For the first two days of the Smite World Championship, everybody seemed to agree on the script. European and North American teams put paid to the tournament hopes of less well-established regions, victories were clean and comebacks simply didn’t happen. I wrote yesterday that I hoped that the semi-finals would mix things up: it was time for an upset, something that has been a staple of competitive Smite in the past. In the end, we got two of them. The second SWC grand final is only hours away, and nobody would have expected this matchup going into the tournament.
What happened in the semifinals?
Everybody expected Paradigm vs. Enemy to mark the end of the latter’s tournament run—but then again, people always assume that Enemy is about to finally lose, and they have a habit of upsetting pundits. Support and captain PainDeViande’s decision to fire his entire team and build a new one earlier in the year has made him one of the scene’s villains, more or less, but results are results: he might have made a cold decision, but it clearly paid off.
Every game in the set was extremely close at first. Paradigm and Enemy had been scrim partners earlier in the week, and knew each other well enough to avoid obvious mistakes early. Paradigm countered PainDeViande’s dangerous Khepri with Thanatos in game one, with jungler QvoFred picking up a triple kill in an explosive early fight. Enemy outmanoeuvred them after that, however, building up a lead that Paradigm struggled to overcome. A brilliant comeback teamfight bought Paradigm a bit of breathing room, but they decided to gamble it all on an attempt at the Fire Giant that PainDeViande was able to repel by himself. This was a disaster, ceding all of that hard-won momentum to Enemy and ultimately costing them the game.
Paradigm let PainDeViande get Khepri again in game two, and without the Thanatos counter Khepri’s ultimate—which resurrects an ally on death if timed correctly—foiled them in teamfight after teamfight, particularly when coupled with strong skirmishers like Serqet. Soon, Paradigm found themselves in a position they clearly didn’t expect to be in: a single game from elimination.
Paradigm targeted Enemy’s support hard in game three, locking out Khepri, Athena and Geb. Paradigm support Trixtank, who had a rough second game, brought out the tournament’s first Ares—an unusual choice that Enemy didn’t expect. Ares’ teamfight impact is mitigated by the use of Purification Beads, which is why you don’t see him much at the top level, but this nonetheless forced Enemy’s hands in terms of playstyle. Paradigm took the lead, repeatedly targeting Enemy’s solo laner Saltmachine and converting this map control into a brilliant, sneaky Fire Giant kill. After a run of smart fights, they took the win and kept their hopes alive.
The supports really were the story here, however, and PainDeViande got his Geb in game four. This game was extremely close and extremely passive for a long time, with both terms clearly dealing with a lot of nerves. A massive teamfight victory at the 30 minute mark tipped the scales in Enemy’s favour, however, and Paradigm never quite recovered. The European first seed looked utterly defeated at the press conference afterwards, while their opponent—the NA dark horse that had just won a place in the SWC grand final—made it sound like everything had gone according to their design. Perhaps it had.
Cloud9 vs. Epsilon is likely to be remembered as one of the best series in the history of professional Smite. In any other context, this could have been a grand final match in and of itself—and a memorable one. C9 are the defending champions and they barely broke a sweat in their quarter finals match. Epsilon fell just short of becoming European first seed, and have an incredible record in season play. This one was impossible to call, one way or the other.
It started very well for Epsilon. Extremely well, actually. The start of this match took place during the Paradigm press conference, and I figured I was safe to pay attention to the players for the first few minutes. I looked, and the score line was 0-0. I looked back, and it was 4-0 in Epsilon’s favour: early lane pressure created the perfect conditions for a devastating early rotation that resulted in a triple kill to Yammyn’s mid Zeus, while emilitoo took a vital early kill for himself on Chiron. This advantage became an early Gold Fury, and that translated into an advantage that no other team at SWC had come back from.
You should watch this match, which is why I’ve embedded it above, but here’s the short version: miraculously, and to the delight of the hometown crowd, C9 came back. After a run of good teamfights they maintained brilliant cross-map pressure on Paradigm, breaking the Europeans apart inside their own base to end the game. This wasn’t just a game-winning upset, it looked like a series-ending one: I fully expected Epsilon to tilt themselves inside-out. 3-0 to C9 seemed possible, and an all-NA final looked likely.
