Well I'm back from the SMITE World Championship, well back being more so having the time to sit at my computer overcoming con crud and exhaustion, but needless to say Hi-Rez pulled off an amazing event that at the start I was drudging through like a standardized test, but by the end I was sitting on the edge of my seat engaged within a world that is like no other - especially when it comes to eSports.
I don't specifically enjoy watching a lot of games online, I'm not a huge Twitch consumer, and I don't really "get" streaming, but Hi-Rez did a lot of interesting things to make this a bit different than other eSport tournaments, in addition to the way that SMITE is played, it really brings out a big entertainment value to the matches.
Here are some of the more interesting things I learned or experienced at the convention. This isn't going to be all about SMITE, it's about the venue, everything, etc. I want to present a better more interesting view beyond what you'd pick up from watching the livestream. This might come off a bit complainy in parts, but I just want to dump all of my thoughts about the event into one article in order to share with everyone.
World of Warcraft is Still Huge
I believe there is a definitely a paradigm between MMOs and MOBAs, or any competitive online game, because they offer something that MMOs don't - replayability. In WoW, when you have all of the gear in the current content season that you can obtain, you've effectively have capped out on things to do that aren't fluff. So, many players turn to other games to fill that void. Online competitive games trade variety for repetitiveness, each game is unique and different in its own way, but rarely is there new content (outside of additional heroes to play).
While at the SWC, I heard A LOT about WoW while walking around. People effectively were comparing characters, sharing bnet tags, talking about their achievements, etc. The reason, I believe, is that MMOs provide prestige while MOBAs et al. provide ongoing entertainment. Got nothing to do in WoW? You play League with your guild. It's a standard of our current generation. I'll talk about this subject more in detail later.
Teams Have to Be Prolific
It's 100% true that you HAVE to be prolific if you're going to engage the viewerbase. For the launch tournament, a lot of the names hadn't really grown on the players yet, and outside of solomid and SK gaming, there wasn't a lot of specific high profile teams there that really had a SMITE following or had any engagement with the community.
At SWC, it was all changed, many of the attendees had their favorites, between Titan, SK, and the COG groups, they were all essentially fan favorites and the fans were seriously engaged in who won or loss, a critical requirement to get the kind of turnout that Hi-Rez received. The other teams were, I don't think less respected, but didn't have the attendance for the fans to be really pumped for - but that's okay, because as other countries get more into SMITE, so will the following even here at home. They may break brackets down by region, but really that's the beauty of online gaming. Even if a team is in another country, it's okay to cheer for them, because you can watch most of their games at the computer or on the tablet.
Streamers are Big Deals
Various online personalities were in attendance and were given free reign of the event to cover it for their fans back home. It's an interesting dynamic between streamers who engage directly with their audience who are also fans of the game and the development team, since they're effectively the "hype men" when everything is done and over with, singing songs and praise for years to come. I really respect Hi-Rez's decision to work alongside a lot of streamers, both small and large, and it put a giant smile on my face to come home and find videos from up & coming streamers who were able to attend the event and even get to talk up close and personal with the Hi-Rez guys.
I might go a bit too long in talking about this, but it's really the thing I thought about most outside of the game, since it was really in your face a lot and a lot of the fans shared my same sentiment. Even if I'm talking down about a lot of aspects, honestly they were very minor and only were noticable whenever a game wasn't on or a game with even teams. Day two and three had a lot less downtime and "uninteresting" games (to me anyway).
A baseball game usually averages at 3 hours, same with hockey and a list of other professional sports. The SWC was more of a convention than a sports event, which means that you need to eat at least once or twice during the event, go to the restroom, stretch, do something. The schedule for each day was roughly 10AM until 7~8PM, which is about the time of an average workday, but with... lots of sitting and staring at matches you may or may not be interested in.
I am still exhausted after SWC. My back is sore, my legs are tired, hell I'm more tuckered out than from E3 or any other local convention I've been to (which involved MARTA rides, long walks, stairs). The entire ordeal was stressful, in a lot of ways, just because of the format. Lots of sitting just wears me out and there is a lot of running around to get back to your seat before the next game.
There were no good food options outside of food trucks, which a hot dog I got at one was pretty much the worst hot dog I've ever had the privilege of eating and ended up throwing it away.
Let's talk about the hot dog for a second. There was way too much bun in each bite, which is wrong. You have to have a good bun to dog ratio and it completely failed. I picked the Banh Mi Pup which was probably a horrible choice even though I love bánh mì. The huge leaves of cilantro on top were the least of my worries, mixed with the gallon of mayo put on for decoration, the raw sirachia, and the vegetables which were not savory at all.
