What a week! It feels like a lot of surprises occurred, but things only slightly deviated apart from the aforementioned forks in the road. Even though there was no preview for Super Regionals, you can rest assured that two predictions would have been very wrong: Team Dignitas (EU) securing a world’s spot, and Elevate (EU) playing like Lipizzaners jump-kicking their opponents.
The Rise and Fall of Team Dignitas
Let’s cut to the chase – if you watched Super Regionals, you watched the total and complete collapse of an EU power house. Team Dignitas – rated by many , including me, as one of the best teams in all of SMITE – went 1-7 in their games and missed making the SMITE World Championships. If you recall the statement by Variety (Solo – Team Dignitas) earlier in the year, the reason he left Obey Alliance (EU) was to form a team that would be capable of defeating the two-time defending world champions, NRG Esports (EU). Even though Team Dignitas managed to take home the gold at Dreamhack Valencia and silver during the Spring Masters, Team Dignitas always had an issue taking multiple games in a row from NRG. They continually split with them in online play. In fact, they were never in a position where they had to play NRG in a best of three or best of five series.
It’s just one more piece of heartbreak pie for the squad.
Team Dignitas came into Super Regionals as the number two seed in EU. They were the reigning LAN champions from the summer – coming off a closer-than-necessary set against Team Rival in the Dreamhack Valencia finals. Their Fall Split online play looked like a step backwards compared to their Summer Split and LAN play, but some of that could be attributed to the shifting of the meta and a period of relaxation following the pressure and stress of Dreamhack Valencia. However, we should have all had an inkling that things were not- as the saying goes – “excellent for everything within the confines of your community.”
Obey Alliance rolled over Team Dignitas in the last set of the year – even playing Kuzenbo in the jungle. Dignitas had dropped some sloppy games earlier in the split, and this just solidified something revealed at Valencia – they have a weakness when it comes to adapting to unexpected patterns and picks within a given set. This leads to frustration within the team, which reveals something else. The team handles frustration the same way – they shut down and stop communicating during the game.
Do I know this for sure? No, I can only extrapolate from what I see during the broadcasts. However, when you see miscommunication after miscommunication and missed rotation after missed rotation, it’s obvious people aren’t talking. At this LAN, we see this in full swing in every game they play from the third game against Team Rival onward. Losing like they did in game two just broke their spirits.
Team Dignitas secured five fire giants during game two against Team Rival, pushing all of their towers down and continually sieging their phoenixes. However, Team Rival was able to push back just enough each time to cause Dignitas to back off and have to regroup. Sometimes this was picking one or two members of Dignitas, and sometimes this was just delaying until a phoenix respawned and Dignitas had to push it down again. Eventually a team fight went badly for Dignitas. The respawn timers by that point were extremely long, and Team Rival was able to march straight down the mid-lane and end the game.
Love it or hate it, this is exactly what the design team wanted to be able to occur, but more on that later.
Now, the game wasn’t actually as cut and dry as all that. For most of the game, even though Dignitas was ahead in kills, they weren’t playing the map as well as Rival. This prevented Dignitas from being able to build a meaningful lead until late in the game. At that point, the lead was less impactful than it would have been even five minutes earlier. Dignitas managed to start snowballing hard once they got the fire giant down, but gold is less meaningful as the game goes on – particularly once experience evens out. Once you reach the 45 minute mark, the game is basically all tied up except for map pressure. If you start getting picked around the phoenixes, the pressure eases. If you flat out lose a team fight, the other team suddenly has the pressure – thanks to the elongated timers – and that’s generally all she wrote.
The other part of this puzzle resides in the picks and bans. For all the players on Team Dignitas are excellent, they are not exactly the most expansive players. Team Rival focused on banning out Zyrhoes (Mid – Team Dignitas), taking away Chronos, Sol, and the Morrigan. They also relied on Dignitas prioritizing other bans and picks, allowing Vote (Hunter – Team Rival) to have Ah Muzen Cab, and them being unwilling to first pick it. Prioritizing warrior bans didn’t do much against Deathwalker (Solo – Team Rival) – and targeting him is pretty meaningless, as the Obey Alliance set shows. This put Zyrhoes in a situation where he wasn’t going to be comfortable being a win condition for the team, and allowed Wlfy (Mid – Team Rival) to easily get ahead in mid. This forced Qvofred (Jungle – Team Dignitas) to split time more than he should between mid and the solo lane, allowing iceicebaby (Jungle – Team Rival) to dictate the pace of the game. Qvofred, while an excellent jungler, kept falling behind – and his picks continually dictated that he couldn’t get behind if he wanted to be a win condition.
This forced the win condition for Team Dignitas onto Arkkyl (Hunter – Team Dignitas). Arkkyl wasn’t up to this particular challenge. He’s an excellent hunter, but seemed to be having a bad series. It wasn’t as if he was denied gods. Hou Yi twice and Rama once is hardly the stuff of denial, after all. He just wasn’t able to provide the counter-pressure needed in order to even out the map control. Even though he should have had an advantage in lane, he never really did. Part of this is because his awareness and positioning seemed to be subpar compared to not only his previous play, but that of his opponents. When this avenue of victory closed, there was nothing left open for Dignitas to pursue. Team Rival forced a single path, and Dignitas couldn’t navigate it.
Once Rival 3-0’d them, Dignitas shut down all together. Teams saw the blueprints on how to beat them, and Dignitas didn’t seem to care about recovering. They slept walk through their remaining matches, continuing to not say much of anything to each other. The only match they managed to win was against Noble, but it may as well have been a ranked game. That is to say the play looked less organized and more reliant on individual talent more than anything else.
