After a staggering amount of changes – with both the game and the professional landscape – the Fall Split is finally upon us. The six weeks between the splits was enough time to blow up the previous meta and the rosters of many teams. Some of the changes were expected – no one believed the end-of-Summer-Split Team AI roster would go into relegations together – some were the result of real life changes – Eonic, MLC_Stealth, and Khaos – and others were just high profile roster changes – ManiaKK, Xaliea, ScaryD, Zapman, and Aquarius. These changes are coupled with the massive hunter item overhaul, and the continued trend to tone down items that allow both aggression and protection – targeting warriors, for the most part. There’s a lot to take in and discuss. As reminder on the hit rate of predictions, the record for the Summer Split was 38-25 (60%) and the record for the season to 78-51 (60%). That’s a base of 1480 Fantasy Points.
A lot happened in the six weeks the SPL was away. Two new teams joined the NA division – A Mighty Storm (NA) and SPL Gatekeepers (NA) – meaning the two bottom teams – Flash Point (NA) and Team AI (NA) – were shown the door. Neither team much resembled the teams that started the Summer Split – so it is no surprise that the Challenger Circuit teams won out over them. We did witness some spectacular crashing and burning in the way of Team AI, however. The team of Xenotronics (Hunter), Incon (Support), Tmoney (Mid), Elchapo (Jungler), and Whalrus (Solo) looked absolutely dreadful, with an added bonus of Tmoney blaming his teammates – stating he didn’t want to play with them anyway – after dropping all of their games. If there was a ball, he took it and went home. However, even the teams that made it through relegations were not without their own changes. A Mighty Storm had to find a new mid-laner in Wolp (Mid – A Might Storm) last minute, thanks to Venenu (Mid – eUnited) needing to change teams prior to playing in relegations. The reason? If you play in relegations, you are roster locked for Week 1 – provided your team wins out. Speaking of…
Relegators, Mount Up
You wouldn’t necessarily think it, but that rule is probably the most important rule of all of the SPL rules right now. The importance of this was amplified for two reasons. First, the format of Season 5 has been announced, and ending the season on a top six team is more important than ever. Relegations won’t be occurring any more, with each division consisting of six teams rather than eight. These teams will pay players a salary with money that is contributed to them via Hi-Rez, and players will now join the league individual rather than part of a set team. Being on a sixth place team is now much more meaningful than being on a seventh place team, even with the previous threat of relegations. Second, two teams that finished in the top six in each division last split suddenly had need of a mid-laner.
Elevate (EU) parted ways with their mid-laner Nulisa (Mid) for undisclosed reasons – with Nulisa stating she was sitting out the Fall Split at the least (but also lamented missing out on that Season 5 money – so who knows). The timing is possibly such that the team kicked her or she just announced when the new pick-up was final. Impossible to know for sure without a public statement – which wasn’t issued. In her place, Elevate opted to pick up Deathpanter (Mid – Elevate). Herein lies the problem. Deathpanter had played relegations with Burrito Esports (EU). Burrito is also going to be playing against Elevate in Week 1. Burrito publicly questioned the roster lock rule, with Hi-Rez confirmed as accurate on Twitter. Thus, Elevate will be unable to use Deathpanter for Week 1, and no longer has Nulisa on their roster. Burrito lost their veteran mid-laner, but had FaraKrik (Mid – Burrito Esports) as their substitute anyway, leaving them in a better position – ostensibly. Rosters for Week 1 aren’t actually announced, despite the initial Hi-Rez release on August 30. That released roster list contained many inaccuracies, thanks to the following week.
A different, yet similar, scenario unfolded over in North America. Noble Esports (NA) found themselves without a mid-laner after MLCst3alth (Mid – Noble Esports) announced his retirement from professional SMITE so that he could accept a position as an Associate Community Specialist with Hi-Rez Studios. Noble opted to pick up Moswal (Mid – Noble Esports) – previously the mid for SPL Gatekeepers, having played for them in relegations. Noble was aware of the rule that would prevent Moswal from joining the team in Week 1, and has announced they will be using Sheyka (Mid – Noble Esports) for Week 1. However, this left SPL Gatekeepers in need of a new mid-laner. This all dovetails nicely with the next issue…
Of the sixteen teams currently in the SPL, 50% of them saw changes in the mid-lane going into the Fall Split. Here’s the breakdown:
- eUnited lost Khaos (Mid – eUnited) to a full-time job as a programmer at Hi-Rez Studios, and picked up Venenu.
- Team Allegiance (NA) had a role swap between Oceans (Mid – Team Allegiance) and Metyankey (Hunter – Team Allegiance), with Oceans playing Hunter and Metyankey playing Mid in the previous Season 4 splits.
