NA

How Dreamhack highlighted the ever growing gulf between NA and EU

How we got here

The big story in competitive Smite throughout Season 4 has been competition. There have been two aspects in regard to competition. Firstly, competition has grown incredibly within the regions. Seed one through six are all capable of taking games off each other now in both regions. What is possibly the bigger story is that NA have fallen off a cliff competitively when it comes to LANs.

In every other season NA has been able to compete at the highest level. Admittedly NRG have been top dogs for the last two years, but between the rest of EU and NA there has not been much difference. However, at the very end of Season 3 things started to change. EU sent only two teams to SWC after not performing all that well at the preceding LAN. However, EU dominance started to show there as both EU teams went to the final. This was even more impressive as at the time Obey were not respected as the team they are now. The second team in EU was OrbitGG who didn’t go to SWC due to poor performances at the preceding LAN.

It was at the Gauntlet though and Smite Masters where we really learned just how big the gap had grown between the two regions. It was dominant from EU just putting NA to the sword. Nothing epitomised this more than the way in which Rival handled Soar (now SpaceStationGaming).

Where we are at now

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Image courtesy of neogaf.com

EU was known to be stronger than NA; however there was hope that the gap would shrink. Day one of Dreamhack Valencia put such vain hopes to rest. In the three sets between NA and EU only one game went to NA. What was more telling was the way in which EU won. It was brutal, NA were made to look like one of the minor regions. 4th seed in EU, Team Rival, absolutely took SSG, the first seed from NA, to pieces. The way in which that happened makes me confident that Eanix, EU’s 5th seed, has a better chance of winning SWC than any team in NA.

Why?

NA have little success in Moba’s. In pretty much all Moba’s NA are significantly behind the rest of the competition. A few theories are banded around but I don’t put a huge amount of stock in any of them.

Firstly, you hear that ego hinders NA teams; they think they are all better than they are, don’t play for the team and big egos clash. This doesn’t make any sense to me for so many reasons. I mean is John ‘Barracuda’ Salter’s ego getting in the way of LG competing internationally? I think not. You occasionally hear that NA doesn’t take competitive gaming seriously and conventional sports are much more popular. EU is no different, conventional sports are far and away dominant over esports. Most people don’t really know about competitive gaming as a thing. I honestly couldn’t give you the reason, but it is a trend which is hard to ignore.

How?

More focused on Smite I can’t tell you the core problem, but I do have some ideas as to symptoms of the issue. The big thing here that everyone notices is how much more objective focused EU are than NA. I think one of the best ways in which we have been shown at Dreamhack so far is through mid lanes and supports.

The first time this is apparent is in the Rival vs SSG set. Game 2 was won through objective control. The Ra pick by rival was huge. Firstly, it takes away one of Andrew ‘Andinster’ Woodward’s favourite picks. Secondly, it gives you a great ultimate for objective secure. Then SSG backed themselves into a corner with the Hades pick. They had zero objective secure. Up to 20 minutes the game was close but Rival were behind in kills, but had three Gold Furies.

Take away those Gold Furies and SSG are in a dominant position in the game instead of slightly behind. Their objective play was just sloppy as a whole that game though. When they lost a Gold Fury because five people backed at the same time, it was infuriating. This is something that has been known since the game was in open beta. I mean this is not EU playing amazingly but NA playing pretty poorly. Rival were also taking Gold Furies in the face of SSG. This is because of their dominant objective secure.

Look at game number one in the NRG vs Dignitas set. Dig have a Sol in the mid lane and NRG had a Vulcan. While Sol’s objective secure is not bad it just can’t compete with a Vulcan. Dignitas recognise this though, so Jeppe ‘Trixtank’ Gylling starts with a HOG.

NA

Image courtesy of smitepedia.com

This allows them to really compete and contest at Gold Furies. It shows the thought that EU are putting into making sure that they don’t fall behind in the objective game. Something NA clearly are not doing at the moment. Notice how he didn’t go HOG when NRG had a Morrigan in the mid lane, showing that this is a thought process based around big mage ults.

NA also seems to be one step behind when it comes to Meta. One way in which this has risen to prominence is how little they value the Sobek. Sobek has been dominant this LAN. Objective wise he is one of the best supports. If you are baiting a Gold Fury he is great as anybody who comes near has to fear the pluck into your entire team. Same goes for anybody trying to contest. You could be one second away from being flung into the entire opposing team.

