The Smite World Championship is an eSports event taking place in Atlanta, Georgia. The prize pool is just over $2.6 million making it the third biggest in eSports history. Pip is out there writing daily reports, exploring the event and putting cans of Red Bull in her handbag (just in case).
Day three of the Smite World Championships and SK Gaming squared off against Cognitive Red to settle the matter of third and fourth place. It might not seem too consequential at first glance but the community-boosted prize pool meant the victor of the match would walk away with $391,839 while the losers would score $261,226 - a difference of over $100,000*.
The first game saw Cognitive Red's Divios taking first blood with a kill on rival solo laner Maniakk and following that up with a kill on SK's jungler Zyrhoes. The two hyper-aggressive teams vied for dominance with SK gaining a kill, xp and gold advantage following a Zyrhoes takedown of Red's support, Eonic. The EU second seed couldn't hold on, though and the rest of the game veered in North America's favour. It felt like SK's play simply wasn't flowing and that feeling intensified in the second game.
Solo laner Divios got to play Hercules a second time and SK simply didn't have an effective strategy for shutting him down. One approach would have been to try and make the lane boring for Divios, making him restless and potentially baiting out an error. As it was, Divios was in his element. He's a player who wears his emotions in his playstyle and SK's approach meant he was just having far too much fun. It wasn't just Divios, though. Red's warding was good, granting them better map control and vision. They'd notched up 8 kills by 16 minutes while SK still had yet to get on the scoreboard. One single kill on Snoopy saved SK the salted wound of a perfect Cognitive Red game but the match closed with a deicide - all of SK dead - as Red took down their titan.
Speaking after the game, SK explained they had been planning to use Bakasura as a counter to Divios' Hercules pick but Red had shown awareness of the idea and banned that god. Without a backup or an alternative solution SK couldn't stop the American side from taking a podium finish.
The million-point-three-dollar fight was all that remained of the World Championship.
Cognitive Prime and Titan headed into the Cobb auditorium to fight over the prize in a best-of-5 series. It was Titan's Cinderella story versus Prime's home-state hype train.
Going into the match, Prime showed off their characteristic confidence, stating they expected a 3-0 easy victory and that the real final in their eyes was the semi-final battle with Cognitive Red. There's a pantomime villainishness quality to Prime's trash talk, but they clearly expected an easy ride.
For two games that's what they got. Their priority was getting rid of Ymir in the first ban phase, keeping that god well and truly off limits for Titan support, KanyeLife. They also seemed to be baiting Repikas into picking up a Serqet - something Prime were able to deal with without too much trouble. The gold and experience graphs from the first game were brutal, climbing steadily in Prime's favour. The second game was similar, with Prime's Hunter BaRRaCCuDDa putting on a spectacular show for his state.
Then game 3 happened.
"The thing about Titan," said my friend Chris Higgins at some point during the event, "is that they're like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park. They learn."
In game 3 we saw the now-expected Ymir ban come out from Prime. But This time Titan were unfazed. Ares was the pick up for KanyeLife, just as it was in the regional match against Fnatic which took Titan to Worlds in the first place. Holes in Prime's team research started to show. Their lack of awareness of Ares as an option meant they hadn't worked out how to keep an Ares at bay, nor to keep him from shutting down St3alth's usually monstrous Scylla. Add in Ataraxia's star turn on Rama, sniping kills from high above the map with his ultimate, and Prime were unable to stop Titan from claiming a win.
In game 4 Prime stuck with the Ymir ban but again an Ares slipped through. Naturally KanyeLife scooped the god up a second time, leaving Prime to get rid of Rama - a reaction to Ataraxia and the previous game's draft. The final pick for Titan was Vulcan - a character PrettyPrime excels at playing in the mid lane.
"We were not ready for that, it was ridiculous," was BaRRaCCuDDa's assessment of the Ares situation. "Once it happened again we were like, this is obviously the problem. Their team composition changed between game 3 and game 4 and it was still the exact same issue we were running into. We don't have jungle pressure, we don't have wards and you need jungle pressure to ward. No-one wanted to walk in the jungle or anywhere and Titan was playing it so well. Whenever the Ares would come forward they would get a kill, they would get a chain, they would get ults."
Cognitive Prime ended up caught between a rock and a hard place, trying to work out which sacrifices they could make and still stay in the game. "Whenever they were outwarding us and Gold Fury was up it was like, do we just walk in there and straight into an Ares or do we give it up or do I fly over as Apollo...? Then because they already had more sentries than us we had to buy two sentries because they already had sentries the counter the sentries we were going to place. It's this constant struggle - what poison do we want to treat? Do we throw ourselves further behind gold-wise? Do we blow beads and actives to stay alive? Do we blow ultimates like Jeff had to do every time he got Ares ultimate-ed?"
When I'd spoken to Prime the night before the final BaRRaCCuDDa had said the team had done their research for the tournament in advance and thus would be spending a relatively chilled evening. With two games in Titan's favour and Prime utterly unequipped to deal with the god of war I asked whether their research had let Prime down horribly at this point. "I think the research was good but the experience for us against Ares was lacking and there was no way for us to get that [North American teams don't really run Ares at all]. That's where the real struggle came for us. We didn't know his damage potential, how often he's going to be pressuring here or here. They played it so well it was ridiculous."
The score was 2 games apiece and there was no way Titan was getting a third Ares game. Prime knew that and Titan knew that. Ataraxia and the team had been hastily sketching out a draft to deal with the lack of Ares without returning to the stomps of the first two games. The plan was to ban the support Sylvanus (as they had for the other four games), let through an Ao Kuang and then pick up Athena and Osiris to deal with problems. But somehow the Sylvanus ban never happened. Ataraxia couldn't explain why, there was just a moment he looked at the screen and had that "Wait, we've done what?" moment of realisation. BaRRaCCuDDa was similarly wrong-footed. Having picked up Ao Kuang for Prime he'd thought Titan might pick the Sylvanus for themselves and was going to take that Athena. But then Sylvanus ended up still on the table. "It was like, did that just really happen?"
The strat from Titan after that drafting mess ended up being: focus JeffHindla and get rid of that damn tree. It didn't pay off and "They were blowing so many ults on him. In the first fight we traded one for two [Ataraxia and PrettyPrime both got kills on Prime while St3alth took one of Titan down] but we were still even for gold. Once that happened I was like, this game is done. We just had to ward for Jeff as their main gameplan in games 3, 4, and 5 was to catch Jeff wherever he was rotating."
And while Titan were trying desperately to deal with Sylvanus - basically an elderly man riding about in a tree - Prime were creating some fantastic set ups for St3alth who would just deliver on-point Scylla ultimates time after time. By 11 minutes Prime had a 7k gold advantage and were up 11k experience. Prime took a deicide at 23 minutes, bashed Titan's titan into oblivion and took the top prize.
Oh, and if you're wondering how it feels to be the best Smite players on the planet the answer was a combination of amazing, exhausted, jittery and hungry. "It's the greatest feeling in the world," said BaRRaCCuDDa. "We thought we were going to 3-0 and then Titan just played phenomenally in games 3 and 4. The fact we were able to pull it together and come out on top after losing two games terribly... I think that says a lot about our team."
*RPS hired me for these maths skills