- Burrito Esports lost Deathpanter and is starting FaraKrik.
- Elevate parted ways with Nulisa and will be starting Deathpanter in Week 2, though Week 1 is not yet announced.
- Noble Esports lost MLCst3alth to Hi-Rez Studios, and picked up Moswal, though they will be starting Sh3yka in Week 1.
- SPL Gatekeepers lost Moswal, and picked up ManRay.
- A Mighty Storm picked up Wolp just before relegations due to Venenu leaving for eUnited.
- The Papis picked up MrNazer (Mid – The Papis), after Ojoboom (Mid) retired.
That far outpaces the other changes in any other single position – though solo laners come in a close second with five. That is a tremendous amount of change in short order, and changes that precipitate a quick turn around for all of the teams involved – in some cases involving a third party. Even crazier, the results of Week 1 could impact the desired changes delayed to Week 2, or – likelier – the Week 1 play won’t resemble the Week 2 play for the teams with pending changes. At least Elevate and Burrito play each other.
It’s Too Much, I Sum Up
What do all the team changes mean, and what all happened? Here’s the quick-and-dirty at-a-glance list of everything that happened between splits:
In the short lane, we saw some huge changes that have far-reaching implications. They’ll be covered more when the individual team are discussed, but they are a big deal.
- Luminosity Gaming (NA) dropped ScaryD (Solo – Spacestation Gaming) and picked up Aquarius (Solo – Luminosity Gaming) from Noble Esports. ScaryD was let go by the team, citing synergy issues. This isn’t too surprising – given some of the obvious disconnects around engagements that occurred in the Summer Split – but it’s a big change.
- Noble Esports (NA) lost Aquarius to Luminosity, but picked up Whalrus. Whalrus was with the team previously, so it should be an easy fit for the team. Whalrus is very skilled, but he doesn’t seem to have the team presence and map awareness to be a solo carry like some other players in the position. That doesn’t make him bad, but in a team that also lost a power mid-laner, it’s another hit. He’s good, but it’s an uphill battle for him at the moment.
- NRG Esports (EU) moved Dimi (Coach – NRG Esports) from the solo lane to a coaching position. If there was ever a no-brainer big move, this is it. It was obvious Dimi wasn’t able to provide the same presence he was in Season 3 – even though his late game role was still the same. He was unable to adjust to the rapid iterations of the meta in Season 4 – and admittedly wasn’t trying to do so to his full capacity. To that end, NRG picked up ManiaKK (Solo – NRG Esports) from underneath Obey Alliance (EU). This is an upgrade for them, and an immediate downgrade for Obey. Win-Win for the reigning champs.
- Obey Alliance did the best they could with ManiaKK abandoning them for his friends on NRG. They picked up Xaliea (Solo – Obey Alliance), who was off a team for the Summer Split. There is some history there, and no one believes Xaliea would have been a primary choice in any other circumstance than the current one. The current meta is probably going to end up favoring him a bit more than the previous one did, so it’s not a bad time to have him, by any means. However, ManiaKK was a huge presence on the team and filled a specific role. It’s a big gap.
- Spacestation Gaming (NA) dropped fineokay (Solo) in favor of ScaryD. Fineokay was something of a standout player ever since his elevation to the SPL in the Spring Split – exhibiting exceptional theorycrafting and map awareness. His team fight presence was a little bit of a weak point, but SSG was often obviously lacking in synergy at times – stemming from what seemed like comm problems between jungle-mid-solo. ScaryD is good friends with homiefe (Jungle – Spacestation Gaming), and ScaryD has developed into someone who wants to be a playmaker – with all the good and bad that entails – so it might be a better fit than the more reserved and measured play of fineokay. Then again, ScaryD might also continue to get firstblood and dive too greedily and too deep – as is his identity in Season 4. He’s a beast, but one that is often hunted.
Jungle? More Like FUN-gle! No, That Sounds Like Fungi.
Uh, Varizial1 changed his name to Screammmmm. That’s literally the only change besides the new teams being added. In the jungle, the quiet jungle, the rosters sleep tonight.
Single Support Strut
There was a small amount of shuffling about for supports, as Aror (Support – Trifecta) joined Trifecta after Eonic (Support) retired after the Summer Split. Aror is an amazing pick-up for a team that includes Snoopy (Hunter – Trifecta) and Kikisocheeky (Solo – Trifecta). That team is going to be so scary with their off-beat – yet still incredibly effective – team compositions. These guys are skilled with vast god pools, and have great game sense. It’s going to be scary.