On top of that he probably has the best ult for securing objectives, with Lurking in the Waters, slowing anybody who comes in, doing huge amounts of damage to players and objectives. For example, when Trix went HOG on Sobek he alone could probably burst the Gold Fury from 30 percent down in a second or so. If you look at the only NA team to win a game, it was when Sinjin ‘Eonic’ Thorpe was playing the Sobek. NRG noticed this though and started banning out the Sobek vs Trix.

What this means for competitive Smite

Nothing good comes from this ever growing divide. Smite competitively is hamstrung in one major regard. We have no serious Asian scene. In particular, Korea does not recognise Smite as a competitive game. Having Korea as a region in a game is beneficial for so many reasons. Korea takes esports more seriously than any other region in the world. For those of you who do not follow any other esports, the best way to describe this is to mention Kespa. That is the government body specifically designed to deal with esports, who even go as far as hosting their own ‘Kespa Cups.’ Korea drag every other region up as they are so professional and take esports so seriously that to keep up everyone must try to emulate. Korea is very invested in their esports scene.

Missing those benefits hurts competitive Smite, but now not having Korea becomes even more of an issue. Only having one region who is competitive will get boring very quickly. If it stays this way, there will be no inter-region competition at LAN’s. Inter-region competition is the most exciting part about big LAN’s. When that disappears, interest in major events falls rapidly.

At the end of the day if NA doesn’t up their game soon everyone suffers.

Top Image courtesy of twitter.com/SmitePro

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EU SPL: The battle for DreamHack

This Saturday was a very important day for the EU SPL. Not just the EU SPL but the entirety of the SPL, as this Saturday was the fight for seeding for DreamHack. With EU being the dominant region this season, I am sure there were some players across the Atlantic paying some very close attention. With EU having their current dominance recognised by Hi-Rez with an extra spot at DreamHack, four spots were up for grabs this weekend.

Third/fourth seed

The most important spot in the entire EU SPL as it is the final golden ticket to DreamHack. This was being fought over by two teams, Eanix and Team Rival. Team Rival before Saturday looked like hot favourites to take that spot as they were one point ahead, had an easier opponent and had the head to head over Eanix. This meant Eanix would need more points than rival before they could start booking plane tickets.

Saturday changed this though when we found out that Adrian ‘Deathwalker’ Benko would not be able to play and that TheLittleLegend would be subbing in for him. It did not go well. TheLittleLegend did not perform considerably worse than the rest of Rival, but Rival as a whole did not look like the team they have shown themselves to be over recent months. They got destroyed both games, it was not even close. This is not something Rival fans should be awfully worried about as we have seen this sort of thing happen before. Smite teams have looked entirely different when they have had subs before and then just gone back to normal when their full roster is back.

This was great though from a viewer’s perspective because it meant that the NRG vs Eanix set took on real significance. If Eanix could 2-0 they would be 4th in the EU SPL and going to DreamHack. However, one does not simply 2-0 the back to back world champions. Eanix looked great and won the first game. The second game though was the NRG show.

The two things I would put it down to are Kennet ‘Ross’ Adapting putting in a monster performance on Thor and the Ne Zha pick for Eanix.

Adapting is no longer the undisputed best player in the world. That in mind though he is still one of the best; occasionally as well he will remind us just what he can do when he is feeling it. He is one of those players who are rare but inestimably valuable in both esports and sports who will occasionally just win you the game. All great junglers have a great Thor, Adapting is one of those great junglers. It is not quite like when Peter ‘DaGarz’ Gary was just not allowed the character, but Adapting on Thor will always bring the hype. He showed why against Eanix, running the game with a slash line of 8/1/6. His ability to be everywhere and the inherent damage within Thor’s kit allowed Adapting to be the omni-present terror to Eanix throughout this game.

Image courtesy of http://smite.gamepedia.com/Thor

I have often said in these articles that Ne Zha, while a good pick, will also be a heavily contributing factor in you losing some games. This turned out to be the case for Eanix this game. It is incredibly hard to win an SPL game when your jungler ends up 0/5/3. The pick seemed odd to me, you just performed incredibly well and beat NRG with a lower risk comp, why risk it all now?

There wasn’t a huge amount of synergy with the comp either. When you see a team pick a Ne Zha, often the first thing to look at is who is their mage? Who is going to instantly delete Ne Zha’s target? For Eanix it was a Sol, while very capable of deleting someone it is not the ideal pick. Her damage is oxymoronicaly sustained-burst, her ult comes out over time and a lot of the Sol burst comes from using Stellar Burst as well. This means things like Aegis or the Terra ult (something NRG was running) has a much higher chance of being able to save their life.

