The second-ever Smite World Championship begins today in Atlanta. I was there for the first one, and had a brilliant time. I’ve written this before, but the Smite scene is still relatively young compared to League of Legends or Dota 2, the games it most resembles. That provides the game, the teams and the community with a strong sense of energy and dynamism, as well as a sort of underdog charm. If you’ve never played or watched Smite, this event is an opportunity to pick up on a bit of that enthusiasm. If you began the new year with a resolution to check out some new competitive games, this makes for a strong first port of call.
What’s Smite like?
Smite is a third-person team strategy game that takes the principles of a MOBA (lanes, items, asymmetric hero powers, and so on) and presents them in the context of an action game. There’s a lot of emphasis on skillshots, tactical movement, and teamfights. The game’s unusual perspective makes awareness and communication particularly important: the best players are able to anticipate enemy plays without the benefit of an isometric viewpoint. The high number of aimed and projectile abilities helps the spectator experience, too: while Smite is predominantly a MOBA, there’s a little bit of shooter in its DNA too.
How do I watch it?
The entire tournament will be streamed on Twitch via the official Smite account. You can find a full schedule on the tournament website, but the broad strokes are this: play begins at around 11:00 Eastern Time (08:00 PST/16:00 GMT) every day from Thursday to Sunday, finishing 8-10 hours later in most cases. Friday will be the longest day, thanks to the quarterfinals, and if you’re only interested in the PC version then Thursday and Saturday will be a bit shorter: both of those end with playoffs for the Xbox One version. If you just want to tune in for the climax, the PC grand final is scheduled to begin at 15:30 Eastern (12:30 PST/20:30 GMT) on Sunday.
What’s the format?
This year’s bracket is tuned for drama. Play opens on Thursday with a series of double-elimination best-of-ones to establish placement. Eight games will be played total, and the bottom two teams will be eliminated. The fifth and sixth-place teams, although they progress to the main event, will face the European and US first seeds in the quarter finals. Those top teams were granted a bye through the first round, so they’ll have a whole day to watch the opposition before they have to play.
From Friday onwards, the main event will progress as a single-elimination bracket. The quarterfinals will be played as best-of-threes, while the semifinals and grand final will all be best-of-five, with the lion's share of $1m going to the winner.
Who’s playing, and what’s their deal?
Reshuffles, buyouts and new sponsorships mean that 2016 roster contains a lot of new names. In North America, Cloud9 arrive as defending champions—four members of this crew won in 2015 as Cognitive Prime. Their regional counterparts are Enemy, who came together later in the Smite Pro League after a drama-filled reshuffle to place second at the Super Regionals last year.
From Europe, Smite’s most active region, come Paradigm—a new, popular team who saw off higher-profile opponents to become the European first seed. They’ll have a lot of fans at Worlds. They’re joined by Epsilon, who boast a very impressive seasonal record and a disciplined playstyle but who were ultimately bested by the scrappier Paragon in the Super Regionals. This is a rivalry worth paying attention to. Fnatic are the third and final European team in contention, the winner of the wildcard. Despite taking the longest route to get to SWC, they’re actually very familiar with the event—this is the exact roster that competed (and came 4th) last year as SK gaming.
Oceania is a new region for Smite, and traditionally a part of the world that has struggled—due to access and ping problems—to compete in global esports. Avant arrive at SWC having never been defeated on home turf, and make for a solid underdog bet. Their coach, Job Hilbers, is the former coach of Titan—they came second in SWC 2015 after a fairytale run of their own, but didn’t qualify this time around.
Isurus are the champions of Latin American Smite, dominant in their region, while PaiN—the Brazilian team—are more of a surprise inclusion. The growing Chinese Smite scene is represented by OMG.B, who again are dominant on home turf but untested internationally. The other Chinese team, QG, is made up of members of ‘Doge is Dog’—they won hearts at SWC 2015 despite having been relatively unknown prior to the event.
What else is happening?
Last year, SWC was also host to a side area where the Xbox One version of the game was playable for the first time. This year, the same area is being turned into an expo for Hi-Rez Studios as a whole. Expect announcements for all of Hi-Rez’s games this weekend, including Paladins. There's also an Xbox One Smite tournament running concurrent with the PC event, the first time the same game has been represented on two different platforms at the same tournament.
For PC Gamer’s part, we’ll be covering the World Championship throughout, reporting on upcoming changes to Smite and Paladins, and catching up with the newly-refounded Tribes Ascend team.
Edit: fixed a typo. Sorry, Isurus!
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