This morning it was announced that Hi-Rez Studios — makers of SMITE, Paladins & SMITE: Tactics — was opening up their international SMITE and Paladins Masters events to teams in Oceania for the first time.
On the surface, this may not seem like such a big deal. There has been Australian eSports teams for a long time, we have the ESL Studio in Sydney and there are regular events held there highlighting the scene.
While players and fans may be aware of eSports and teams that are from or include Australian players, even as recently as the Hi-Rez Oceania Championships, Australia and New Zealand were an afterthought when it came to eSports. The region wasn’t considered a serious contender and so only the basest of lip service was given.
At the Oceania Championships, I had a chance to speak with both Daniel Rowe of SMITE team Direwolves and Hayden “Haydz” Shiels, Captain of Paladins team Abyss and both lamented the lack of support received in the region.
Recalling his former team’s disappointing performance in Atlanta in 2015 Rowe attributed some of their difficulties on the lack of any eSports presence in the region. “They’ve [United States] had a constant league since, I think 2013, where they used to just have weekly tournaments. Ever since then they’ve had money coming in and playing against each other, competing. Whereas that was our first year of competition. Naturally, across the water, Australia’s always been a low-performing region.”
Shiels feelings mirrored those of Rowe; “League of Legends is the only game you can really make money to live of I think at the moment. Even then you’d have to be the best team and win every single time.” Shiels also mentioned the difficulty in preparing for international competitions with limited numbers of teams to play and practice against and an inability to play teams from other regions due to lag.
Australia is, it seems, as isolated in the eSports scene as it is geographically. Rowe described his team’s confidence at the Hi-Rez Championships in 2015 and how quickly that turned after their shock losses. Coming in at 23 and 0 you can forgive the team for being somewhat cocky, but the US teams absolutely took them apart.
I thought we could place in the top four. After the first practise game, I don’t think I’ve ever felt further away from those goals. It was just awful. It was, we got absolutely stumped. And it threw us … It threw us for a loop. We weren’t used to losing. We had 23 and zero. In Australia, we played this playstyle that was slow and deliberate.
Obviously, we were outperforming teams but they made it very easy for us. Then we got to the US and they’re just like, ‘No, we’re going to smash you.’ They didn’t go easy, they just smashed us. And probably embarrassing … If anyone saw the games, it would probably be embarrassing for us.
Taking the defeat in his stride, Rowe and his new team returned to the Hi-Rez Championships in Atlanta this year and walked away determined to do better, but were again unfortunately out matched. Eliminated early in proceedings, the team still showed that there was competition to be found in Australia and a burgeoning eSports community.
Shiels’ Paladins team Abyss attended the Hi-Rez Expo 2017 as guests of the Paladins Invitational and stunned everybody when they made their way into the international top four teams.
Undefeated in the opening group stages, Abyss suffered their first loss to eventual champions, Burrito eSports. After a defeat to District 69, Abyss eventually finished 3rd overall, but left a legacy on the Paladins scene with players and fans alike calling their strategies the ‘Abyss Meta.’
With two teams demonstrating the skill and level of play at which Australian teams can compete, it’s no wonder that Hi-Rez has extended its global competition to the region. Today’s announcement will see Australian teams guaranteed direct qualification into two international events each year.
Hi-Rez Senior eSports Manager Dan McHugh called the development exciting and praised Australia’s performance across both SMITE and Paladins. President of Hi-Rez Stew Chisam said;
“We have long been proud to offer one of the best pathways in esports for Oceania
region teams, with direct qualification to the global SMITE World Championship and
“We are committed to a flourishing scene for both SMITE and Paladins, which in Australia boasts some of the strongest adoption rates in the world.”
Qualifying through the Oceania Pro League for SMITE and the Paladins Master Qualifier, with a $10,000 AUD and $8,000 AUD prize pool respectively, will see the top teams make their way to Hi-Rez Studios in Atalanta in April to compete in the Masters.
Split One of the Oceania Pro League for SMITE begins February 11, 2017 and runs through to April. Qualifying matches will be followed by seven weeks of competition for the six best teams which includes LG Direwolves. The top team will compete in the SMITE Masters in Atlanta on April 28-30 for a total prize pool of $120,000 USD.
Paladins Oceania Master Qualifier will begin February 6 and will include three weeks of qualifying tournaments followed by three weeks of Master qualifying group stages. Three top teams will join Shiels’ team Abyss as part of a four team Group Stage. The top team of those final four will head to Atlanta from April 6-9 and compete in the Masters with a prize pool of $75,000 USD.
These events mark the first time that Oceania has been given an opportunity to join in and play at an international level with increased frequency and support. The popularity of both SMITE and Paladins in the regions is undoubtedly helped the cause, credit must be given to teams Abyss and LG Direwolves for the continued dedication and representation of Australia.
It’s not just these two teams that deserve a pat on the back either. All of the SMITE and Paladins teams who compete regularly and strive to improve and further the scene deserve some recognition.
There’s a real sense of brotherhood, camaraderie and friendship between the players and all the teams. When one team wins only a few may share in the prizes and the glory, but when an Australian team goes so far, all Australian teams share the rewards.
You can tune into the SMITE and Paladins competitions on Twitch on Saturday and Sunday from 7pm AEST for the former and Monday from 7PM AEST for the latter.
SMITE is available for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Paladins is in beta on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.