The only real synergy you could see from the rest of the team were the Hou-Yi and the Ares. Hou-Yi is one of the better ADC’s for the Ne Zha as the suns can be dropped right before the Ne Zha and his target land. While it is nice because there are not a huge amount of ADC ults which synergise with the Ne Zha, it again suffers the same problems as the Sol and doesn’t guarantee the deletion. Make no mistake when you run a Ne Zha you should be running it as a deletion comp.

The Ares does very much synergise with the Ne Zha though as it can burn multiple beads at once fairly consistently, allowing Ne Zha multiple targets for the Windfire Wheels. However, it is another big risk into your comp. With your LAN chances on the line it was a twist on the old classic by Eanix and they ran a go hard or stay home comp. Unfortunately they will be staying home. I may be a bit harsh on Eanix, but why risk your chance for LAN, cash and a free holiday to the beaches of Valencia on what is such a coin-flip of a comp?

First/second seed

There is a lot less to say about these two seeds. This is surprising as the top end of the EU SPL seems like a congested area with top seed being a hard-won trophy. The lack of talking points is because first seed was already secured for Dignitas and Obey beat them rather comfortably to secure 2nd seed away from NRG.

Obey did look great in this set though and that is something worth touching on. This Split has seen Dignitas and Obey switch positions in seeding and probably in performances as well. Nate ‘Ataraxia’ Mark recently said in an interview that Obey got over-confident and maybe took their foot off the pedal.

Image courtesy of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGYlz6PKsC8

It looks like they have their focus back now, as they were really impressive in their 2-0 over Dignitas. The only team who managed to do this all Split.

It is a bit hard to judge if this means Obey are back to their Spring Split dominance, where they showed themselves to be unquestionably a cut above the rest of the teams in the world. This is because, for Dignitas, it was essentially a friendly. They had nothing to gain and nothing to lose, except for possibly momentum and a bit of confidence. If you know though that you are hiding strats and not taking a series overly serious, it is not likely to knock your confidence very much.

So is this Obey coming back to form, or Dignitas just not showing up this set? As with most things in life I think compromise is the best answer. Obey look on the up but I would not expect any set between these two at DreamHack to look like this one. My main takeaway from this set is that it was just a bit of a disappointing way to end the EU SPL, as this looked like it could have been a blockbuster.

Top image courtesy of https://twitter.com/smitegame

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SPL game of the week: Obey Alliance vs Team Dignitas

Context

Obey Alliance vs Team Dignitas was the last set of the Spring Split. Both teams fought their way through Smite Masters and proved themselves to be the best two teams in Smite for the Spring Split. So, it seems rather fitting that they will end the online stage of the Summer Split for EU. It is also great to have the EU online portion end with such a great set, as well as being the game of the week

Image courtesy of https://twitter.com/obeyysmite

Things have changed though since the Smite Masters Grand Finals; it seems as if these teams have switched fortunes. The Spring Split was the Obey Alliance show, no doubt. They dominated the online stages and carried that form through to the offline stage. However, this Split their results have been a bit disappointing. I want to stress that they have only been disappointing when compared to the incredibly high bar they set last Split. Also I think it is hard to say that Obey are still not playing great Smite, but maybe the other teams have taken a step forward.

NRG are performing closer to the standard we have come to expect. Let’s not forget either that Dignitas now has a Split under their belt and will obviously have improved as a team. Everyone in Europe has improved though, seeds one through five are probably expected to split with each other now. As well as this Split some dead-weight from the EU has been shed and the new blood of The Papis and Burrito Esports have shown they are more than capable of an upset.

Dignitas have taken Obey’s spot on top of the perch. They are starting to show that for once, the tag ‘Super-team’ is not a curse, nor irrelevant. They are currently 5/1/0 in the standings, setting themselves apart from the pack, four points in front of their nearest contenders. This guarantees them first seed going into DreamHack Valencia, something which must feel great. Especially for the European players, it will be the first time in a long time they will be competing on home soil at a LAN. However, don’t expect them to take it easy on Obey because of this, they will want to maintain not having lost a set this split. As well as the fact that beating what is going to be one of your biggest rivals at DreamHack is a huge momentum boost.

