The first week of Season Four of the Smite Professional League is officially in the books. My record for selections for the week (and season) is 6-2. The missed games come in the form of a major upset, and hedging bests against a team that looks like it is going to be a force to be reckoned with. We are starting to see the stabilization of the meta, and which gods are being highly valued. Bursty damage, area control, mobility, and pressure are coming to the forefront as the dominate forces of the burgeoning meta game. Sustain is still around, but the seasonal item changes have moved around how the sustain manifests. Sylvanus was still one of the most popular gods, with middling performances, and Khepri was in a similar position. This was in part due to the teams selecting them, but it does show that while these gods offer exceptional early game pressure, things don’t snowball quite as hard as everyone thinks it does. The new season and professional commentary had muddied the waters, but we’re starting to see what will emerge as real, and what is just smoke and mirrors.
Ranked is Not the SPL
While ranked play can be a good indicator of individual performance and trends, queuing solo or duo in ranked is vastly different than playing in a competitive league against a group of five that practices. Gods that are monsters in solo queue are not necessarily monsters in an SPL game (except for Scylla, natch). Izanami is a great example. She has phenomenal wave clear, but her mobility is extremely limited. As I mentioned last time around, hunters such as Izanami generally pair off with a support to make up the duo/long lane. During week one, we got treated to one of the top Izanami solo queue players breaking her out in the mid lane position, where you typically find mages. However, the results were similar to the last time we saw Izanami in mid back in SWC. In short, it was a big disappointment. Izanami is high, consistent damage, but really lacks burst outside of her ultimate. Consistent damage is great, but if you don’t have someone doing burst, it’s much easier to manage your strategies, and accurately predict how engagements might go. You can still get shredded, but the huge team burst is off the menu. When levels of coordination are lower, it’s not a problem to run this sort of strategy. This doesn’t necessarily mean we won’t see hunter mids in the future, just that success in rank isn’t a direct correlation.
On the flip side, we saw a high value being placed on Zeus, who is much riskier in solo queue. Zeus has long been a pick/ban choice for teams, but he’s seeing a lot of play early on, as people are unwilling to let Thoth, Sylvanus, and Hercules go through. After all, you only get 8 total bans in the game, so when you are consistently banning a handful of gods, top three of the week are the ones named here, others are bound to get through. In the case of Zeus, his win rate was only 50%, but the fact that an immobile god built to capitalize on team work did that well speaks to the level of play in the SPL vs. the level of play you see in ranked. That on-demand burst can really turn a team fight, but a death from over-committing or being out of place can be equally as impactful. With that sort of turn, it’s no small wonder that Zeus wouldn’t see as much play as Thoth. Thoth is not only a cannon, but he also has a stun attached to a dash. This makes him one of the safer mages, while also having a big impact from his damage output. The reason you didn’t see Thoth get through often is precisely this reason. Not only is he strong in ranked, he excels with coordination. That sort of impact can’t be allowed. Thoth was banned in 12 games, selected in 3, and only left open in a single game.
Familiar Faces, Worn Out Places
I incorrectly picked a set in each of the divisions. The first was the more surprising of the two, no question. Not only did the two-time reigning world champs NRG drop the set in a rematch of the SWC finals against Obey, they did so in a demoralizing fashion. The captain of NRG, iRaffer, not only gave up First Blood in the first game, he did so before even 30 seconds had passed. His day didn’t get much better, topping all players with total number of deaths at 16, and appearing at the bottom of the support KDA list at 0.28 ((Kills +(Assists/2))/Deaths). Adapting was the bright spot of the team, being the only one with a KDA over 1, but still below his normal performance. I don’t want to overstate this loss, but it was probably not the showing NRG was hoping for, and it shows that Obey might be stronger than ever, despite losing Variety and Frezzyy in the off-season. It also highlights a problem that revealed itself at SWC. NRG has a problem responding to a fast pace of play. They might do things excellently, but they end up falling behind with farm and presence. This was true in their set against LG, the wins Obey got over them in the finals, and this latest set. Of course, they are two-time defending champions for a reason. This is only the first week of the season, and I don’t think NRG will continue to perform at this low level, but it quickly dispelled the aura of invincibility they had going into the split.
