The SMITE Spring Gauntlet begins tomorrow – pitting the teams unlucky enough not to have finished in the top two of the online portion against each other in a grueling ladder format. The two last-place teams in each region – Flash Point (NA) and Sanguine Esports (EU) – and the top two Challenge Cup teams in each region – Oxygen Supremacy (NA) and Optimus Gang (EU) – will need to win six sets in a row in order to be guaranteed a place at the SMITE Spring Masters LAN. The teams that finished third in seeding during the online portion of the split – eUnited (NA) and NRG (EU) – will only need a single set to ensure they are going to the LAN, but need to play a second set to determine their seeding. Does that mean those two teams should already pack for Masters? Let’s get into it!
Hot and Cold
So much about competition is mental. It’s easy to get into your own head, for better and for worse. The online split – for all of its ups and downs – allows players to perform in a familiar environment. LANs take away that comfort, place players into a win-or-go-home scenario, and amp up the pressure considerably. People who don’t normally tune into SPL games will make time to watch this weekend and in two weeks for the Masters LAN. Even though the players can’t see these viewers, it makes a big difference to their state of mind. Players unaccustomed to the environment of a LAN might have a harder time adjusting, but it is equally as likely a player with prior LAN experience that performed poorly at said LAN might get a case of the yips.
Even momentum going into the LAN doesn’t account for all that much. The online split ended a few weeks ago, and players have had a chance to take a break and collect themselves. In some cases, drastic team moves were made which often provide lifeless teams a shot in the arm. While the team might have their potential diminished, their actual performance is almost never diminished. The team knows something is wrong long before moves are made. This is a chance to start fresh and make a new name for themselves. Mr. St3fan was regarded as the best player on Sanguine Esports by far, but that doesn’t mean he was in the right spot or the right person for the team as a whole. Benji might have been great on paper for SoaR Gaming, but fineokay has had the drive to prove himself on the team. It’s rarely just one thing going wrong.
In short: don’t read too much into momentum, look at teams as a whole, and prepare for teams that made moves to perform better – at least in the short-term.
New LAN, New Meta
One of the things you can count on is a new meta emerging for the Gauntlet, and then maybe an all-new one developing at Masters. The invade-boots meta of SWC is a good example of taking something that was occurring now and then and taking it to its logical conclusion. With the item changes, god changes, and shake-ups, I think the biggest change is you’ll see a return to isolating specific people instead of the all-in comps that have been dominating. The all-in comps will still be around, but they might need to shift to be dual burst to compensate for the sustain – healing will still be strong for now as 4.6 isn’t live for LAN – across several gods. This amounts to the same thing as isolation, as the burst will need to be used to guarantee a kill. The emphasis on making all fights start at a disadvantage is a big one.
This will probably result in attempting to control the long lane more frequently, and attempting to keep the hunters down when possible. There will be an emphasis on picking off supports during rotations, making it more valuable to control the paths around gold fury. This is a shift from the mid-lane/short-lane focus we have been seeing, but I think it’s going to be a thing. This will be coupled with a return of gods with built-in healing in their kits. I wouldn’t be surprised if most teams featured 3/5 healing gods whenever possible. This might free up some picks and bans, shifting the emphasis. It also means the Poseidon execute bug is still around. People won’t be able to prioritize a lot of the picks they have for the rest of the online split.
I could certainly be wrong, but it’s just something I have been thinking about given how the online split ended and the changes that have been made.
NRG has two chances to LAN. They can either win the first set they have to play – guaranteeing them a spot – or they can drop that set and win a set against the NA runner-up. I don’t see NRG dropping both chances. They looked stronger as the split went on, and – more importantly – they have found some time to enjoy each other and reignite some of their chemistry by having a boot camp prior to LAN. With how well Adapting was playing even when the rest of the team was mediocre – and how the game has slowed down some with the subsequent patches – I would be surprised if NRG doesn’t win out in EU. If they do manage to lose to an EU team, it would be Eanix – but that just means NA doesn’t get two teams into Masters from the Gauntlet. No matter how you slice it, NRG makes Masters.
Here are my full predictions:
Sanguine Esports vs. Optimus Gang: 2-1 Sanguine Esports – Optimus Gang has played well, but some members of the team do not handle adversity well, and I can’t imagine the Carbon 6 situation has done them any favors. Not to mention Sanguine Esports will be benefiting from the new-blood phenomenon I spoke of earlier.
Sanguine Esports vs. Lion Guard Esports: 2-0 Lion Guard Esports – Lion Guard is another team who got a shot in the arm from a roster change. It was a change that needed to happen, so I am glad it was made. I also think the team is looking for some redemption after underperforming all split. I really hope Frezzyy has been practicing more support Herc, Amaterasu, and Erlang Shen. This is the time for it.
