January 10, 2015

Smite World Championship 2015: day 1 in review

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Today marked the first time that Smite's disparate regional scenes have come together since the launch tournament. The Smite of then and the Smite of now are very different animals: in the game's short life, server communities have grown and the metagame has developed. These best-of-one matches, then, saw a few longstanding questions answered: to what extent does the hyper-competitive nature of the EU scene translate into success on the world stage? How far does dominance in the US scene extend? Can South America or Asia, with their relatively young professional communities, introduce new ideas sufficient to catch the west napping?

Promisingly for the next few days, the answer to all of these questions is 'to some extent'. In any other context that might be unsatisfactory, but the best possible result for the first day of an e-sports tournament is for no clear leader to have emerged. There are many more questions to be answered over the weekend.

Given the disparity in experience between certain scenes, several of today's best-of-ones were rather one-sided. The first game, COG Red vs. DID, was this way. Both sides favoured individual skill and teamfight brinksmanship over game-wide strategy, and despite a clutch first blood going the way of DID that is the only kill they'd claim. A 25-1 victory in COG Red's favour marked a strong statement from the US favourite, particularly this: do not underestimate Divios in control of Fenris. Fenris will do what he likes.

The second game, Team SK vs. We Love Bacon, was a similar story. SK's Maniakk is considered to be one of Smite's most dangerous solo laners, and he proved it with a free-roaming Bakasura performance that controlled the pace of the match. Two things stood out for me, watching from the mezzanine: one, that one time when a Brazilian guy wearing a Spider-Man costume and a crash helmet danced through the crowd. Two, the calm visible in the player cameras facing SK. WLB looked tense, nervous, hunched towards their monitors. SK's Realzx, already one of the calmest people I've met in e-sports, looked like he might be at home on his sofa. SK knew they could win this one, and they did.
The day's first must-watch game was Titan vs. OMG. In the European Regionals, Titan (then COG Aquila) proved that winning from behind was not only possible in Smite, but kind of 'their thing'. They drafted a late-game lineup but faced an incredibly aggressive roster from their opponents: OMG wanted to end the game in fifteen minutes, and looked well-positioned to do so. They ruled Titan's jungle, using Thanatos to deny buff camp after buff camp and demonstrating a mastery of objective timing in excess of any western team. It felt like a vision of Smite's future: Chinese teams may struggle to overcome their more experienced western counterparts now, but that won't last forever. Teams will either need to match the clockwork control over the jungle that OMG demonstrated or fail.

In the end, however, it was OMG that underestimated Titan. With Repikas' Kali quietly growing more powerful on the sidelines and Ataraxia's Apollo doing work with a mid-game focused build, Titan's disadvantage never became insurmountable. Despite multiple pick-off kills going against them, they never gave the sense that they were uncomfortable or that their plans had failed. Titan's trick is that they always seem to know how much they can afford to lose. Where other teams plan to win from the get-go, they understand that the right strategy can come into its own at thirty minutes despite a disastrous early game. Pulling that off takes incredible trust and discipline, but that's what they managed here: as soon as Repikas found form, OMG couldn't take Titan in a teamfight. Within a few short minutes, Titan were controlling the match: taking towers, teamfights and the enemy titan, teaching OMG a lesson: if you plan for the earlygame, finish in the earlygame.

Cognitive Gaming maintained its record in COG Prime vs. 404 Name Not Found. The Latin American team struggled to gain any advantage against the veteran US outfit, resulting in another substantially one-sided match. The first of the elimination matches, We Love Bacon vs. DID, was closer. DID, the Chinese team, demonstrated substantial technical skill but suffered for having a number of substitutions in their roster. WLB, meanwhile, got to play the kind of Smite that they favour: aggressive, mobile, and with plenty of dunks provided by erstwhile heavy-hitter Thor. It was this in-your-face (or, more accurately, 'in their face') playstyle that prevailed, making DID the first team to be eliminated from the SWC 2015.

The next game was also a South America/China match-up. OMG vs. 404 went the other way, however, with OMG demonstrating an increased willingness to capitalise on map objectives after their run-in with Titan. Despite this, 404's Zethsu did some phenomenal work on Athena, in one case stealing the Gold Fury out from under OMG with a clutch play. In the end, though, OMG were able to take higher-value trades despite fierce opposition and this ultimately led them to a win.

The second must-watch game was COG Red vs. SK Gaming, the first of the winner's matchups. The victors of these games would be guaranteed a place in the semi-finals, where the losers would have to play in via the quarter finals. COG Red have had an extraordinary run, lately, losing no matches at all for the last couple of months. Despite their collective youth they're capable under pressure, too - for many people, they have exactly what it takes to succeed in an environment like Worlds. Then came SK Gaming. Of all of the one-sided matches today, this is the one you should watch. After a relatively passive start, SK took Red apart. Maniakk came as close to losing his lane as he'll ever get, but aggressive play by Realzx supported by the consistently excellent Badgah on Ymir gave SK momentum in spades. Zyrhoes' Au Kuang, likewise, was a monster - dominating one-on-one encounters and teamfights alike, and securing SK one of the day's most convincing victories.

It's expected that you'll see pocket strats in best-of-one matches like these, but that didn't really manifest until Titan vs. COG Prime. Titan drafted one of their most comfortable line-ups - Apollo, Geb, Kali, Aphrodite, Ra - but faced a surprise combo in the form of Scylla and Ah Muzen Cab, the latter specifically chosen to counter Repikas' Kali. It worked. The sheer damage output of Scylla's ultimate punched through Titan's health-regen focused playstyle, and punished the kind of dramatic midgame teamfight aggression that they're known for. All the while, Ah Muzen Cab gave Prime the ability to pressure objectives in a way that matched the split-pushing power of Apollo. Titan played well, but it seemed like they'd been out-thought: that for the first time their own strategy of out-metagaming their opponent had been turned against them. A less comprehensive victory than COG Red vs. SK Gaming, but nonetheless proof that the reputation of the COG teams has its basis in undeniable talent.

Tomorrow's games begin at 10am EST/3pm GMT. To find out more about the Smite World Championship 2015, check out our beginner's guide. You can find videos of each of today's games on the SmitePro YouTube channel.


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