Epsilon are made of chilled steel, however, and they were able to shrug off their defeat in game one as a mistake that they wouldn’t repeat. Indeed, they didn’t: they once again secured an early kill lead in game two (4-1 this time) and made an intelligent series of rotations that applied pressure where C9 wasn’t expecting it. No throw was forthcoming this time, and Epsilon evened out the series after a brutal teamfight inside C9’s base.
C9 made a major strategic change in game three, switching midlaner MLCSt3alth from his traditional mages (he earned tournament MVP last year for his performance on Scylla) to a hunter, Neith. Epsilon didn’t account for the amount of physical damage C9 were putting out in their itemisation, and despite a close start—in no small part because St3alth was adapting to a new playstyle—they turned in a series of devastating teamfight performances to secure the lead, and ultimately the game.
One game from elimination, Epsilon changed things up themselves. They locked Fenrir for jungler Adapting, the wolf’s first appearance in the tournament and the beginning of a devastating tear. It was clear to everybody—including C9—that they’d need to play carefully to avoid getting picked off, and this helped them rebuff Epsilon’s aggression early in the match. Fear gave Epsilon map control, however, and this helped them develop a gold lead off the basis of multiple successive Gold Fury kills.
It looked more and more likely that Epsilon would even out the set, and then one of the tournament’s best powerplays made it seem certain. Check it out in the embedded video above, from around 24:00 on the in-game clock. Having taken down Neith, Dimi’s Sobek tosses Jeffhindla’s Athena backwards into the maw of Adapting’s Fenrir, who ults, grabs her, and runs back towards iRaffer’s Khepri. As the Fenrir ult wears off, iRaffer immediately grabs her with Abduct, securing a vital kill on a slippery support. It was the moment Europe’s hope returned, the goddess of wisdom wiped off the map by nature’s deadliest combo: crocodile, wolf, beetle. Shortly after that: game four to Epsilon.
In the press conference afterwards, C9 would admit to feeling low (and very ill, in BaRRaCCuDDA’s case) going into the fifth game. Adapting’s Fenrir got through the pick/ban phase, and Yammyn felt confidence to break out a relatively unusual Medusa mid. An early double kill going his way buoyed them up, but it was impossible to forget that first game when C9 came back from an even bigger disadvantage. There were echoes of Enemy vs. Paradigm too, however—and once again, it was Geb who made the difference. In the hands of Epsilon captain iRaffer, the guardian god secured teamfight after teamfight. Around the ten minute mark, an extraordinary blind Stone Shield allowed Yammyn to escape what seemed like certain death.
Their lead secured, Epsilon let the wolf off the chain. There’s this story about what happens when Fenrir gets loose, as you might be aware—it concerns the end of the world. As C9 launched a heroic offensive to get themselves back in the game, a massive Sol ultimate by emilitoo momentarily eclipsed the real danger: Adapting’s big bad wolf on the back line, in their base, killing their dudes. The returning champion’s world ended, and Epsilon advanced. Once again, Smite will have a NA-EU grand final.
The grand final
Epsilon vs. Enemy will begin at 15:15 EST (12:15 PST/20:15 GMT). Given how both teams got here, this is a tough match to call—but definitely not a match to miss. Both teams have incredibly good individual technical skill, as well as broad god pools and willingness to experiment and upset their opponents in the draft phase. It’s worth saying that Epsilon is the team that Enemy would prefer to be facing in the final: they know C9 extremely well, and have lost to C9 many times. Then again, Epsilon is the team that ended C9’s tournament. The crowd here in Atlanta will want the trophy to remain in North America, but Epsilon have earned a lot of fans of their own over the last year. Having missed out on SWC inclusion last year, this is their chance to make things right. It’s going to be a big day for Smite. Tune in on Twitch.
PC Gamer Pro is dedicated to esports and competitive gaming. Check back every day for exciting, fun and informative articles about League of Legends, Dota 2, Hearthstone, CS:GO and more. GL HF!