"FUCKING END THE GAME!" Jeppe 'Trixtank' Gylling was roaring as his team, Paradigm, bore down on the opponent's titan – the beefy glowing final objective you need to destroy to win a game of Smite [official site].
It was the European and North American LAN event known as Super Regionals and on the line for Paradigm and their foes was a place at the Smite World Championships in January. Five teams would be making it through to the competition: two from North America, two from Europe and the winner of a match between the NA and EU third placed teams.
Spoilers after the jump if you haven't seen Sunday's finals:
"I had to, it was so hype!" Trix grins as I mention the yelling in our interview after Paradigm close out the game and confirm their spot at Worlds. The team they had just beaten were Fnatic, a team not usually the quieter side in any matchup. Seriously. I've heard them from other floors of a building when they've been playing at a LAN event.
Aside from volume, Fnatic are a team comfortable performing at LAN so the victory was understandably made even sweeter for Paradigm. "We were scrim partners with them [scrimming is where you play practice games] and we always went 50/50," says Trix. "But at LAN - important games, SPL [Smite Pro League] – we always lost to them. We just didn't deliver when it really mattered."
But in this instance the state of the metagame – which gods and playstyles are in favour – gave Paradigm a confidence boost. "I just felt like we only had two picks we're scared of in the whole meta," says Trix. "We were comfortable going into it because it felt like we figured out this meta. That's also why I think Fnatic won the other [games] They learn so quickly and this time we just learned quicker what's good for our combo.
"The fact we weren't scared going into it as we had been the other times helped a lot. In some metas you can't ban all the picks out that you actually are scared of [Pip note: In Smite you pick five gods for each side but each side also gets to ban three – the more gods you're scared of the harder it can be to ban effectively] but the fact we could do it this time was such a relief."
As a fun fact, you might be interested to know that several of Paradigm were actually part of a previous Fnatic team before the organisation picked up the SK Gaming lineup. Solo laner Jeroen 'Xaliea' Klaver, hunter Kieran 'Funball' Patidar and their coach Darren 'ImDazer' Patrick were all part of the organisation before teaming up with a members of a previous TSM lineup for Paradigm.
"Last year Xaliea, Dazer and Funball were in Fnatic and we were in TSM and none of us went to Worlds," says Trix. "Both teams felt like changes must happen because both teams hadn't really performed that well up to the qualifiers for Worlds. That's when we figured out splitting us together - the best players from each team - was a good thing. The only focus from then on has been going to Worlds because we didn't want to get let down like last time."
So that's that part of the plan done and dusted.
The current Fnatic lineup led by their captain, Marcus 'Realzx' Vining had a far tougher time at the Super Regionals. Losing the semifinal to Paradigm pushed them into a match against London Conspiracy as the two fought for third place, then they had to best the North American third place team, Eager, to secure that wildcard spot at Worlds.
"It was a kick up the arse, you know?" says Realzx of that Paradigm match. "We just needed a bit more motivation and that definitely helped. Coming into the event we obviously thought that we were going to Worlds and everyone on the team – including me a little bit – had the mindset like 'oh, well Paradigm are just going to give it to us on a plate. They're going to fall down to us and we don't have to do much.' But it didn't work like that. They stomped us. It was a good kick up the backside."
By the time the wildcard games came around, a lot of the murmuring in the studio put the North American side, Eager, as the favourites to go through. "If I'd watched us play Paradigm I'd be saying exactly the same thing," says Realzx. "We came in as the second seed and played as a bottom seed team in that set."
But the thing about losing is that it's useful for dislodging complacency.
"When you're losing you're learning stuff and when you're winning you're not," is how Realzx puts it. "When you're winning it's hard not to get overconfident and not underestimate people because you do think you're better than them. It's really hard to get in the mindset to give it 110 percent in these games because in the back of your head [or] unconsciously you think you're going to win anyway."
Then you lose and suddenly you're having to fight for your place. You know those other teams are hungry for the opportunity and you have to win the wildcard or you go home. "I have never focused so hard in my life," grins Realzx. "I'm glad we didn't let anyone down back home – we made it in the end."
Paradigm finished the Super Regionals as the first placed EU team with $70,000 and a bye into the knockout stages of Worlds. Epsilon, the silver medalists, were actually the far more favoured (and feared) team coming into the contest so they might be experiencing a similar realisation of fallibility to Fnatic right now. What they do with that information and what they learn, particularly from their clash with Paradigm, will be interesting to see in January.
On the North American side of the Super Regionals first place went to the defending world champions, Cloud9. I'll just explain that before I move on: the first Worlds was actually won by Cognitive Prime but their roster got picked up by C9 so four of C9's players are defending world champions. The remaining original world champion is Ryan '0mega' Johnson who left C9 and moved to Eager. So Cloud9 doesn't currently hold the world championship but the majority of its players do. That's kind of a long explanation though so I'm going with "defending world champions" where possible.
Also going to Worlds are the second-place team Enemy. I'm far less familiar with them as a team and the NA finals match didn't really help me get a feel for what they're capable of on a good day because they were on the receiving end of a real 3-0 trouncing.
I talk to John 'BaRRaCCuDDa' Salter afterwards and he's grinning ear to ear about the win but there's also a kind of bafflement as he talks about how one-sided those games turned out:
"I was expecting, I don't know, resistance? The only time they pressured us was in game 2 for nine minutes. Nine minutes out of three games."
I should highlight that Barra's remarks in the interview were delivered with puzzlement – there was no scorn as we chatted. Or rather, there was scorn but it was laser focused on a terrible pun I made at the end of the interview and am not going to transcribe rather than anything to do with rival teams or players.
I ask whether the lopsidedness might have been because Enemy didn't seem to have gotten the memo that the god Zhong Kui was no longer a good pick. Teams had figured out how to counter him using an item called Shell of Absorption yet Enemy picked him in the first two games of the set.
"It was Zhong, it was the rest of their picks as well. We destroyed them in every pick/ban phase. They're really far behind us in terms of… just everything. That sounds so cocky and so rude but there was no resistance at all in those games. We just annihilated them. It sounds so rude and so cocky but there was zero 'oh my gosh we might lose this, they have map pressure' - there was none, we just rolled them."
One of the interesting side-effects from the matches is that Barra thinks the losses in the final might have been quick or comprehensive enough that other teams can't learn much from them – handy when you know there might be a target on your back as a result of that previous Worlds win.
"Winning at Worlds last year doesn't really give us any more pressure internally. I think if anything it's pressure from other teams. They're going to be studying us and seeing how we do but also from those games I don't think teams can learn much. Normally you learn a lot from two teams fighting and seeing how they teamfight. That was just we're all holding W and and we're beating them. Luckily for us people can't really take much away from those games."
But before the studying can commence all of the players I spoke to said they would be taking a week off to chill out (and in Barra's case, put his PC gaming reflexes to use scoring Black Friday deals).
Practice and bootcamp schedules will be waiting when they get back.
The Smite World Championships takes place 7-10 January in Atlanta, Georgia. The North American and European teams will be joined by sides from Brazil, Latin America, China and Oceania.