Hunters Become the Hunted
Besides the hunter position getting stronger thanks to massive item buffs, there were a few high profile changes. As was announced accidentally in the Summer Split, Zapman (Hunter – Spacestation Gaming) joined Spacestation Gaming to play alongside his long-time friend Jigz (Support – Spacestation Gaming). Vetium (Hunter) was let go, and wasn’t retained in a coaching capacity, as was previously announced. Was this an upgrade for the team? Conventional wisdom says yes, particularly given the synergy between Jigz and Zapman. Zapman is still going to over stay, go for the hot plays, and get solo’d. However, he’s incredibly skilled, and his attitude matches the team at this particular moment in time. It just makes sense.
The other big change was Oceans and Metyankey swapping. Metyankey never quite showed the brilliance in mid that he was hoping to show after leaving the hunter role at the end of Season 3. He showed moments of it on Isis, but they were few and far between – particularly as the meta shook out. Oceans played mid a long time ago, but is quietly competent as a player. It’s possible this works to his advantage as he will now be communicating more with Weak3n (Jungle – Team Allegiance), and might be a more receptive and adaptive mid-laner than Metyankey proved to be. Regardless, this is a good change for the team to attempt.
While some of the aforementioned players have formed teams to compete in the combine and challenger circuit, there are a few high-profile free agents. The highest of which are Divios (Solo) and TheBest (Mid). It’s a little shocking neither of these players were picked up, especially given the number of moves played in these positions. Incon (Support) proved he is much better in the support role than he was in the mid position, and would be a good choice for a team in need, should the occasion arise. Vetium and fineokay would both be solid pick-ups for teams that need a shake-up in a few weeks, provided they would look to leave their Challenge Circuit/Combine teams – which doesn’t seem likely at this juncture. Likewise, MrSt3fan and Sheyka could both prove valuable this week when they play as stop-gaps for the teams affected by the relegation rules.
What’s the Meta with You?
The mid-season changes have been focused very specifically in two areas: buffing hunters and nerfing warrior tankiness. The first was definitely achieved, as hunter items increased in power and builds were diversified. The lifesteal meta is back, and crit might be situational – though probably not at the expense and consistency of penetration. With a little reduced survivability and utility, warriors will see their role diminish, creating more diversity in both the jungle and solo lanes. Warriors will likely still see quite a bit of play, but we’ll see some guardian play return to the lane – with the off-pick mage and assassin showing up. If Camazotz doesn’t get further toned down it’s going to be all bat, all the time. Bruiser Fenrir is going to be a popular choice, though maybe not straight away. Freya is going to continue to be a strong choice until either she or her items are toned down.
Week 1 Set Predictions
Saturday, September 9 – EU
The Papis vs. Obey Alliance: The Papis looked rougher than expected in relegations. The fate of the team will rest on the paired shoulders of Dheylo and Dracomarino, but made infinitely lighter or heavier by the play of MrNazer. If MrNazer plays like he did in relegations, Obey can auto-pilot through the games and win the set. If MrNazer shows up to play, the games get a lot closer and we get to see Obey stretch their legs and test out their new solo laner. Xaliea was never really the problem with Eanix during his stint there, at least from a gameplay perspective. The gods he were playing were necessarily the best choices, but that was an overall result of the team comps from Eanix. The triple guardian/double hunter games fell apart after the initial novelty wore off. Obey should have a lot to play for this split, and hopefully they will rise to the challenge. For week 1, Obey is still the better team – though slightly diminished. Obey Alliance 2-0
Valance Squadron vs. NRG Esports: This is exciting – our first look at the new NRG Esports roster in action. It’s been over two years since we have seen the roster shaken up, and it was definitely time. ManiaKK’s style is not Dimi’s style, and we will get to see who is going to emerge as the late game win-condition. Dimi did so much late game that was in the details, and ManiaKK doesn’t naturally do that. However, Dimi is now coaching – meaning that wisdom might be able to be imparted. That’s a scary thought for opposing teams. For Valance Squadron, they remained the same since the Summer Split – but now have a knowledgeable coach by way of Nika (Coach – Valance Squadron). This is a team very much in need of direction – provided they listen to it. They have a public persona of something of a college frat team – but that doesn’t mean they are that way behind the scenes. The only indication comes from the coach posting that seemed to indicate they had strong personalities that caused a lot of clashing. Regardless, it will be interesting to see what emerges for them. They are a team strong enough to take games off of just about anyone – but have issues closing out games and tend to play more passively than they should when things start to go awry. Their recovery and adaption are their weak points. I once used the phrase “play to not lose,” and that seems to apply throughout the many of their games. They need to maintain the aggression that puts them ahead early. One lost fight, and the team slows down. If they can avoid that against NRG, a team that thrives late – or did with Dimi, at least – they should be able to make a set of things. NRG has a lot to prove at the moment, and knows that it’s about perception and performance. It will be a close set, but NRG picks up both games. NRG Esports 2-0
Burrito Esports vs. Elevate: Oh boy, week 1 and we have drama! Burrito had their mid-laner poached by Elevate…who can’t use him due to the relegation rules. Burrito will be using their substitute, while Elevate had to opt for a contractor in MrSt3fan. MrSt3fan is an excellent mid-laner, despite his spotty pro-scene experience, so it should even out at least a little bit. Judging by the banter, this should be a contested set, even without the person causing the contention present. Burrito played better at relegations than they did for the majority of the Summer Split, which is a good sign for them and a bad sign for Elevate. Elevate isn’t likely to have a sudden culture or play shift, with their identity being one of brilliance and bafflement. Elevate can take games off of anyone when they are on, or lose spectacularly and sloppily against even the most favorable of match-ups. Part of this is just due to the sample size of games, but the point remains. This match is likely to end split. Split 1-1.