Obey will be fighting tooth and nail for the set victory this weekend. The momentum boost of taking down one of your biggest rivals is huge. What is more important though is that they are still in a scrap for seeding. By the end of this weekend, Obey could end up anywhere from second to fourth. Do not underestimate the value of seeding, as any Esports fan can tell you many tournaments have been won through favourable brackets. For more information on all the permutations of the EU standings, look no further, TGH has you covered http://thegamehaus.com/2017/06/20/going-dreamhack-valencia-eu-standings-end/

Predictions and contested picks

The mid lane is going to be hotly contested for picks. For Dignitas, Joakim ‘Zyrhoes’ Verngren Sol is a very important pick. Sol has taken the mid lane by storm and become an important pick in any draft, but Zyrhoes was one of the people who pioneered the Sol pick. If this gets through the banning phase, look for Dignitas to pick it up at the first opportunity. However, I would not expect to get through the banning phase. If this happens, things get more interesting for the mid lane.

 

Image courtesy of pcgamesn.com

They get more interesting because all of a sudden The Morrigan comes into focus. This has been a fall back for Zyrhoes in recent times, something Dig prioritises highly. To show how much they prioritise it, in their last set against Burrito Esports when the Sol got banned, they first picked The Morrigan. Emil ‘PrettyPrime’ Edstrom also prioritises it, as their last set he played The Morrigan both games, as well as numerous times before this Split.

Ne Zha has come back into the meta, with a lot of SPL junglers picking him up. Benjamin ‘CaptainTwig’ Knight has always played the Ne Zha and has taken full advantage of his return to the meta. He does not just play the Ne Zha a lot, he plays it very well. Obey Alliance as a whole play around the Ne Zha well though, as he is one of those picks that requires coordination with your teammates. He also recently picked up Sun Wu Kong in the jungle, so that is a possible pick out of left field.

Another potentially interesting pick when these two teams meet comes from the Hunter role. Jing Wei is creeping back into meta and is a God that both Kenny ‘Arkkyl’ Kuska and Nate ‘Ataraxia’ Mark have been picking occasionally. This is not going to be as contested as The Morrigan in mid as both these hunters have played a lot of God’s recently and there are probably more top tier ADC’s at the moment. It is something we could potentially see though.

These are two incredibly evenly matched teams, with a ton of skill and experience on both sides. If I were to call it, I’d say it’s probably a split with perhaps Dignitas on recent form just edging it out.

Top image courtesy of http://team-dignitas.net

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Eanix vs Rival: In-Depth Review

Going into this set, both Eanix and Rival were fairly close in the standings. Eanix was 5-3 and Rival close behind at 4-2. I would have called this set most likely being a split, with these two teams tracking each other in the standings for the foreseeable future. However, Rival walked away with a 2-0 victory. This puts Rival on par with the three other teams who have won two and split two while putting Eanix in a rather tough position when it comes to making DreamHack. Eanix is now very much out of that leading pack, having played more sets and being a down a point.

This match was going to be interesting to see what sort of performance Rival was going to produce after their shock split with The Papis. If anyone expected that to be the end of the Cinderella story of Rival, they were sorely mistaken.

Game One

The first game was everything you would expect from top-tier EU teams: slow paced, methodical and objective based. This was a 41 and a half minute game with only 15 kills. The game winning Fire Giant and Titan push was made without a kill being taken, this was EU meta to a whole new level.

Rival took a small lead early on from Gold Fury control and apart from a minor glitch when Eanix managed to take a Fire Giant from a single pick, Rival maintained control throughout the game. The Sol and the Jing Wei picks were great because they are both incredible objective characters. EU has always been objective focused, with the recent dominance of EU over NA they are leading the meta.

We are seeing both Sol and Jing Wei in both regions now and a big part of this is their objective control. Sol, for a mid laner, has relatively good objective secure with the Stellar Burst into Supernova burst damage. What she brings that other mages do not is the objective burn. With her AA damage output, she provides her team with two AA gods when it comes to objectives. This means that many more windows of opportunity present themselves, as you can take advantage of far smaller time frames.

 

Image courtesy of smitegame.com

Jing Wei is great for quickly bursting down objectives. Her passive crit coming from Explosive Bolts, combined with the 40 percent attack speed buff from Persisent Gusts, means she is one of the best ADCs in the game when it comes to bringing down the objective. Combine that with the added secure, she brings with Air Strike and the ability to only be about 10-15 seconds from any objective on the map due to her passive, she is an extremely underrated objective monster.

 

However, the Fire Giant they did manage to get did not generate any real gain for Eanix, who lost a fight at the first tier two they tried to siege, with James ‘Duck3y’ Heseltine dying to the isolation provided from Khepri Abduct.

