The Smite World Championship 2015 begins today. The game's competitive scene is less than a year old, and this multi-million dollar event marks the culmination of a rapid period of early growth. At more than $2.5m, the prize pool exceeds every other e-sports event in history save the 2013 and 2014 Dota 2 Internationals. That sum has been arrived at through a mixture of developer input and crowdfunding, similar to Valve's own method, but Hi-Rez are closely involved with their community and professional scene, too - a little more like Riot. It's this middle ground approach, I think, that makes Smite worth keeping an eye on even if you've not played it or followed it before. A lot of games in this genre have gestured at e-sports viability, but Smite's case is the strongest I've seen in a long time.
Taking place in the Cobb Energy Center in Atlanta, over the next three days 3,000 spectators will watch eight teams compete for that massive prize. If you're watching from home - particularly if you're new to the game - I hope the FAQ below will help you get the most out of the event.
How is it played?
Smite is a third-person MOBA starring a roster of gods drawn from mythology. Its unusual camera perspective is what sets it apart from League of Legends or Dota 2. Every ability, even regular attacks, are aimed. The majority of gods have skillshots of some kind. Line of sight is crucial, and the map is designed around winding pathways, like a maze, that encourage chases and running battles.
Spectators view the game from a top-down perspective, which actually makes the competitive side easier to pick up for genre veterans. Early aggression is common, so look out for ganks and teamfights from the very begging of the game. Neutral camps grant buffs that can turn these fights around, and the commentators will make it clear when and why teams have seized these objectives. Finally, two major neutrals, the Gold Harpy and Fire Giant, grant major boons to the teams that take them. The ultimate objective is to destroy the towers and Phoenixes protecting each base and defeat the opponent's Titan, a powerful enemy in its own right.
What is the tournament format?
The World Championship represents the end of a long period of qualifiers. Two teams have arrived from Europe, two from the USA, two from China, one from Spanish-speaking South America and another from Brazil. The first day of play - today - will take the form of a best-of-one double elimination bracket. Teams that lose will have a chance to fight their way back in, but teams that lose twice will be out.
Tomorrow, those six teams will compete in a best-of-three single elimination bracket to determine who proceeds to the Grand Final. The semi-finals will also determine which two teams will battle for third place. Then, on Sunday, a best-of-three third place match will take place alongside the best-of-five Grand Final itself.
Teams eliminated in the early stages will receive at least $32,000. The champion will take home more than $1m - as well as a trophy shaped like Thor's hammer, fully detachable from its shattered-stone base and thus useable as an actual hammer. Because e-sports.
When are the games?
The first match, COG Red vs. Daoge is Dog, is at 11.30am EST/ 4.30pm GMT today. Subsequent matches are at roughly 1 hour 15 minute intervals from that point. For the full schedule, click here.
Who are the teams?
Smite has had a storied first year. For a long time, Cognitive Prime were the defacto kings of the US scene - but they've arrived as second seed behind their younger sister team, Cognitive Red. Red are a very young team who have had an astonishing run and will be many fans' favourites to take the whole thing. Expect a warm welcome for them from the US crowd.
From Europe, Titan represent the scene's Cinderella story. Originally Agilitas, and then Aquila, Titan qualified via the Challenger League - an amateur series designed to give non-pros a way to fight their way into the big leagues. They managed to qualify for the European regionals and, after an astonishing turnaround against Cloud9, won the entire thing. They play in SWC as Europe's first seed. Second seed is SK Gaming, an experienced and disciplined team known for bootcamping incredibly hard before events.
The Chinese Smite scene is still very young as the game isn't formally released there until later this year. OMG is a very new team - only six months old - and none of their players have more than a year of Smite experience. They arrive as the first seed having trained on the North American servers. Their counterpart, Daoge is Dog, are equally new to Smite but have extensive competitive experience in other games.
The Brazilian contender, the brilliantly-named We Love Bacon, have a lengthy history with the game and enjoyed a undefeated run when servers were launched in their home territory. Before that, they played on the NA servers throughout the beta. From Spanish-speaking South America, 404 Name Not Found are relatively new to Smite and even newer to LANs. Despite this, they have broad ranging experience of other competitive games including Dota 2, League, and CS: GO.
Where can I watch it?
What can I expect from PC Gamer?
Wes and I are both at the event. He'll be heading up our video efforts, while I'll be producing daily reports about the games themselves. Check back in the evening after each day of play for a recap of the best moments and matches.
For more Smite coverage, click here.