Lion Guard Esports vs. eLevate: 2-1 eLevate – eLevate had a spotty end to the season, but they have been playing well. I think they are the stronger team, and I think Nulisa will benefit from having Andinster at LAN (and vice versa). I also think they have a lot to prove, and really, really want a rematch with Team Rival. Lion Guard probably gets one game and keeps it close, but eLevate wins out.
eLevate vs. Team Rival: 2-1 eLevate – This should be a great set. It will probably be a little sloppier across the board – I expect high salt – but I think eLevate wants it more than Team Rival. Nulisa and N0Numbers have been monsters, and I think the rest of the team steps up. This might be the closest overall set of the Gauntlet.
eLevate vs. Eanix: 2-1 Eanix – Lots of 2-1 sets, but there is a lot of talent across the board. Eanix gets in their own way a little too often for my liking – particularly when it comes to picks and bans. They just make some questionable choices and get in their own head. Eanix is the stronger team – and just a likable squad (probably my second favorite EU team behind Obey) – but eLevate plays up and is too scrappy to go quietly.
Eanix vs. NRG: 2-0 NRG – NRG just has that aura about them right now. Something about their attitudes, recently play, and overall comfort tells me they are ready to be LANimals.
I am excited about the potential NA final being SoaR Gaming against eUnited. That game will have a lot of drama behind it, and should set to rest any doubts still around from the online split. In case there is any doubt, I absolutely believe Soar Gaming and eUnited will be the final NA set. Beyond that, expect Flash Point to perform better than expected, and for Noble to buckle under pressure. Team Allegiance is still something of a mystery, but I bet they get that same boost from a roster swap. I also think In Memory of Gabe is going to have a bad time. They ended the season badly AND went through some drama with sponsors. Not exactly what you want to happen.
Oxygen Supremacy vs. Flash Point: 2-1 Flash Point – This might be a scrappy set. Flash Point will have some real performance anxiety, and Oxygen Supremacy wants to prove it deserves to be in the SPL. This is likely a relegations preview, so we should get to see more of this surely burgeoning rivalry in the future. I think Mirage and Incon have worked out something of a partnership, and the in-person nature of the LAN should really help Flash Point relax and mesh.
Flash Point vs. Noble Esports: 2-0 Flash Point – I think Noble is going to get in their own way. They dropped a full set to Flash Point during the split, and Chapo has a habit of going too hard trying to make plays happen. Noble is going to get a LOT better as the year goes on – provided they stay together for now – but I think they muff this first opportunity. They ended the year poorly and are facing a team that beat them soundly, knowing they should have probably at least split. It’s going to be hard to let go.
Flash Point vs. Team Allegiance: 2-1 Team Allegiance – If the roster stayed the same, I would have picked Flash Point here. Team Allegiance’s roster changed, the team will have a chance to unwind with each other and hang out, and they have LAN experience. I think this will really be a reboot for them, unlike the false start they showed after stomping eUnited in the online portion. Still, should be a great set if it works out this way.
Team Allegiance vs. In Memory of Gabe: 2-1 In Memory of Gabe – IMOG had a hard end to their split. This is coupled with sponsor drama. I just don’t see them taking game one from anyone, but they will scrap back.
In Memory of Gabe vs. SoaR Gaming: 2-1 SoaR Gaming – SoaR is going take NA. I can feel it in my old bones. They have looked awesome the last couple of sets, and Andinster should get a minor boost from having Nulisa at the LAN. Fineokay has been playing out of his mind, and I think he’s going to thrive under pressure.
SoaR Gaming vs. eUnited: 2-1 SoaR Gaming – This set is going to have a lot of animosity around it, and I expect the trash talking to be through the roof. Both teams will come out swinging, but SoaR Gaming really wants this – and playing this set is important to them. It will be a hotly contested set, but I think SoaR takes it.
The decision to make the runner-up match a best of one is really bizarre. I guess it’s a time issue? I don’t really know, but it bothers the shit out of me. Why is this one set different when it is more meaningful in the long term than the game to determine seeding? I have no clue. Then again, that’s why I’m not on the team, I suppose.
Eanix vs. eUnited: 1-0 Eanix – eUnited is going to fall just shy this split, but probably end up doing extremely well in the summer and at Dreamhack. It just feels like they are a little smug about their performance, and are going to get too cute for their own good. These teams are actually a great match-up, and have a lot of similarities. It should be a lot of fun to watch.
NRG vs. SoaR Gaming: 2-1 NRG – NRG doesn’t make it out without dropping a game, but ultimately they win the set. I don’t think the last game will end up being all that close, but the first two will be good to watch. Still, this is a win for any of the teams involved here.