Team Rival vs. Team Dignitas: Return of the Kings. The set of the week features the two finalists of the Summer Split. Dignitas looked so strong throughout the Summer Split, and managed to pull out the win after Ares and Odin caused them so many problems in games three and four of the Summer Finals – displaying their resiliency. There is no reason to believe Dignitas has changed anything, other than Variety making some public statements that indicate a displeasure with the game – which might or might not be truthful. On the Rival side of things, they never seem to mesh as well online as they do at LANs. Rival drops games they shouldn’t during these segments. Still, Rival has gotten better as the season has gone on, and with worlds around the corner, Rival should hopefully show up during the online portion of this split. As long as they do, this small set likely sees a split. Split 1-1.
Sunday, September 10 – NA
A Mighty Storm vs. Trifecta: So you just qualified for the SPL, and are feeling good about yourself. You did that despite losing a mid-laner just before you had to go into relegations. For your first game you go up against…the most successful team in North America coming out of the Summer Split! Oh, and they turned losing a stellar support into an advantage – thanks to picking up Aror post-NRG Invitational. Welcome to the SPL, A Mighty Storm! This will be a chance to see how Trifecta adjusts as a new team. Will they go more traditional or will they flex their pool and roles right out of the gate? In this set, Trifecta won’t really need to do it – they are the better team and should win – but they might anyway as a tonal thing. Unfortunately, unless Trifecta just falls down, it’s not going to really matter for A Mighty Storm. Trifecta 2-0.
Noble Esports vs. Luminosity: Noble can’t use their first choice of a new mid-laner until Week 2. This might seem like a strange thing to do – given they know they have to play with a one-off mid-laner in the interim – but it makes a certain amount of sense. They are going up against the team that snaked their solo laner – so they understand how strong he is – and one of the best in North America. What do they have to lose? Nothing, really. Luminosity will still be experiencing some growing pains resultant from a new team member, and Luminosity’s identity will be up in the air. New member, new team? We will find out. However, unless Luminosity plays down – something they have been known to do – they should walk away from this set with a pristine record. Luminosity 2-0.
SPL Gatekeepers vs. Team Allegiance: The SPL Gatekeepers brings us the return of PaindeViande, and the much awaited rise to the SPL for DaytoRemeber – who wowed everyone in the Spring Gauntlet. However, SPL Gatekeepers just lost their mid-laner after relegations and before the week 1 games. Luckily, they are going up against a team who fell off sharply during the middle of the Summer Split and just underwent a role swap. This will be a first look at how Team Allegiance will handle both the new meta and the new communications that will be necessary. There will be growing pains on both sides as the teams figure everything out. It’s tempting to push the advantage more in Team Allegiance’s direction, but the SPL Gatekeepers played well enough in relegations to at least warrant the benefit of the doubt in week 1. Split 1-1.