The other game I picked incorrectly was Team Allegiance vs. In Memory of Gabe (BORKED). This was much less of an upset given the veteran nature of the players on BORKED, and the fact that BORKED had no Conquest Crud to shake off the way Team Allegiance needed to do. BORKED had been steadily playing competitively for weeks now, while Team Allegiance replaced a key player on their team, MLCStealth being replaced with Metyankey, and had only been scrimming. Practice is great, but it’s never a replacement for the real thing. I had the teams splitting the set, but BORKED won in convincing style. That’s a charitable way to put it, at any rate. The confidence of BORKED is the real story here, as we are seeing legit plays of Ah Muzen Cab, long considered one of the weaker organized hunters due to his lack of utility and movement-based abilities. Snoopy, the hunter for BORKED, looks incredibly comfortable on the Mayan God of Bees, and is making the pick work in spades. I think this will probably be less true as the season goes on, and people get used to the meta, items, and team tactics, but the fact he got broken out this early just shows how strongly BORKED believes their teamwork is at this moment. In truth, the belief looks justified at this moment in time.
Deific Rise and Falls
I touched briefly on the pre-season value placed on such gods as Thoth, Sylvanus, Hercules, and Khepri. While the hype around Thoth is probably justified, Sylvanus was the other god of these four that managed to break even (3-3). Hercules was banned seven times, picked three, and lost all three of those games. Khepri was banned five times, selected five times, and ended up 2-3. They weren’t the only gods with hype around them, either. In SWC, and then in Relegations, we saw the Rise of Thanatos. Well, week 1 might as well be the Fall of Thanatos, with the amount of impact he had. Like Hercules, he went a flat 0-3, and was only banned three times. People just didn’t see him as a threat any more with the decrease on the value of sustain and tankiness. His execute pivot-potential was huge when that was the meta. With the movement to more damage, more control, and all-or-nothing engagements, he just doesn’t hold the value he once did.
Let me also take a moment to pat myself on the back for accurately predicting that Hun Batz would provide a huge value for the teams selecting him this weekend, and that Cabrakan, aka Fat Loki, would see a lot of play. I was correct on both accounts. Hun Batz saw a tidy 80% win rate through five games, seeing only a single ban. Cabrakan was picked in 50% of the games, with a record of 5-3, and was not valued enough by anyone to spark a ban. Hun Batz brings so much to team fights by the way of Fear No Evil, his ultimate, providing tremendous area control by way of a fear. Not only that, he has great mobility, safe poke, and a bit of soft CC to go with the hard CC of his ultimate. It’s not a surprise that in this aggressive, area-control-centric meta we see a god like Hun Batz start to shine. He’s always been a strong choice, but the meta and items have provided a way to make him just that much stronger.
|1||Obey Alliance, last year’s SWC runner-up, saw two players leave their roster, including last year’s breakout player, Variety. However, Obey picked up one of the best supports in EmilZy, and managed to dominate their arch-rivals. Incredibly strong start that quickly establishes them as the team to beat.||N/A|
|2||Eager, one of the top teams from NA, won their first set in convincing fashion against a rebuilding SoaR team. Great start from a team who hasn’t changed at all from last season’s team. Is this Zapman’s year? Too early to tell, but a great start.||N/A|
|3||The New and Improved Team Dignitas proved why the organization believed in them over their previous roster. Formerly known as Variety’s New Team, this group saw an incredibly strong Open Bracket stage before being picked up. They blasted through Cyclone GG without slowing down, one of the stronger teams in Relegations. Strong start, with a lot of hype to follow.||N/A|
|4||Luminosity returned with 80% of their SWC semi-finals roster, replacing Xenotronics with Baskin, an established player who has swapped positions to mid lane. They got off to a sluggish game one before righting the ship and dominating in the second game. If this is the rustiest Luminosity looks, no one is safe.||N/A|
|5||In Memory of Gabe absolutely demolished Team Allegiance. It wasn’t even as close as that sentence makes it look. Seriously. The only strike against them is they are still new.||N/A|
