It seems like only yesterday we were watching the insanity of the SMITE Season 4 Spring Gauntlet. Oxygen Supremacy (NA) made a run for the ages off of crazy team synergy and a god pool so deep it requires a lifeguard. Team Rival (EU) fought hard and came out on top of everyone, exhibiting some hot players and comms so sick you need a full course of antibiotics to get free and clear. SoaR Gaming (NA) faltered but made it through, and NRG Esports (EU) is still struggling, but finding enough wins to sneak into Masters.
Get That Freakin’ God Away From Me
Assuming the patch level of Masters is 4.6, and Cernunnos is available…expect him to be banned pretty much all the time. If the patch level is 4.5, expect Skadi to be banned pretty much all the time. Regardless of the patch level, you are going to see a lot of Ra and Chang’e getting banned. Terra will be a popular gal to ban, as will Sylvanus. Susano will be a no-no. Cabrakan will still be out of the picture, unless a team plans to get him first pick, accidentally lets Fat Loki slip through, or they are just that confident. As a result of the Gauntlet, you can expect a lot of Bellona banning, too. You will still probably see a lot of Zeus bans, and possibly Poseidon bans, but those will be markedly down across the board. You should also see a boat load of Fafnir bans, but we’ll see about that, I guess.
That’s a lot to keep off the boards, but you care about that to different degrees against different teams. In some case, it will be more important to get Nike and Chang’e off the board, so a Susano might slip through. In other cases, you have to prioritize an Osiris ban so maybe you can plan around dealing with Sylvanus. There isn’t a perfect plan. If there was, teams would consistently do a lot better, or a lot worse, right? Regardless, the gods mentioned above should all see heavy pick/ban rates through the Masters tournament.
Oh, and let’s not forget this quite possibly means the Hades and Ravana changes have come through. Ravana’s change makes him absolutely incredible if you can get ahead, or at least maintain evenly. While Hades was a pocket pick for the online portion of the split, the changes make him much more burst-oriented, and deadlier in the right compositions. He really isn’t that much less tanky, and his confirmation is vastly improved. In fact, he’s even tankier now when he is ulting, while also doing more innate damage. So, we will probably we see him a bit, provided the patch level is 4.6. Hades, get excited!
Meta: From the Gauntlet, Remix Edition
Second verse, same as the first. We just had a Gauntlet LAN two weeks ago, and saw some of the emergent LAN meta. Expect similar tactics to occur this weekend. If teams were paying attention, they saw just how much work focusing on the long/duo lane can do. Getting a hunter a two level lead in the mid-game starts to easily win team fights, and allow capitalization from that point forward. Control over the red buff is also incredibly meaningful during this style of pick-and-roll engagement we are likely to continue seeing.
We are also going to be seeing a lot of lockdown comps coming out. We saw some of the efficacy of that at Masters, and with the emphasis shifting to the pick-oriented play, it just makes sense that kill confirmation is going to be a huge priority. This makes some picks like Athena and Erlang Shen much better choices, and would put Poseidon over other AE monsters like Zeus and Vulcan thanks to his cripple. Isis is going to see play, for sure. Serqet is going to be extremely valuable. Thanatos might also make a return, having come full-circle from his place as a preferred jungler in the early season. Funny enough, the single-focus environment also makes the Morrigan a powerhouse in the meta, as long as the player can show the necessary flexibility. The same could be said of most metas, but this particular meta synergizes with the non-ultimate parts of her kit, which is quite important for any sort of pick-and-roll style of play.
Finally, I am going to go out on a limb and say we will see a fair amount of Janus making a return. He’s been quiet for a while, largely because of there not being a lot of need for his style of play-making, but as things have slowly been tuned down we have seen a lot more emphasis on quick rotations and isolation plays. The drop ship shifts with an emphasis on sniping might be too much to pass up for some momentum-establishing games. It’s also possible Nox is going to see a bit of play. As a lover of both of these mages, maybe I am wrong and just over excited. We’ll see.
First Round Predictions
The first round games are to play into the quarterfinals on Friday. I know less about most of these teams, as they are OCE, LATAM, and BCL teams. These regions are still relatively immature, comparatively speaking, and the seeding for these teams is based largely on previous regional performance.
LATAM Finals: Isurus Gaming vs. Valorous Team – Isurus Gaming (3-1)
Even though Valorous Team has the superior name, these are are remnants of LichT and are not the team they once were. Isurus Gaming has looked dominant, and there isn’t much reason to believe this would change with relatively little standing in their way.
NRG Esports (EU) #8 vs. LG Dire Wolves (OCE) #9 – NRG Esports (2-0)
While it’s true NRG is the two-time defending world champions, this split has not been good for them. They played third during the online portion, lost to Team Rival in the Spring Gauntlet finals, and only made it through as the Spring Gauntlet wildcard team. Luckily, eUnited (NA) was imploding like a dying star. Still, luck is often enough to change a team, and OCE teams have looked historically weak. Regardless of their later round odds, they likely move on here.
