SMITE, developed by Hi-Rez Studios, was a relatively unknown entrant in the MOBA genre when it launched in 2014. Going up against the might of established franchises League of Legends and DOTA 2, SMITE took a different appraoch to the genre.
Played from a third-person perspective rather than an isometric view and with controls more akin to adventure games, SMITE was an outsider. It looked easy to play, so it was assumed it was a MOBA-lite, but beneath it’s inviting exterior is an incredibly complex, deep and well balanced action-strategy title.
Starting life on PC before graduating to Xbox One and finally PS4 in 2016, SMITE has seen exponential growth and hosts an annual tournament in Atlanta, Georgia — home of Hi-Rez — with a $1 million USD prize pool. There’s even a thriving local scene, with team competing no only for a chance to travel to the annual tournament, but also for a share in $60,000.
The Hi-Rez Oceania Championship 2016, was held in Sydney on November 27 through 27 and saw the four best teams battle for supremacy. A common thread when speaking to the players was World of Warcraft. Almost every player I spoke to had been or is a dedicated WoW player. And it makes a lot of sense.
On PC at least, SMITE and WoW share similarities visually and mechanically and making the jump from one to the other shouldn’t prove too difficult. Even the captain of Australia’s best SMITE team, Daniel Rowe, started out playing WoW.
Smite is my first eSports adventure really. I started playing World of Warcraft when I was like 12 and pretty much stuck with that until I found Smite. I was pretty bored with World of Warcraft and I found Smite in January, February of 2012 so I’ve been playing ever since.
While WoW does feature PvP a dedicated title like SMITE offers more to the hardcore player. Other players have a console background and SMITE’s interface and design makes it an easy transition. Alex “Gruff” Brown of Avant Garde told me that he’d played Halo since he was six years old and had started playing SMITE in 2012. “It was my first MOBA of any description so, it was a steep learning curve at first,” he told me.
Even Hi-Rez has acknowledged the ability SMITE has to engage players who may never have considered eSports or competitive gaming as interests. Kevin “Adanas” Myer SMITE Commentator told me how Hi-Rez has found that FPS gamers have flocked to SMITE thanks to WASD (on PC) and the ability to juke and dodge enemy attacks.
Hi-Rez is also very keen to support amateur eSports at the local level. “We announced a challenger league where we’ll have open-ended tournaments that are going to be running every week along with a four-team amateur league and then our 18 pro leagues.” SMITE’s community is growing and the thirst for competition doesn’t seem to be abating, so Hi-Rez is catering for players of all skill levels.
“The amateur teams will be able to beat the bottom SPL (SMITE Pro League) teams to qualify and it’ll be the same on the other end. Those open-bracket teams will get to face the bottom of the challenger teams.. I think it is important to have tournaments and communities where you don’t need to be the best to compete because you have to to start somewhere.”
Meyer likened working up through the ranks of the challenger league to becoming an NBA or NFL player. “You still have to play in the peewee leagues. You’ve gotta play for your high school, you gotta play for your college and then you gotta hope that you’re good enough.” He admits that not all players can nor will get to the top, “Not everyone can do it,” he says, but adds “It’s very important to have community tournaments so you do have somewhere for those either casuals to become amateur teams and get good enough to face off against professional teams.”
I’ll admit that when I first saw and heard about SMITE I wrote it off as just another multiplayer title I’d never touch. I’d heard the negative press surrounding MOBAs and their notoriously difficult communities and I was simply not interested. Especially considering I’m primarily a PS4 player.
When it was finally released on PS4 this year, alongside the Arena update, my curiosity was piqued and I decided to have a quick bash. Arena takes away lanes and towers and there are no Titans to defeat. Instead, players simply have to reduce the enemy team’s ticket counter to zero.
Players can reduce tickets by defeating minions and enemy Gods. It’s essentially a deathmatch mode that allows players to focus solely on combat and is perfect for newcomers to the MOBA genre, like SMITE itself. After I’d played at least a dozen hours of Arena, I was comfortable to move into Clash, Joust and Assault. Each of these modes includes limited lanes and is not as hardcore as Conquest. I’m still not quite ready for that.
Playing SMITE was invigorating and helped me to realise that I did and do enjoy competitive multiplayer. Without SMITE I wouldn’t have played Destiny, Overwatch, Titanfall 2 or Paladins and those titles are the ones I’ve been enjoying more than any other this year.
SMITE is a perfect gateway into competitive multiplayer, eSports and professional play, Hi-Rez’s support of the title is deep and ongoing and newcomers will find it accessible at first and incredibly rewarding the more that they play.
PowerUp! was supplied with a SMITE Ultimate God Pack by Hi-Rez Studios on PS4.