After what felt like forever, the SPL is finally back in our lives, beginning on Tuesday 20th of March. Ever since Worlds wrapped up in early January, HiRez has been treating us to a huge amount of new content and updates in an attempt to make Smite eSports the best it has ever been in Season 5. So many changes, in fact, that those who don’t follow the competitive scene with a fine-toothed comb might have even missed a couple. So without further ado, here’s a countdown of the top 7 changes you’ll notice in the SPL this season.
7) New Teams
While many old favourites have returned, Smite is joined by several new organisations as well. Joining some of 2017’s top EU teams, such as Dignitas, Rival, NRG and Obey, are two new organisations, SK gaming and Mousesports. Some might remember SK from their 4th place finish at Season 1 worlds, but Mousesports are brand new to the scene.
On the NA side, fan favourites Luminosity, Spacestation, Trifecta and of course World Champions EUnited will be joined by Splyce, an organisation famous for its successful CS-GO team as well as another brand new organisation announced yesterday, Counter-Logic Gaming!
All of these organisations will remain in the league for the entirety of the 2018 smite season, as relegations have also been removed – this should allow consistency of teams to be established, allowing fans who don’t catch every game to understand the shape of the league much more easily.
6) New League Format
The astute amongst you might have noticed that only six teams per region are listed above. Not because the author is forgetful, but because the league has been condensed to a 6-team double round robin format. Each team will play each other twice per split, in a six-week best-of-three tournament, with the top teams progressing to the end-of-split LAN event. This will mean for the viewer much more Smite (moving from 56 * 2 = 104 games per split in season 4 to between 120 and 180 games per split), as well as much more competitive action – no 7th or 8th seeded team managed to win more than 4 individual games all split in the fall… Hopefully, Spring Split Season 5 will be the most competitive yet!
5) A second-string league
While these changes should hopefully bring closer, more exciting games, there are a couple of drawbacks. These include fewer chances for new rookies to break into the scene, as well as less motivation for current teams to stay hungry and competitive. Luckily, HiRez thought of this as well and has established a more formal “minor league” – the SML – which will also be fully shoutcasted and have the benefit of HiRezTV’s Twitch channel at prime-time for e-sports on a weekend afternoon. This, as well as increased prize money for the SML, should begin to nurture some future SPL stars.
4) Player Salaries
Along with the more formal and professional direction taken with the rest of these changes, every SPL player will be getting a guaranteed income of $30,000 per year. This expenditure by Hirez (almost $3m per year!) should further legitimise the league and allow most if not all players to focus on Smite full-time. As part of the deal, SPL players will be required to make more content, be that streaming, youtube or simply social media, which should also increase the presence of the Smite esports scene.
3) New Broadcast Times
To fit in all the extra smite, including the minor league, the broadcast times have been bumped up significantly. The SPL will now air in the week, Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1pm EST and on Wednesdays and Fridays from 4pm EST. That, coupled with the SML means we get 6 days a week of PC smite – pretty much more than any one person can watch, in fact. It’s going to be more of a challenge than ever keeping up with the whole SPL, so it’s a good thing that HiRez have committed to keeping their new-look esports website up to date. I have also made a full calendar of the Spring Split which can be found here, to help you keep abreast of the changes.
2) A new broadcast deal
In order to fund the additional prizing and extra Minor League, Hirez has struck a deal with Mixer (https://mixer.com/smitegame) to stream the SPL exclusively on their platform. Owned by technology giant Microsoft, this will be both a blessing and a curse. New “Multicam” technology will allow the SPL to be seen from more angles. This will also have replays shown while the action continues elsewhere on the screen. Additionally, Smite will no doubt be getting a larger advertising push though the Microsoft deal.
However, the Smite fanbase was split when this change was announced, with many unhappy as they felt the extra publicity avoided by the much larger streaming platform, Twitch, as well as the greater availability of Twitch apps on smart TV’s and other technology platforms such as the PS4 would make the Mixer deal ultimately a bad idea for Smite. Only time will tell which side of the fan-base was correct…
1) A new studio
With Smite now being cast professionally by HiRez every day of the week (if you include Smite Global Series games on Mondays), the time was right to invest in a brand new, state of the art casting studio at HiRez. This space will be completed this week and will allow a more professional studio and LAN space, and will be the first purpose-built Smite facility of its kind. This should allow less technical difficulties, more fluid and formal production and again increase the overall professionalism of the league.
With all of these changes, there will no doubt be some teething problems – and there have already been a number of divisive moments in the offseason including the dismissal of several high-profile Hirez staff – however, should HiRez overcome these initial hurdles successfully, the league looks set to be the most exciting season of Smite yet – and I cannot wait!