The Bestest Best Gosh, What? A New Esport? Good: Smite

The last couple of years I’ve seen games in various stages of completion making overtures towards the professional gaming scene. Of these I’d say Smite – a third-person over-the-shoulder lane pusher has done the most to convince me of its intentions towards competitive gaming.

I started playing it in order to write a Wot I Think for this very site when the game was released earlier in 2014. Since then my interest has only grown, both as a player and as a spectator. It’s partly due to becoming increasingly familiar with the mechanics underpinning the game and partly because of the eSports events I’ve attended which revolved around its European pro league.

Smite as a game is exciting to play. The matches tend to be fast-paced, and the over-the-shoulder camera gives the act of playing a distinct flavour from top-down lane pushers like Dota and LoL. It’s also far more friendly to newcomers – for example, jungle camps will clearly tell you what buffs they provide and there’s far less to deal with in terms of active item management.

In terms of the professional scene, both the European kick-off LAN and the regional finals took place in Cologne at the ESL studio. They were well-run, energetic events with informed and engaging commentary and some brilliantly memorable matches – Aquila’s second game against Cloud9 at the EU Championships immediately springs to mind as the team pulled back a victory after coming within seconds of being forced out of the contest entirely.

Chatting with pro players from Aquila and SK Gaming (both of whom are heading to compete in the Smite World Championships in January), I found people ready to invest their time and effort into a game they believe could be a legitimate career.

Obviously that doesn’t make future seasons of competition a sure thing, but it coincides with Hi-Rez building their first Worlds prize pool with more of a Dota sensibility. By that I mean that they donated $600,000 of their own money in prize funds then turned to the community for more via the Odyssey – a feature where players could buy item chests and, in doing so, donate to the prize pool. The approach worked and has seen the Worlds prize pool swell. At the time of writing it stood at $1,766,392 total.

Of course, this could all be a one-off but the implication is that the community is excited and engaged enough that it doesn’t simply depend on the depth of Hi-Rez’s own pocket for its competitive viability. The game also takes from League of Legends, particularly in its developer-operated league structures which I think is a good way to try and stabilise lineups and get to know teams while the game is finding its feet with viewers.

The last year or two, so many interviews with developers have involved talk of whether the game in question is courting a competitive scene. The answer is often hopeful but vague; that a professional tier would be just wonderful but that the team is generally focused on just building the best game experience they can and so on. This rings true-er for some games than others and I think few – if any – will actually become competitive games on the same scale as LoL, Dota 2, Starcraft 2, Call of Duty… Smite has spent this last year becoming just such a contender.

Back to the complete bestest best PC games of 2014.

20 Comments

  1. Horg says:

    From the few games i’ve watched it seems that Smite as an e-sport needs some work in one important area; the spectator camera. The casts camera work seems to favor the high elevation end to end shot for the majority of the match, only occasionally showing a more zoomed in player perspective. It creates a disconnect between the 3rd person action the players see, and the spectator view, which comes over almost like any other isometric lane pusher. Only the end to end cam is a little worse than a top down view as it biases the camera towards one team and the angle of elevation and perspective makes it hard to gauge the effectiveness of skill usage. They need a more viewer friendly solution, preferably one that highlights Smites biggest innovation, the 3rd person perspective.

  2. CmdrCrunchy says:

    Well deserved. Smite has come on in leaps and bounds in terms of ESports and they give away a staggering amount of gems that you can use to get paid content. The Odyssey has been a really good addition too especially considering you get free items with every purchase.

    Unfortunately HiRez gets a lot of unfair hate from those who think they should have kept their previous games going until the end of time, and it IS unfair hate. It is NOT ‘money grabbing’ to stop updating a game (that had frankly had a pretty decent lifespan anyway) to focus on another one.

    • Anthile says:

      Oh, please. Tribes Ascend barely lasted more than a year. HiRez dropped the game like a hot potato once they realized MOBAs are a much easier sell than multiplayer shooters these days.

    • Regulations says:

      I’m going to go ahead and disagree. I’ll take your word on the merits of Smite because I’ve never played it but my disdain for Hi-Rez is very well deserved. Tribes Ascend had the potential to be a given at major LAN events for years to come. In very short order, Hi-Rez screwed over the community who poured their heart and soul into the game. The idea that the game was a “complete” experience when they binned it is false. I’m sure it was a sound business decision to strike while the MOBA iron was hot but that doesn’t let them off the hook in my opinion. For a developer that claimed to love the Tribes IP, they certainly didn’t show it.

      • Anthile says:

        Absolutely. I think we’re all old enough here to understand the difficulties of game development but the way Hi-Rez handled the Tribes situation was disastrous. Smite may be a great game – Hi-Rez clearly have some talent – but I won’t touch it with a ten foot pole.
        Tribes: Ascend is dead and forgotten, and it’s arguably easier to find a match of Tribes: Vengeance these days which is the most painful sentence I’ve typed this year. No substitute in sight.