Spacestation Gaming vs. eUnited: This will be the most interesting set of the day, even if the other sets end up more exciting. Spacestation Gaming will have to show they made the right decision in kicking Vetium and fineokay, and a further good decision in picking up ScaryD. This team identity is going to be aggression. It’s going to take a lot of weight off of homiefe to be that disrupting carry that the team was relying on him to be previously, Homiefe is a flanker at heart, which is a valid and impactful style of jungling. It’s just different than say, Adapting and Mask. ScaryD wants to dive and hold W. Zapman wants to always box. This is probably a good change, if one that will take some time to take shape. That’s fortunate for eUnited – the team with maybe the most to prove in NA. eUnited has underachieved this split, and their massive changes have only shifted around how the underachievement occurs. Having a new mid-laner is going to be a good step forward – Khaos was good in his limited pool, but faced issues when having to stretch – particularly one with other role experience. Both teams will have things to overcome and prove, and the styles should be fairly similar. Benji (Solo – eUnited) is a more experienced version of ScaryD with better engagement judgement. PolarBearMike (Support – eUnited) is more aggressive than Jigz, but evened out by PandaCat (Hunter – eUnited) being less aggressive than Zapman. Some of each team should shine, and the safe bet is the right one. Split 1-1.
Week 1 Power Rankings
||A dominant Summer Online performance coupled with resilience being demonstrated during the LAN. The number one spot is theirs to lose.||–|
||NRG made a power move in picking up ManiaKK, and gained some much needed critical oversight by moving Dimi to a coaching role. NRG has positioned themselves very well going into the Fall Split and preparing for worlds.||–|
||It’s tempting to just have Team Rival be second, but it’s equally tempting to place them lower since they are going into the online portion of the split again. Do we evaluate them against the total split, or the immediate obstacles? For now, they clock in third – a compromise that can be renegotiated.||–|
||Losing ManiaKK is a big deal, but it remains to be seen if the meta has shifted enough to make Xaliea an impact player. Obey will need a new identity for the immediate future, and we’ll start to see it over these first few weeks.||–|
||Trifecta beat themselves in the Summer LAN, and they know it. The NRG set was theirs to lose, and they couldn’t keep up mentally with the fatigue playing against NRG late engenders. Not taking anything away from NRG – who played well. The addition of Aror is going to make this team scary. Some of this was on display at the NRG Invitational, and it is going to be fun to watch this team.||–|
||The removal of ScaryD and addition of Aquarius is easy to focus on, but it’s going to be about more than that. Baskin waned at the end of the Summer Split – making positioning and engagement mistakes that were atypical and indicative of growing pains. Mask was overly aggressive, but in ways that were about recovery and control – the teleport Nemesis is a good example, here. ScaryD was diving and driving engagements, but the position was often caused by his earlier play in the game. LG, like Obey, will be redefining themselves. Let’s see what they’ve learned.||–|
||SSG was a favorite going into the Summer LAN, and for a second time underperformed. Massive changes are not a surprise, and these changes will redefine the team. The biggest thing to watch will be the role of homiefe and if the level of aggression is too high to evoke sustainable success.||–|
||The only change is Nika as a coach, which should help them if they allow it to work. This team can take games off of anyone, but isn’t quite in the same league as the top four EU teams at this very moment. If Valance Squadron can find consistency, they sneak into that conversation.||
||Venenu is an immediate upgrade for the identity of the team. The wider pool and other role knowledge should prove a boon to the team. eUnited is my pick to improve the most this split from last.||–|
|10||Team Allegiance is in a more stable position than the teams below them, and is more in flux than the teams above them. The role swap is likely to put them in a better position, but the team hasn’t been consistent and has had meta adjustment issues.||–|
||Elevate has always been a team on the cusp of being as good as they should be. Maybe Deathpanter will help get them over the hump, but the other two mid-laners this season haven’t done it. It seems to be a mentality thing. They will get past it or they won’t.||–|
||Burrito looked better in relegations than they did in the Summer Split. Growth was evident…but then Elevate stole their mid-laner. Their sub has stepped up, but it’s not certain this is a long term solution. Still, this has to have given them some drive to show how much they have improved.||–|
||Losing MLCst3alth and Aquarius will absolutely adversely impact the team. The new players will need to show they have what it takes to move up from this near-the-bottom slot.||–|
||SPL Gatekeepers dominated in relegations, but underwent a last-minute change. ManRay is being afforded another SPL opportunity, and it will be up to him to seize it. SPL Gatekeepers have a higher ceiling than this position might indicate, but they have to prove it out.||–|
|15||The Papis made it through relegations, but they were favorites going in. They underperformed on the team level, even if Dheylo and Dracomarino stood out and bore the team across the finish line. This comes down to how MrNazer can perform week to week and game to game. The Papis grew so much in the Summer Split, only to take a few step backwards prior to the Fall Split.||–|
||Even though they are currently last, A Mighty Storm is better than other teams that have held the position this year. Every team in the SPL right now can take games off other teams. A Mighty Storm has an incredibly high ceiling, but they are currently overly aggressive and making some bad decisions around engagements and positioning. They could definitely make the top six in NA, make no mistake.||–|