Two years. That’s how long it has been since the boys from NRG Esports didn’t win a LAN in which they were competing. Absolutely incredible when you sit back and think about it. For a team to put in the work needed day in and day out to play with the sort of consistency NRG has been playing with for the past two years is just remarkable. So why all of a sudden did the streak come to an end? What happened that led to Team Rival winning the Gauntlet instead of NRG?
The Grind of The Smite Pro League
The grind of the SPL is pretty taxing on the body and mind. And you may be saying to yourself that it’s just playing video games, but it’s more than that.
Brandon “Venenu” Casale of Oxygen Supremacy walked us through a day in his life over the weekend at the Gauntlet. He referred to his day typically consisting of school, homework, and then hours of Smite. Many other players have mentioned similar scenarios in their own lives. As Team Eager fans know, Cody “djpernicus” Tyson is currently pursuing med school. This is unbelievable for a professional gamer of any kind knowing how much time needs to be dedicated to the game. Then you have the likes of Kurt “Weak3n” Schray, John “BaRRaCCuDDa” Salter, and Riley “Incon” Unzelman, among others who stream for hours and hours on end almost daily. They do all of this while continuing to spend hours scrimmaging and practicing with their teams.
So what does this have to do with NRG exactly? Well, a lot of this stuff applies to them. They have streamers, they have students, and each player on the roster has a life outside of Smite. The amount of dedication to the game that they have put in to remain such a dominant force in the SPL is a tremendous accomplishment. Unfortunately, a streak like that comes with a price. The players themselves have mentioned being burned out from playing the game, but still want to be able to compete at a high level. We’ve heard multiple times that they took a break this spring split, scrimming and practicing less so they can remain fresh and ready for the LAN tournaments that mean so much. This type of burnout is exactly what Mark Cuban was referring to when he said he didn’t want to invest in esports.
So looking back on the Spring Split, maybe there’s a reason why NRG started so slow, and then finished strong at the end. They were taking their break, and as it got closer to the Masters LAN, they picked up their play and made a push. Although they technically made it to Masters LAN, you could argue this wasn’t exactly worth while for NRG, as they finished 3rd in EU and were forced to compete in the Gauntlet, where again they finished 3rd. If their goal was to qualify with minimal effort, they certainly didn’t do that, playing five games more then they would have if they qualified in one of the top two spots in Europe.
The Competition is Just Flat Out Better
Let’s not take away from what Team Rival did this past weekend. They put on an absolute show and proved they can hang with the top teams. It is just simple fact that the SPL teams in EU have improved immensely. There’s proof that the gap between NRG and their competition has diminished, if not vanished entirely. Let’s face it, the NA teams didn’t exactly prove they could beat the EU teams at the Gauntlet. Eager and Luminosity proved they could compete with the EU teams last season at the Smite World Championship, but that’s been it so far. In Europe however, you have Obey and Dignitas who played phenomenal all split. Team Rival just showed us that they aren’t to be overlooked. Eanix took Rival to three games, and so did Elevate.
Just to be clear here, I’m not saying that the competition is better than NRG. What I’m saying is that the competition is better then they have been over the past two years while NRG was on their streak. Everyone on their team finished top four in KDA this weekend, which included Kennet “Adapting” Ros going 11-0-12 on Nemesis and 13-4-10 on Susano in his last two matches securing the Wild Card spot. The team also had the highest collective KDA on the weekend at 3.47 while Craig “iRaffer” Rathbone and Peter “Dimi” Dimitrov finished first and second in assists per game with 14.2 and 13.6 respectively.
NRG Lost its Touch
So personally I think saying NRG lost its touch is a stretch, but hey, it’s a lot easier to make this argument then if they had won the Gauntlet.
Look at the facts: They dropped games against nearly everyone they’ve played this year outside of the bottom three in Europe, and eUnited. They claim that they took it easy this split so they didn’t get burned out. That’s fine and dandy, but were they that cocky? Did they actually think they were so far ahead of the other teams that they didn’t need to put in as much work as the rest of the SPL?
James “Duck3y” Heseltine from Lion Guard Esports stated during the Gauntlet that he thinks NRG has trouble adjusting to the meta, that they take longer than the other teams. Maybe this is true, and it would explain why they played better towards the end of the split. What it doesn’t explain is why they weren’t able to come into the Gauntlet and be the NRG that everyone expected to see.
The Real Explanation
To be honest, it’s probably a little bit of everything. Say what you will, at the end of the day this is still the two-time defending World Champions we’re talking about. They got beat by Team Rival, a team that showed up and played their hearts out. One more triple bounce in the Jungle and maybe NRG walks away with the Gauntlet and this isn’t even in question. They still dominated their games against eUnited.
The Smite Pro League is filled with strong players and teams, and that stretches all the way through the league. If I had to put any sort of money that mattered to me on it, I’d end up picking NRG before most, if not all of the SPL teams. They’ve earned the right to be given the benefit of the doubt. Sure, there’s always going to be teams making claims and gunning for the top spot. Quite frankly, that should make it all the sweeter when NRG prove the haters wrong and come out on top once again.