        • Calculon says:

          I can’t agree more with these comments. I loath Hi-Rez after their treatment of Tribes. They promised many times that they would never abandon Tribes – that they loved the franchise. They implemented perhaps the worst iteration of the Tribes franchise I have ever seen, didn’t listen at all to the feedback given by players, and quickly dropped it and announced Smite. They did something similar with Global Agenda when they
          Realized they weren’t getting the ‘returns’ they had expected from the game and dropped that too. I have zero respect for Hi-Rez and won’t be buying any of their products.

          • bjohndooh says:

            I’d echo these sentiments but I feel it’s unnecessary – Hi-Rez is simply a company I’ll avoid.

          • Dawngreeter says:

            I realize where you’re coming from, but maybe “not seeing the returns they expected” might be a good reason to stop further developing a game? They tried, it didn’t work out as expected. Not too surprising, if you’re not CoD it’s really difficult to pull off a multiplayer FPS. Brink tried it too, and it was as decent an attempt as Tribes. No luck there, either. Even Planetside 2, which is the only kid on the block doing what they’re doing, is having a lot of trouble.

            It’s ok to want Tribes to be more successful than it is, but the reality is that it isn’t. You can’t expect someone to throw money into fire for no good reason.

          • nearly says:

            I liked Smite. It was fun, they have one of the best and most reasonable deals to get equipped with all the playable characters. What I didn’t like was the character designs. I logged in one day and a practically naked Egyptian goddess was on the login screen just jiggling her breasts at me. As I started to pay attention, I realized most of the goddesses were in swimsuits, and eventually deleted it when I realized that the goddess of violent revenge was clad in fishnets and a g-string.

            As fun it is, the people that make it and the way they made it was just not for me. Let’s also not forget that Hi-Rez employees also almost got themselves banned from the Tribes subreddit for being so nasty to the community, at the same time they were trying to call the Tribes subreddit the official forums (and deleting their own actual forum with 3 years of posts) so that they wouldn’t have to do anything themselves. They also didn’t even inform the moderators of that subreddit of what they were intending to do. To me, that’s a special kind of inclination to not support them.

          • Kitsunin says:

            The gods are pretty accurately represented. A lot of goddesses, and gods, were really skimpy, that’s just how the mythology is, and in that regard, Smite is not one of those over-sexifying forces.

          • jrodman says:

            I agree that many historical gods, when represented as humanoid figures, wore little clothing.

            I do *not* agree that they wore fishnet stockings.

  3. Vandelay says:

    Great pick. Although my favourite MOBA will probably always be DOTA2, but Smite is the only other one that I’ve played where I don’t always think “Why am I not just playing DOTA?” I guess that is mainly due to the different perspective, which really does lend the game a more dynamic feel, adding a bit more skill based gameplay in general, but not taking away the strategic element of the genre. The only downside is that the perspective does mean that God powers are a little less diverse than in traditional top-down MOBAs, which lead me to initially think that the Gods were a little same-ish. However, the more I played, the more difference I found in them.

    • jrodman says:

      If you don’t mind, can you say a sentence or so about: what are god powers?

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        Jdopus says:

        They’re just the hero’s abilities, so called because you’re playing as Gods.

  4. Kitsunin says:

    Meh. Maybe if it could be played internationally, but it can’t, so…

  5. Batolemaeus says:

    Brought to you by the people who gutted Tribes in favour of a MOBA.

    • Reefpirate says:

      And who pulled the rug out from under Global Agenda to work on Tribes. Maybe they finally found a genre and catchy trend that will keep their attention for a longer period of time?

      I wasn’t as crazy about Tribes… A lot of good potential, but maybe I was just so jaded about Global Agenda’s demise that I was numb to the pain.

  6. Wowbagger says:

    Maybe I’m getting old, but I just don’t get these sort of competitive games, I can see why Starcraft and the like is so popular in South Korea, but I can’t get my head around these fairly simplistic made for esports deals. I have got in to watching people play games on twitch now though, as I like the interactivity it allows for.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Yeah. I like competitive games that are visceral, personally. With the likes of Street Fighter or Counter-Strike you can kinda pick whether you want to watch some punchy-shoot, or really get into the tactical depth. With LoL/Dota/whatever, there really just isn’t much there unless you want to really get into it, and are probably trying to get better at the game yourself.

      I find it kind of odd that all the popular esport titles require more than half of the skill to come from external sources, like theorycrafting, drilling, looking at guides and such.

      • jrodman says:

        I think there is a very long trend towards the necessary information to play a game not coming with the game.

        in the old days manuals were incomplete, but they tried to cover what you were likely to need, unless you were *supposed* to figure it out. Nowadays most games require me to read a third-party wiki, and it makes me very tired.