|6||Valance Squad defeated Sanguine eSports in a clean set. These games were also not close affairs. Valance looked sharp as their first game under their new name, with Funballer and Lawbster turning in great performances.||N/A|
|7||The only mark against Enemy (now known as eUnited) is they played one of the currently weaker teams in the SPL, and one they faced already in Relegations. Their new solo-laner showed a lot of promise, and this team has a lot of room to grow in the coming weeks.||N/A|
|8||For their sake, NRG should hope the loss is just a result of Conquest Crud from their lack of playing competitively since SWC. However, they are still NRG, and I can’t expect them to repeat this performance in the coming weeks.||N/A|
|9||Elevate played one of the currently weaker EU teams in Novus Orsa, and managed to get out with a split. Elevate is the stronger team at the moment, but they will need to improve to be competitive.||N/A|
|10||Novus Orsa (now Lion Guard) has a lot to prove, and with good reason. I think the fans and casters are being a bit hard on them, but they need to tighten things up and get more practice in to be in a position to win the split.||N/A|
|11||SoaR is rebuilding, there is no other way to say it. Eager had their way with them this past week, and Andinster showed he has a long way to go in order to attain the same mastery in mid he had in jungle. I do think this team will grow the most over the season. Here’s hoping.||N/A|
|12||Flashpoint played a good half of one game, but fell apart afterwards. They were demoralized going into the set against Luminosity, seeing themselves as severe underdogs. They need to get out of their own heads, and learn quickly how to compete this split.||N/A|
|13||Cyclone GG saw a sharp decline in performance from their work in Relegations the previous week. Maybe Team Dignitas really is that good…and maybe Cyclone GG needs to re-focus.||N/A|
|14||Team Allegiance got trampled in the first week, no other way to say it. They showed they have a lot they need to work on, and in short order.||N/A|
|15||Noble eSports has had a rough two weeks. They barely squeaked through Relegations, needing tie-breakers to win-out, and lost to an Enemy team they had previously faced. The talent on the team is very raw, outside of MLCStealth, who looked a little lost himself. Hopefully they can make some changes in a hurry.||N/A|
|16||Either Valance is better than expected, or Sanguine is going to have a rough season. They are another team with a lot of new faces…and grudges. Let’s see how they jump back in week 2.||N/A|
Week 2 Predictions
Here’s where I put my money where my mouth is. Let’s look at the matches for week 2.
NRG vs. Valance Squad: I think the teams split the series this week. Valance Squad will be looking for blood, but I don’t think NRG will drop a full set for the second week in row. NRG will start to return to form in this match-up. 1-1
Sanguine Esports vs. Novus Orsa: Another split series for the week. Novus Orsa should win two, based on their talent, but they are very inconsistent at the moment. 1-1
Luminosity vs. Noble: As long as Luminosity takes it seriously, this should be a quick set going in their favor. 2-0
Eager vs. Flashpoint: The best thing I can say about this series is Flashpoint is getting the sharks out of the way fast. 2-0
NRG vs. Elevate: NRG should be back to form, or fully collapsed. I am betting on the former. 2-0
Valance Squad vs. Cyclone GG: Valance is the better team, as of this writing. It should be over quick. 2-0
Team Dignitas vs. Novus Orsa: Team Dignitas should continue their dominance without much issue. 2-0
Obey Alliance vs. Sanguine Esports: Obey Alliance is riding high and looking to solidify themselves in the conversation of best team. Look for a statement set. 2-0
Eager vs. Enemy: Eager should put this set away quickly, though with more trouble than their Thursday set. 2-0
In Memory of Gabe vs. Flashpoint: See the statement regarding Thursday night. 2-0
Team Allegiance vs. Noble eSports: Battle of the Salt. I think this game probably goes sloppy and personal. Look for Noble to play up a bit, and for Allegiance to take at least one. They should take both, but I think this splits. 1-1
Luminosity vs. SoaR: This will be the set of the day. There is a lot of history between the players, and some close relationships. I think Luminosity takes the set, but SoaR makes them work for it. 2-0