The Smite World Championship 2016 contenders have been whittled down to four teams. So far the tournament has involved possibly the fewest upsets of any esports event I've attended (precisely zero). But today is where the uncertainty starts to kick in as the final four bring highly skilled players with very different team personalities to the world stage.
Here's the story so far [with proper spoilers after the jump]:
Not a single one of yesterday's quarter-finals went to a full best-of-three. The teams who went into the matches as favourites all went into the semi-finals with two wins under their belts.
First up was Paradigm vs OMG B. Thanks to the bye they'd earned at Super Regionals, it was actually Paradigm's first game of the tournament proper and they came into it with their characteristic cheery swagger. Support Trixtank made an absolute nuisance of himself as Guan Yu in the first game while Qvofred spent that time delivering a masterclass in Thor walls. They closed out the game with a THIRD deicide [that's the Smite name for a teamwipe]. OMG weren't helpless, just outclassed. They fought back rather than roll over, even coming out of one or two fights a little ahead, but they simply couldn't do enough to keep control of the game.
Enemy vs paiN was next and it was another wash. In the first game paiN seemed unable to deal with Enemy's Serqet pick - perhaps they're really unfamiliar with the character because they didn't seem to understand how to stop spreading her poison around their team. In the second, the Enemy solo laner Saltmachine went on an absolute tear with Bellona (who can be terrifying even in only mildly competent hands). paiN weren't even able to get anywhere near applying pressure in return. The match ended with paiN inflicting zero damage on Enemy's buildings and being unable to even finish off an incredibly low health Thor as he kited them about by their middle phoenix.
The third game of the day had hometown crowd-pleasers Cloud9 taking to the stage for their first game (they had the same bye to the quarter-finals as Paradigm) against Qiao Gu Reapers. The match itself was stompy because QG were outmatched but this was the first time it felt like their was showmanship from the teams beyond some smatterings of playful trash talk. During the draft phase C9's hunter, BaRRaCCuDDa, hovered over God of Bees, Ah Muzen Cab, who was their secret weapon last year. The crowd went wild and BaRRa's big grin was projected up onto the big screen (eventually he apologetically locked in centaur Chiron). Not to be outdone, QG mid-laner Night hovered over Anubis - the character he's best remembered for at the 2015 Championship - to rapturous applause before locking in Nu Wa. MLCSt3alth also earned some camera time with a will-he/won't-he Poseidon pick. He eventually locked it in with a jokey "what's the worst that can happen" shrug.
It's not that the teams don't have personalities - some of it comes through in playstyle. And it's not that they're not personable - you'll see players hanging out in the public bits of the venue chatting with fans or posing for pictures and so on. But onstage the mood has been... reserved, maybe? Or perhaps insular - focusing on the team and the game, not the audience, because of the pressure of the earlier games' best-of-1 format. This felt like the first time the teams were having fun with the platform, engaging with the audience through the game itself. It was a breath of fresh air.
The last of the quarter-finals was a European face-off. Epsilon took on Fnatic. Everyone was expecting a close-run thing as the pair have been scrim partners for the last six months and should know each other's strengths and weaknesses in a way none of the other pairings that day would.
Game 1 was indeed a close-run thing. The first twenty minutes had the kills slightly in Fnatic's favour but the rest of the stats - gold and experience - didn't point to a clear lead on either side. But gradually the exchanges started to build a lead for Epsilon. It wasn't a monumental event which tipped the balance, more a series of trades and decisions which just kept increasing their lead, particularly their control of objectives like the gold fury and fire giant. Essentially, Epsilon were just using their kills more effectively and getting more done on the map off the back of them. In game two the snowball started far earlier. I don't like speculating about tilting because there are a lot of assumptions about a team embedded in that but I will say that the fight seemed to have gone out of Fnatic for that second game.
So here's how the semi-finals stack up as a result:
Paradigm v Enemy
This is probably as close to a Good vs Evil match as you're going to get. Paradigm play with this really cocky swagger but there's an underlying sense that the team are having a ball which crowds warm to. They're a really easy team to rally behind. Enemy, on the other hand, have a captain in PainDeViande who is going all-in on being Smite's pantomime villain. There's trash talk, there's his onstage interview saying no-one ever favours Enemy but they always win so that's what will happen in semi-finals and finals, there's the fact he did fire and replace his four teammates for the fall season... All he really needs is a lair of some kind.
Cloud9 vs Epsilon
This is more of a Chill vs Ice matchup. Cloud9 have a laid back air to them - they're confident in their ability without being arrogant (for the most part - I'm looking at you and that "EZ game EZ life" nonsense, Andinster...) and in their robustness as a team. That leaves space for them to be a bit more personable onstage, I think. They're a team who seem at ease. One of Hi-Rez's pro scene experts, Alex Cantatore, positions Epsilon as the reverse - ice-men with a near-perfect fall split who like to surgically remove their opponents' chances of winning.
I'm expecting this to be the first day of actual tussling and, especially with a best-of-5 format, I'm hoping we start to see some real back and forths between the teams.
SWC starts streaming at 11am ET (4pm GMT) today - here's the Twitch link. The first match is scheduled for 11:15am (4:15pm).