usually. Supports are about controlling team fights and protecting your team. Middle laners focus on burst damage and clearing potential, often opting for high utility and security. Solo laners are typically characters with high sustain and disruption potential. They tend to be initiators and causers of havoc. The jungler’s role is to keep your team’s portion of the jungle secure, help team members secure beneficial buffs, and help out when the moment presents itself to change the outcome of an engagement. You know, ganking.
Each competitive game begins with picks and bans. Two teams, Order (blue) and Chaos (red) alternate picking gods to play, and eliminating gods from being selected. If a god is picked by one team, it is not available for the other team to choose. Order gets first and third ban, leaving second and fourth for Chaos. After the fourth ban, Order picks the first god to play, Chaos picks second and third, Order picks fourth and fifth, and Chaos picks sixth. Chaos then gets to ban a fifth god, Order bans a sixth, Chaos bans a seventh god, and Order bans the eighth and final god. Chaos then picks a fourth god, Order picks a fourth and fifth god, and Chaos picks the fifth, and final, god. I particularly like this method of picks and bans, as opposed to simply banning in a single phase, because of the counter-picking/mind games that develop as a result. You have time to react to what has already been picked, and what has been banned, and develop a targeted strategy based on what is already presented. Other games have done similar. I just like it.
This season consists of three seasonal splits, followed by the world championships in January 2018. The season began several weeks ago with an Open Bracket tournament for both North America (NA) and European Union (EU) regions. The top three teams from each tournament, played over two weeks, went on to face the bottom three teams in 2016 from the professional league. The top three teams from the six-team round-robin tournament went on to join the Smite Professional League (SPL) for the spring split. The bottom three teams from this round-robin tournament and the fourth place team from the open bracket comprise the Challenger’s Cup league, which adheres to the same timetable as the professional league. Further, there is a Smite Combine that will take place during each split, allowing brand new teams to fight their way into the Challenger’s Cup. The Smite Combine is another Open Bracket tournament, where the top two teams challenge the bottom two teams of the Challenger’s Cup each split. The top two teams take the Challenger Cup slots for the following split. It sounds a bit confusing, but it’s really just European football/soccer rules.
Each division of the SPL, NA and EU, consists of eight teams. Each team plays each other once in a two-game set, taking place over six weeks. The top two teams of each region qualify for the Spring Finals LAN, and the other six teams go to the Spring Gauntlet LAN. These six teams from each region are joined by the top Challenger’s Cup teams from each region. This is a ladder format, with the winners of each region advancing to the Spring Finals LAN. Here, the regions meet and compete, with a single winner being crowned from the single elimination best-of-series tournament. Winning a split makes your odds of reaching the Smite World Championships (SWC) increase significantly.
The North American Region Season 4 Spring Split is comprised of the following teams: Enemy, Flashpoint, In Memory of Gabe, Luminosity Gaming, Noble eSports, SoaR Gaming, Team Allegiance, and Team Eager. Eager and Luminosity made it to the SWC semi-finals last season, while Enemy, In Memory of Gabe, and Noble eSports are fresh off of placing into the league through Spring Relegations. All of the teams saw roster changes from their previous lineups, save for Team Eager. Luminosity and Team Allegiance only made one roster move a piece, while most other teams saw massive shakeups. For the sake of brevity, I will forego expansion on the individual players, though I will cover them in the future, but your takeaway from this should be Team Eager and Luminosity come into this as favorites, In Memory of Gabe is a new team to watch, and Noble and Flashpoint have a lot to prove. My personal favorites here are Luminosity, but I tend to back teams that never quite succeed, so maybe this is a curse. Sorry, guys.
EU was not without its own shakeups. Obey Alliance made it to the SWC Finals last year, only to drop the series 3-1 to to the repeating champions NRG. During the off-season, Obey lost their solo laner, who had a breakout year last year, and their support player, who had a rough showing during SWC. The aforementioned solo laner went on to form Variety’s New Team, blowing through the competition during the Open Bracket, but they avoided needing to play in Relegations due to being picked up by Team Dignitas. Dignitas already had a spot in the league, but decided to part ways with the previous team. Those players formed Novus Orsa, and took Variety’s New Team’s spot in relegations. Cyclone GG, Elevate, and New Game Plus (formerly Cringe Crew) were the SPL teams needing to defend their spots, and the Open Bracket teams of Last Minute Monsters and Dutch Myrmidons rounded out the group of six. Unfortunately, Last Minute Monsters and Dutch Myrmidons lost players to existing pro teams looking to fill their rosters, and were gutted versions of their former selves. Elevate and Cyclone GG cruised past these depleted teams, and Novus Orsa managed to look better as the day went on, picking up the third SPL spot. This makes the EU division consist of Cyclone GG, Elevate, Novus Orsa, NRG, Obey Alliance, Sanguine Esports, Team Dignitas, and Valance Squadron (previously known as Camel Riders EU). In typical pro sports fashion, Obey Alliance and NRG square off in a repeat of the SWC finals to start the season. Cyclone GG faces the new Team Dignitas, which should be a great series of a team looking to dominate as a super group against a team hot off a strong showing in Relegations and looking to prove they are forces to be reckoned with. There are a lot of question marks around the rest of the teams, but I am looking to some of the better Challenger Cup players competing on the pro scene. I would bet on NRG walking away still looking good, with Dignitas a close second. Really, I am just looking forward to Variety playing more. Dude is a monster.
To close out, let me quickly discuss why the pro scene is important to the lay player. Smite has done something I have been advocating for years and years, which is integrate the pro scene directly into the game. Players can purchase the Season Ticket, which allows them to participate in the Smite Fantasy League. You earn fantasy points from playing games, more for winning, but still some for losing, and you advance along a track to earn rewards for no additional cost. One of my personal favorite gods, Ah Muzen Cab, the Mayan God of Honey and Bees, gets a sick skin, so I’m jazzed. Beyond that, you can pick outcomes of the games each week to earn additional fantasy points. The more you get correct, the more points you earn. The average player now gets rewards that directly benefit them for following the pro scene, meaning they will care that much more. If you want the pro scene to flourish, you have to have this kind of buy-in from the casual player. It is particularly true because Smite isn’t the first MOBA on the market, and DOTA and League of Legends are already firmly established. I played LoL for a long time early on, at a very high level – I played against the Beta/Season 1 pros and awful lot in ranked play – and still follow the scene, but I can say without judgement that I vastly prefer the production and setup of Smite’s pro scene. Importantly, I can say with a small sample size that people unfamiliar with the game can watch easily and pick up on what is occurring with little to no experience. That’s huge, and a great sign.
Anyway, expect more on the season as the year goes on, but it will not supplant my weekly column in the future. This is a one off, I promise. I will instead do a breakdown of the games each week, and maybe even power rankings and predictions, in a separate piece. Though I might be tempted to do some modeling of the gods as D&D 5e characters, we will see.
Go watch Smite this weekend on Twitch. Get familiar with it. If you want to play, feel free to contact me in the comments or in-game. My handle is WinklePinkle. I’m not good by any stretch, but I have a great time. If you have to take away one thing from this piece, take away the following: This isn’t a dance party. This is the Smite Pro League.