From then on it was just a slow, and I can’t stress slow enough, choke-out by Rival.

Game Two

Game two started off looking like it was going to be a bit of a stomp and that Rival’s slow choke from last game had taken the wind out of Eanix’s sails. In the first six minutes, Rival took a 4-0 kill lead and a 3k gold lead. However, Eanix brought themselves back into the game with a great teamfight by their own speed buff. What most likely won them this teamfight was a very early rotation from Kieran ‘Funballer’ Patidar. This turned a 4v4 into a 5v4 for Eanix, resulting in them winning the teamfight 3-0.

Funballer has been incredible this Split. There has been a lot of talk about Daniel ‘Faeles’ Evans and what he will do for Eanix. However, the stand out player for me in regards to Eanix has been Funballer. I’ve been watching Funballer since Smite was in open beta and I have never been this impressed with his play. This is not to take away from how he has played before – he has always been a very good player. The teams he has been on is a testament to that, if nothing else. However, this split he is just crushing it. The mechanics are there – they always have been – but where Funballer stands head and shoulders above a lot of other ADCs in the league is his ability to rotate. This was something brought to attention on the stream, but he has been doing it all split not just this set.

Funballer has always been aggressive in lane, known as one of those ADCs who wants to fight. This season, however, he seems to have decided fighting just one person in lane isn’t enough, he wants to fight everybody. He is using his vast experience in the SPL to make incredibly impactful rotations. In this game, he probably made the rotation which stopped this game turning into a stomp. We have all seen how in Season 4, small leads can be snowballed and held on too. Rival for a time in the game had a large lead; 3k after six minutes is very much the start of a snowball.

Image courtesy of twitch.tv/funballz

 

Look at what he allowed Liam ‘Vote’ Shanks to get through his rotation. A proxied wave and a red buff, that’s it! It was too early in the game to put serious tower pressure on and there was nothing else left on the map. The risk-reward calculation was perfect. Funballer was already behind and Vote to get that farm was not going to change the game, Funballer turning a team fight and getting his team three kills very much did. While it may not have changed the result, it definitely changed the game.

From there the game evened out for a while, until near the 20 minute mark when Eanix won a teamfight around the Gold Fury. By the 33rd minute in the game Eanix were leading 14-8 in kills and had amassed a 7k gold lead, things were looking good for Eanix. Then it all changed, Rival won a team fight handily over Eanix.

Mistakes were made. Eanix messed up here, there is no denying it. Firstly, Emil ‘Lawbster’ Evensen blew his Kraken on Aleksandar ‘iceicebaby’ Zahariev. This took iceicebaby’s Beads and Bracer’s and there are a lot of ults in the game where that trade would be considered worth it, however, not your team’s big mage, team fighting ult. Especially as the Bracer usage meant iceicebaby was ready to fight directly afterward. Of all the characters in the game to not have their actives up, Nemesis is probably one of the best. She has her shield to soak damage and heal her, her double-dash to escape and her ultimate to give her protections and movement speed. Next Faeles threw down the Hun Batz ult, only hitting two and with none of his team able to follow up. Alexandru ‘Wlfy’ Lefterică on Isis didn’t even deem it worthy of using his beads on.

I’ve been critical of Eanix in that teamfight but now I am going to sing the praises of Rival who played it beautifully. The ult combo they pulled out was near perfect. Adrian ‘Deathwalker’ Benko immediately Eagle’s Rallied onto the face of Lawbster burning the beads. Straight after that Petar ‘Kalas’ Matejić using No Escape on the now Beadless Poseidon and the Geb, the two targets who are guaranteed to get pulled in. As soon as that happens right underneath his feet comes the Fields of Love and Circle of Protection. Goodbye tank, goodbye mage.  This fight was so clean from Rival, if you look at the surviving members of Eanix’s health it’s practically full. In fact, after this it is Rival who run away because they were so selective in their targets, as they had to be, being down so much gold and xp that the rest of Eanix could probably have fought them. If you want to learn how to execute a team fight from behind and capitalise on mistakes, look no further than 33 minutes of game two Eanix vs Rival.

There were three more major team fights in this game, two went to Rival and one went to Eanix. The important thing about them was after the momentum change of that 33 minute team fight it was Rival who were agressing. The team fight Eanix one was to wipe Fire Giant off of Rival and didn’t leave them much to capitalise on. The other team fights were important but make no mistake about it, this game turned in the 33rd minute, with some exceptional team fighting from Rival.


Top Image courtesy of https://twitter.com/eanixgg

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