LATAM Finals Winner #7 vs. Black Dragons #10 – Black Dragons (2-1)
Call me crazy, but I think Brazil had stiffer competition than LATAM this time around. Black Dragons not only have a rad team name, but they played extremely well and are looking to prove themselves, and the region of Brazil, after a disappointing showing by the Brazil representatives in the SWC.
Here we are in a little more familiar territory. For some of these teams, it has been a month since they last played competitively. Does momentum mean anything after that long a time off? Obey Alliance (EU) has been dominate all split, but there has also been a bit of time for the members to lose some focus. Team Rival crushed at the Gauntlet, and SoaR Gaming (NA) had a good and yet disappointing performance. Does that matter? No, not really. It’s a new environment, and it’s a completely fresh start for these teams.
Obey Alliance (EU) #1 vs. NRG Esports (EU) #8 – Obey Alliance (2-1)
Drama in the early rounds! Obey has looked unstoppable during the split, and it’s unlikely they have been significantly impacted by the changes. The presence of some tactical minds to go with their existing strategic minds has made a huge difference in their play, and it also means the continued adjustment to the season changes and meta work in their favor. While NRG is still composed of strong players, the meta is still passing them by a little bit at this point. It’s possible that the last two weeks have changed that, as the slower pace, more focused pace would help them, but it probably won’t be quite enough, for now.
Luminosity Gaming (NA) #4 vs. Team Rival (EU) #5 – Luminosity Gaming (2-1)
Luminosity is a team that tends to play to their level of competition. When they face an opponent weaker than they are, they play sloppier and more loosely. Team Rival showed up as a powerhouse in the Gauntlet, but that just means LG ends up taking it more seriously. The extra tape on Team Rival, and the presence of Baskin likely means they are prepared for this first match-up. I don’t think it will be an easy set, but Team Rival will likely see a small step backwards in an attempt to continue to make plays and show they belong in the elite team discussions. As dominant as they were at Gauntlet, it’s not like it erases how they played all split.
Team Dignitas (EU) #3 vs. SoaR Gaming (NA) #6 – Team Dignitas (2-1)
Even though SoaR Gaming has made some strides, there are still some questionable play calls getting made. It’s not like Team Dignitas are much better – they definitely suffer from hero-itis – but I think the slightly shifting meta hurts SoaR Gaming more than it hurts Team Dignitas. Ra will almost certainly be unavailable, and Andinster doesn’t have teh deepest god pool at this time. Likewise, there isn’t quite a consistent level of communication going on when things get a little rough. SoaR will continue to improve, but right now, they are the weaker team.
Team Eager (NA) #2 vs. Black Dragons (BCL) #10 – Team Eager (2-0)
Eager is the opposite of LG, in a lot of ways. Instead of taking their foot off the gas when the competition is weaker, they step on the pedal to try and make statements. It’s when they face stiffer competition that they try and out-game their opponents, often to their detriment. This set, even if it’s against any of the possible LATAM/BCL teams, should go easily in Eager’s favor.
The semifinals often prove to be better games than the finals, so these sets have me getting some high expectations. That might be a little unfair, but it’s probably not incorrect.
Obey Alliance (EU) #1 vs. Luminosity Gaming (NA) #4 – Obey Alliance (3-2)
All you have to do is look back to the NRG set in the SWC finals last year to see why LG has the potential to push Obey Alliance to their limits. This should be one hell of a set, with a lot of energy and action. All of the match-ups are incredible, and each team is willing try some strange compositions, should the need arise. LG does have a tradition of shooting themselves in the foot, and it’s likely that a 5 game set sees that occur just enough to give Obey Alliance the edge.
Team Eager (NA) #2 vs. Team Dignitas (EU) #3 – Team Eager (3-1)
Dignitas has continued to look too shaky throughout the split to give them the full confidence a team needs to make it to finals. Eager has looked much less unsure about their identity, and as the meta has become further fleshed out it has benefited their style of play. It allows their individual focus to flourish, and dictating the game is what Eager is all about. Team Dignitas is likely to continue to try and force situations they shouldn’t, looking for the big plays to turn the tide. Patience has not been part of the identity of Team Dignitas, to date. Dignitas is another team to watch for the rest of the year, but Eager has the advantage, for the moment.
It’s not exactly unheard of to select the top two seeds to advance to the finals, but this is the likeliest outcome given the seeding and paths to victory. Not everything has to be an upset that shakes the very core of what we know to be true. NRG won worlds last year coming in as the top seed. It happens.
Obey Alliance (EU) #1 vs. Team Eager (NA) #2 – Team Eager (3-2)
This should be another incredibly tense set, but Eager has the slight edge due to the way the meta has shifted. Obey has been on point all split, but the shifts taking place favor the existing style of Eager, who then have a huge pool to pull from for their comfortable choices. This isn’t a gimme by any means, but the changes benefit Eager more than they benefit Obey Alliance, who really understood the initial meta and took advantage of the mid-split shifts, before the meta got changed even further. It seems crazy to pick against Obey Alliance, I know. It’s just what the evidence has told me, thus far.