I mean I'm a big food snob I guess kind of? I don't know, at those prices you expect it to be either really good or just so bad that it's good, know what I mean? Like an Oscar Mayer hot dog smothered in canned chili, cardboard gas station pizza, or something similar is totally fine with me I'm down with that. This was like an attempt to go somewhere that failed. It didn't reach high or low enough and was so under seasoned that it was like... I don't know, it just flat out sucked. It was pretty though!
Which is my average experience with Atlanta food trucks and a huge issue with the venue, since it was located really close to a lot of really yummy places to eat but far enough away that if you left, you'd not ever make it back in time. By day three, I seen a lot of people bring Subway with them, having been smart enough to go in the morning and pick a sandwich up to avoid the horror the food trucks presented.
Drinks were also rare and hard to come by. At a baseball game, you probably only need one jumbo soda for $10 to get you through the 3 hours or so you'll be sitting in the stands. The only available options were of course the "luxury" concession stand which tailors to those who visit the ballet via limo, Redbull (which I wasn't sure if it was free or not), or water or what eventually everyone game into: the bar. Hilariously enough, at the start you seen almost no cocktails in anyone's hand (the bar was hidden by the line to the Hall of the Gods), but by day 2 and especially by day 3, fans gave in to their thirst and let go of their cash for cocktails.
It's less a tournament (where the semi and grand finals would be played over just a few hours) and more a championship (which is in its name). Even championships often have breaks for lunch and often have a lot of on-field options to eat at, especially for sports like Golf. However, for SWC, you were pretty much given the following options:
- A pretzel or I think a candy bar at the concession stand.
- A long line to get very meh food truck food (Atlanta is trying to grow the food trucks which mostly chill in Midtown, but we're not at the west coast standards yet).
- Leave the parking lot and drive somewhere (do not pass go, lose $6, miss an hour+ of games).
- Walk across the street to a nearby shopping mall (in the freezing cold, 10 minute walk, limited options).
This might seem petty, but you have to think about longevity. Sports bros are big fans of concessions. At the "VIP party" afterwards, of which I hung around for only an hour or so, the first thing everyone literally did was line up to buy food, it was a huge line. During the matches you could hear fans starving, trying to barter with each other to do food runs to bring food back to keep watching the game. The food truck lines were huge for the burger one (the only one from my understanding that people enjoyed, the Japanese food truck in a close second).
Gamers can naturally stream the game while they head out to eat, but again, it's hard to drive or walk somewhere and stare at a screen and eSports is no Baseball - you can't listen to the play by play and enjoy it, you have to see the visuals as well to understand what's going on since there is more at play than a black, a relative location it could be at, and up to four runners trying to make it to homebase.
Is it a Hi-Rez problem or a problem with the format? I think Hi-Rez did a fantastic job, but I think it is a format problem and eSports like this will need to invoke a more convention like atmosphere to keep the huge crowds happy. There were over 2k fans at the event (the Cobb Energy Center seats 2,750 I believe) and there wasn't much to do on day one... speaking of:
Day 1 - Painful - Day 2 - YEAH - Day 3 WOOOOOOO
Let's talk a bit about this because it's important to note that the first day was painful, every so painful. I woke up at 6AM, sat in Atlanta traffic for something to the tune of an hour and a half, got there early and sat through an entire day of standing around and matches that were over five minutes in, with long swaths of time between each match. A few matches were engaging, but generally there was a lot of low level play (a consequence of China having a limited client and visa issues with a lot of players).
Definitely I think a more convention like atmosphere, like BlizzCon, where there are a lot of cool things to do during downtime works well for an event like this, because you can get up and interact with or do something during 30 minute breaks, which I think the longest break between games was.
The Hall of the Gods was a cool concept, but the first round of matches just didn't cut it for me. I left that day with a sense of "ugh" and debated the relevance of attending the next day. Day two and three knocked my socks off, after the matches where the winner was pretty much decided super fast, it became a real battle of skill and determination (not to discredit the matches and their teams, but the skill discrepancy was very high, though the point was to arrange the teams from highest to lowest).
I'd like to see at the next championship a second tournament stage, the second best if you will, typically ran at their other events. It'd give you something else to watch that would have generally equal skilled teams duke it out. I'd like to see some more "convention" type stuff like an in-house random player tournament for prizes, which would also increase the entertainment value.
NOT TO SAY ANYTHING WAS REALLY THAT BAD. I walked away super excited and felt like the entire event as awesome, crappy food and long hours of sitting included. Everything about it was far more than I expected. It's just that all the good stuff was mostly contained within what you could watch at home (the games).
SMITE is a really fun game and the SWC showed that it's a serious contender for eSport and MOBA player's money. The Odyessey brought in the vast majority of the prize pool and there were over 2k fans who showed up for the tournament, ranging from diehard SMITE fans to diehard Twitch and YouTube personalities.
I'm really happy with the event and I wish Hi-Rez the best of luck moving forward with capitalizing on the frenzy that the SWC has brought them.
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