It’s an unfortunate end to an otherwise great season by a great team. It’s as yet unclear what Season Five will hold for the team. There isn’t any indication yet if the team will stick together or go their separate ways. Rosterpocalypse is still some time away.
Three Tanks, Two Hunters, All Complaints
One of the two emergent metas for the LAN was pioneered by Elevate (EU). It wasn’t a new meta – we saw Valance Squadron (EU) rely on it exclusively for a number of weeks this season back when they were still Eanix – but no one can deny the strength of it right now. When Valance/Eanix ran it, swapping out a single guardian for an assassin made all of the difference. Teams playing into it could run a counter comp with just slightly more damage, which was enough to dive onto a hunter, shred them, and then get the pressure off for the rest of the engagement. While it is certainly possible to do just that, it’s harder than ever to get it to work thanks to a number of nerfs and buffs.
If you recall, this meta emerged earlier in the season in response to the burst meta of the Spring Split getting nerfed into oblivion. Sunder got destroyed as an active, area damage got reduced across the board, areas themselves shrunk in many cases, global pressure got lessened/normalized, and both characters and items saw an increase in tankiness. Of course, when burst is in the process of being lessened, increasing tankiness is a bit of overkill. With this came the bracer meta. Bracer was…a little extravagant, to say the least. It was nerfed in short order, but with all this came several buffs targeting warriors – who weren’t seeing a lot of play.
Since that time, various warriors have been drifting in and out of the meta, but they’ve seen play in both the solo lane and the jungle fairly consistently. This has to do with base movement speed, base damage, base protections, and the ability to more flexibly build them. This was particularly true of both Ravana and Odin, who saw considerable buffs and a subsequent return to relevance. They dominated the jungle for a long time, until nerfs towards the end of the split and into the start of the Fall Split saw them appear less frequently. This coincided with something else that shifted everything around…
Hunter items got incredibly buffed.
A nerf to two core items – ichaival and fatalis – resulted in price decreases, power increases, attack increases, the empowerment of lifesteal effects, and the strong return of critical strike items. Several hunters received targeted increases in strength around the same time, as well. It was a veritable bonanza. This plethora of cheap, powerful items also meant power spikes were occurring earlier than over. At the same time, core mage items had been classified as “luxury items” for time immemorial. Then something else happened that muddled things even further…
Thorns got buffed.
Thorns returned 50% of the incoming damage pre-mitigations – remember that tankiness had already been increased – and the relic upgrade reduced the efficacy of lifesteal and extended the duration to a whopping eight seconds. Importantly, this wasn’t just 50% physical damage or basic damage being returned – like hide of the nemean lion – this was all damage received. If you are keeping track at home, this made things even worse for mages – most of whom are bursty in nature. A tanky character is going to be able to return a truckload of damage to the mage and the mage won’t have the protections to survive their own return damage. It was nasty. Thorns was nerfed prior to Super Regionals – remaining at eight seconds at all ranks. Still strong, but no longer the power house it was.
The other twist is the dev team has made the game increasingly less snowball-oriented. This means earlier pressure is difficult to translate into a direct win. To wit, teams with the most first bloods in a set ended up just over 50%, while late objectives – like first fire giant – translated into an almost 100% win-rate. Early gold furies had their gold reduced, first blood gold was reduced, jungle camps award less experience and gold, and so on.
To sum this all up, we end up in a situation where warriors have been diminished, guardians and hunters have been empowered, mages and assassins have continually had their burst damage reduced, and utility tankiness has been decreased as a result of a few targeted nerfs. It’s only natural that a return to the three guardian, two hunter composition sees so much success.
The two variants on this meta are double warrior, single guardian, double hunter, and double guardian, double hunter, single assassin. We’ll see what ends up being the correct counter long term to triple guardian, double hunter – last time it was the assassin group. That might not be the case, this time around.
The other meta that emerged was built around isolating a single opponent and getting a pick. This has been the meta for quite some time, but this LAN saw it be slightly different. Rather than it being a meta where the pick is about positioning or disruption, this meta was about getting the pick during the engagement and then either following up or disengaging and then using control to re-engage into a 5v4 scenario.
The Isis picks by Wlfy, Erlang Shen in the solo lane, Odin jungle, Thor and Ratatoskr, the myriad Cabrakan selections, the return of Sylvanus, and even the Poseidon picks all play directly into this scenario. The Morrigan does as well, but it’s not quite as easy as all that to categorize her roles. She’s just too good at too much.
This meta is about getting in, forcing a fight, finding a kill, leaving, and then returning with your control intact to start the second round of the fight. This was what you see Obey forcing Elevate to try and play in games 4 and 5 of their set. It’s what Team Rival played the whole LAN. It’s what LG, SSG, Trifecta, and eUnited did in their games. Well, LG/eU also screwed around with some double hunter stuff in their sets. While I am sure both teams wanted to win, it’s also obvious they were some what experimenting and having fun. Scrim partners do weird things, after all.
Is one meta better than the other? Well, certainly Obey ended up winning their set against Elevate, but only after forcing them out of the other meta. eUnited ran a variant of Elevate’s meta and ended up taking game five from LG – albeit there were execution problems. Right now, without any additional changes, the double hunter/triple guardian meta is probably a touch stronger. However, the changes in the next two patches will determine what the worlds meta looks like.
What exactly does Hi-Rez want to see? Time will tell.