I discovered Smite on a lark about two years ago while surfing Twitch channels. The visual style caught my interest and I assumed it was yet another fantasy MMORPG. I asked rather bluntly in the chat, "what is Smite?" A number of polite responses poured in which brought me to a couple realizations. 1) Smite is actually a third person MOBA and 2) The Smite community is pretty friendly.
Fast forward a couple of years and here I am watching the 2015 Smite World Championship, which features the third biggest prize in ESports. We've been covering games on a regular basis since our launch in August of 2011. But the ESports scene, though growing exponentially, is still unfamiliar territory to me, a daunting category of gaming that requires skill and discipline. I make an effort; Dota 2 held my interest for a couple short months and Hearthstone still has me by the short hairs. But as Smite and ESports in general continue to grow I couldn't help but spend the afternoon glued to the SWC stream.
Here are my five observations so far:
- Presentation is everything: From the announcers to the analysts to the camera work, I am blown away by the level of professionalism. The analysts are knowledgeable, articulate and have great presence. The announcers could make a game of dominoes the most exciting, must-see event of the year. And finally, the production is engaging with great in game camera angles, after game replays and even a cool map control chart which the analysts, well... can analyze.
- Sponsorship is a big deal: If the number of live viewers on Twitch (upwards of 45k) and the prize pool ($2.6 million) aren't indicative of Smite's growth, the sponsors should give it away. I used to work in Brand Marketing and am familiar with how these deals are structured. The (Alienware) analyst desk features Alienware laptops and cans of Red Bull. Alienware also sponsors the "play of the game" replay. Logitech sponsors the "first blood" replay. The presenting sponsor is Curse Voice. For brands looking to market to the gamer demographic, ESports offer fantastic product placement opportunities. Where else can you get 40k+ gamers' eyes on your brand in a fluid, natural way?
- The old guys should stick with Hearthstone: The other guys on the podcast disagree with me on this one, but Smite, like other reflex intensive games, is best played before your 25th birthday. Sure, there is something to be said for wisdom and experience, but the age of these pros in SWC 2015 are further proof that your reflexes take a nose dive after 24.
- China is a force to be reckoned with: It was stated over and over again by the analysts, but China has a bright future in Smite. Team OMG put on quite the show versus the superior Team Titan, which says a lot considering the Chinese teams have far less experience with Smite relative to their North American rivals. Kind of makes you wonder what would have happened had OMG been able to avoid visa issues and field their entire A team...
- Logistics need a lift: Several matches started well ahead of schedule. I'm sure everyone wants to go home early, but for the viewers who may have scheduled their day around SWC matches, this is frustrating. I would be confused if I tuned into a New York Rangers game at the posted 7pm ET start time to discover the game started ahead of schedule and is now half over. Further, network issues MUST be fixed. If Twitch plans to be the premiere ESports live streaming platform, it can't crash. Remember that time NBC crashed during the Super Bowl? Me neither. We're not there yet, but these are issues that must be addressed sooner than later.
Let us know your thoughts on day 1 of the 2015 SWC in the comments below!