Over the past weekend, HiRez recently concluded their first ever Smite World Championship, which should have been a great accomplishment for HiRez but instead was controversial and ominous. For those who don’t know, Smite is one of the most popular MOBAs around, with its claim to gameplay fame having a third-person view and control of the characters (called gods in Smite).
Although not as popular as Dota or League of Legends, it is nonetheless an excellent free to play MOBA with tons of value. I played in the beta and have been a fan of Smite for a long time, but I was truly let down by HiRez’s management of their recent world championship. I fear Smite’s competitive scene may never recover, and what HiRez did to their own community may go down as a textbook example of what happens when you ignore your customers in favor of bullshit political correctness.
They Wanted A “World” Championship
Smite had already enjoyed large North American and European tourneys in the past, which were successful in growing the game’s player base and competitive scene. The idea for this tourney was to create a worldwide tourney in order to showcase the best players around the world. In theory it would increase the amount of Smite players worldwide. What ended up happening, however, was a showcasing of some of the worst players in the world against some of the best players and leaving fans terribly disappointed.
The tourney was setup as an 8—team double—elimination, with higher ranked teams seeded against the lower ranked teams. Standard stuff. However, what was not standard was how they got the teams. Someone at HiRez decided, that in order to have a true world championship they needed “equal representation” of the world. This meant, in some kind of perverted logic, that two teams needed to be present from the world’s major continents: North America, Europe, China, and Latin America.
Completely ignored, however, was the fact that the North American and European Smite playerbases are each multiple times larger than the Latin American or Chinese scene. In fact, in China Smite is still a new game, and the Chinese did not have a full build of the game with all of the playable Gods on it. This meant that when the Chinese arrived in America for the SWC, they were playing with unfamiliar game mechanics against players who had years of experience over them.
The results were predictable—all of the Latin American and Chinese teams were crushed hard. Some games were so bad that teams were unable to get more than 1 kill on their first-world counterparts. The audience turnout was awful, and the replays of these games all have less than 10,000 views. Can you believe $2.6 million was gathered by a crowd-sourced audience, only to be disappointed with games that were nothing more than pubstomps? Here is the stream of a Chinese team getting steamrolled, with the American team deliberately not ending the game so they could farm more kills.
That is not to say the tourney had no value. The four good teams, the two from North America and the two from Europe, performed well and gave the audience a good show. The final match lasted over four hours and stayed in the top 5 on most watched Twitch TV streams for the day. For Smite to get there, starting from a small indie game years ago, to a top 5 spot out of the world’s most popular multiplayer games is quite an accomplishment. Regardless, one good showing is not enough, and, given how badly a disappointment half of the tournament was, questions abound.
The Fans Are Pissed
Lest you think I am merely exaggerating controversy, here is the juicy drama. From COG Prime (American) vs. 404 (Latin American):
Notice how there is this talk of “next year, China and LA teams will be more prepared!” There probably won’t be a next year, or anything like it was this year. But more on that later. Behold more anger from this match:
Some of the more sympathetic Smite players tried to defend the lousy Chinese and Latin American teams, but as you can see above not all the fans were convinced.
Notice how Vortex Magus tries to bring up the whole “Diversity is our Strength” argument, but clearly not everyone buys it. The spirit of #GamerGate lives on in all gamers and allows them to see through bullshit.
Notice how NA and EU teams had already played each other, yet Latin America or China had never played internationally. More on this below, first I must continue with the disappointment:
I think that’s enough evidence for now. As you can see, it severely divided the competitive community and pissed off a lot of Smite fans.
An Uncertain Future for Smite
To properly assess the damage done by this tourney, ask yourself: who is going to come up with $2.6 million for next year’s tourney? This year’s tourney was all crowd-funded. Smite fans from North America and Europe shelled out lots of money, spending anywhere from $100-$400 for live tickets, or $10-$100 for in-game items that went to the prize pool. However, if fans believe next year’s world championship will not be the best teams on stage to compete in person, but rather a bunch of diversity picks in order to “equally represent” the world (even though 90% of Smite players come from NA and EU), who is going to pay hundreds of dollars to watch low quality matches against teams of widely differing skill?
While certainly this need not be a deathblow for Smite, and Smite could easily recover by issuing an apology with a new game plan for next year’s tourney that will actually bring in skilled teams, I’m not sure that’s going to happen. Instead, so far, I’ve seen lots of denial from HiRez and people seem to actually believe that by sending a bunch of people from Latin America and China to play in a tournament will somehow make Smite more popular in those countries. However, in actuality, these players were paid to be there. 5th through 8th place each received 1.25% of the prize pool, which was $32,653:
So do you think these guys were there because they loved Smite? Or because they were guaranteed thousands of dollars just for showing up? To think, the money of 5th through 8th places could have gone to NA and EU teams who had been practicing for years, instead it was thrown away on a bunch of players who will probably never play Smite again. Most of the players from Latin America and China were known to be new, it’s obvious they merely learned the game so they could get paid a first-world salary.
However, the damage is just getting started. This is going to be utterly demoralizing for many NA and EU teams. If you were a top NA or EU team that was placed out of the World Championships because of “diversity,” what incentive do you have to try again for next year’s tourney? Why play if it’s rigged? I suspect the competitive scene is going to shrink as a result of this. Smite players who had been practicing for years, instead of being rewarded with money for their time and the chance to keep playing and win more, now instead have nothing.
Meanwhile, the top NA and EU teams just got a ton of cash. Given that they are sitting on hundreds of thousands, if not millions, they won’t need to work regular jobs while they continue to practice the hell out of Smite. For new players and existing players, it will be impossible to compete. The NA scene is especially damaged, since both of the top NA teams who made it to the finals were owned by the sponsor COG.
There was COG Prime and COG Red at the SWC representing North America. COG Prime took #1 and COG Red took #3, so now COG the sponsorship just got millions of dollars added to their coffers. They will continue to buy out any other good talent that emerges on the Smite competitive scene and ensure that COG continues to win more tournaments. A good league, by the way, would never allow more than one team from the same sponsor to participate. Speaking of fairness.
But this isn’t a good league. Especially when we consider the fact that the Chinese and Latin American teams never even played against NA or EU teams, when it would have been obvious that these continents were not ready for competition, we automatically know that the organizers of these tournaments have an agenda and it’s not in the best interests of their fans. They simply didn’t care if Chinese or Latin American teams were good; they simply needed to look progressive.
When one adds up all of these factors, things do not look good for competitive Smite. I’ll honestly be surprised if next year’s tournament even passes $1 million. I’ve been part of too many competitive gaming scenes to know how fragile these games are. All it takes is one blunder, like this one, and things never recover.
By the time next year rolls around, better, hotter, and bigger games will be released to the public. These new games will attract lots of money and offer bigger prize pools than older games like Smite. These new games also steal competitive players who may have played Smite but instead focus on games that do not have “diversity” tournaments. For example, Blizzard announced Overwatch recently, and in 2015 the beta will be released for that game. Why won’t players just migrate over to Blizzard, who will have far more promising tournaments and leagues with more money and more players?
This isn’t to say Smite will die as a game. Indeed it’s pub scene may continue on for quite some time. But will players be ready to shell out $2.6 million just to watch pubstomps? That’s rhetorical. Either HiRez does damage control or their competitive scene will never recover. And the competitive scene ultimately keeps old games alive, so by alienating their core audience of NA and EU players just to be politically correct, they’ve created a mortal wound from which Smite slowly bleeds out in the years to come.
Oh well. It had a good run.