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HRX 2018 – Paladins/SMITE Worlds

Smite World Championships - Main Image

It’s been a very exciting weekend for esports, just in general.  Though the Finals for both SMITE and Paladins surprised me, I could not be happier for the two winning teams, Natus Vincere (Paladins) and EUnited (SMITE).  So for the first time since Cognitive Prime, we have North American champions! But while these games were incredibly fun to watch, the best matches happened during the Semi-Finals. That’s not a knock versus any of the finals teams, but the games were overall closer and more pulse-pounding. I may not be a professional, but I can see a certain defining weakness in both teams that were defeated: Adapting. No, not the SMITE player, though he is also incredible.  I will allude to it later in my notes for the Paladins finals, but Fnatic stuck to their guns of a one-tank (Fernando) composition, and it did not work. A 4-0 sweep and Fnatic could not adjust their gameplan for a team that had figured them out.

So Natus Vincere’ namesake was appropriate as they swept and stomped with virtually no contest. A few points here and there, but they simply could not overcome the sheer damage output and expert tactics of NaVi.  Though they came close with their Kinessa, putting out some absolutely incredible jumping headshots, it was not enough. NaVi changed course, but Fnatic kept sailing in the same direction. The same could be said for every single team that faced EUnited.  I’m mostly happy because some of the NME boys finally got there to a World Championship.  But the funny thing is, EU used a pretty simple strategy.  They rushed early/mid game and played hyper-aggressive.  Obey’s “chess style” gameplay was no match for it, and I was hoping that Rival would catch on. And they did, to a degree. Unfortunately, it was not enough, and EUnited claimed victory for NA, which is such a weird thing to type. I’m working on some interviews/streams with some of the winners if possible, but for now, I wrote some play-by-play to see if we can figure out where it all went right/wrong. But GG to the winners, and I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to an amazing Season 5/Season 2!

Paladins Finals: Natus Vincere (EU) vs. Fnatic (EU):

Game 1:
Fnatic: Ruckus, Talos, Drogoz, Mal’damba, Ash
NaVi: Buck, Jenos, Fernando, Grohk, Sha Lin
Fnatic: Makoa
NaVi: Bomb King

Natus has an early lead and takes First Blood with Sha Lin. Drogoz went for the Dragon’s Fury and unfortunately dropped to the ground in a heap of bullet holes and despair. Na Vi pushed into the base and made it look too easy, with 41 seconds left on the clock. 2-0 NaVi. I literally turned around and when I turned back, NaVi had already captured, and nearly pushed back to the point. At the end, almost the entire NaVi team had ults, and Fnatic could do nothing to fight back. However, Fnatic turns it around just inches before the final point, but…Sha Lin sniped the defenders, making a 4-0.
Game 2:
NaVi: Fernando, Buck, Sha Lin, Mal’Damba, Inara
Fnatic: Ruckus, Ash, Jenos, Evie, Kinessa
Fnatic/NaVi: Torvald, Makoa

First Blood goes to NaVi, and simultaneously almost take the entire point. 81-3% is not a good look. NaVI almost immediately gets the point and it feels like NaVi is entirely outclassed. The push was immediate and swift, with a few scant inches until capture. That was at about 1:10. The fight breaks out in earnest at 30 seconds, Kinessa doing everything she can to stop NaVi’s deliberate push. Kinessa saved the day with an Unofficial Quad at 10 seconds. Kinessa has really shown how strong she is on this map, dropping insane damage and precise shots. Gold/Plat Kinessa “mains”, take note. Regardless, NaVi holds their ground until Bugzy lands a jumping headshot, turning it to 99-90%. Fnatic grabs the point, putting the score at 2-1! This match is a lot more aggressive, and at a minute left, Fnatic has not moved past 25% of the map. NaVi is holding on, but Kinessa is putting people down over and over, very one-shot-one-kill. NaVi defended though, putting the score at 2-2. But NaVi’s Sha Lin is just as skilled as Bugzy and his Kinessa, kill after kill. NaVi easily captures, and within seconds have moved the payload halfway through the stage (1:53 seconds). NaVi resets and goes back and with a minute left, resumes pushing. With 10 seconds left, NaVi pushed, making it 2-0.
Game 3:
Bans: Torvald/Makoa (again).
Fnatic: Buck, Ruckus Sha Lin, Mal’Damba, Ash
NaVi: Fernando, Jenos, Bomb King, Talus, Grohk
NaVi quickly pushes the point, with 69-0%, but Fnatic’s Buck begins going wild, giving his team a chance to push the point to almost 50% in no time. But NaVi comes back to the point, pushes it to 99% to the Fnatic 60%, and Fnatic narrows the lead on the point. 99-99, and the point will ultimately go to Fnatic! At 1:40, they broke the 25% mark, Sha Lin showing how powerful he really is in this meta with competent hands. Before I knew it, there’s a minute remaining, and 75% of the path has been cleared. Sha Lin and Buck together clean house, but NaVi are back up, and have a full set of ults (but so do Fnatic). Who is willing to burn them? This overtime is really going on long. They just have to push Fnatic off the point once, but Unbelievable is doing his best to stop that. Fnatic pushes successfully, putting this game at 2-0. NaVi came to play this round though, and before long it was 99-24% and the capture is confirmed. Their Bomb King is incredible and is so remarkable at making sure those little sticky bombs connect. Around the 1:32 point on the timer, NaVI is at 50%, and I turned away to find they pushed it in again. 2-2. The next set goes to NaVi, but it was close, around 90-80 or so. NaVi is ferociously pushing, almost in at 40 seconds, but Sha Lin is on their back line doing everything he can to slow the NaVi domination. But Buck’s ult saved the day, Fnatic successfully defending. It’s 3-3, with NaVi abslutely dominating, going 100-30. Game 3, NaVi.

Game 4:
Bans: Bomb King, Makoa
Fnatic: Fernado, Jenos, Maeve, Drogoz, Grover
NaVi: Buck, Ruckus, Sha Lin, Mal’damba, Inara
First blood happens a few minutes in for Fnatic, but it has not stopped NaVi, who secured the point without a healer. The shots have been on point, and the push is very slow but steady. It has been a slow steady push, but Drogoz is doing everything he can to stop, and succeeded, putting it at 1-1. NaVi easily makes it 2-1 though, and a very easy 3-1. Fnatic got the point to 89%, but NaVi came back, swept and claimed the point. The problem is, that Fnatic could not adjust to NaVi, and refused to change from a 1 Frontline (Fernando) comp. Ultimately change is key, and Fnatic was not ready to do so.  China Dream and Nocturns had incredible showings in the Semi-Finals as well, especially China Dream.  That was with just a few months of gameplay. Imagine what they’ll do next season!

SWC: EUnited (NA) vs. Rival (EU):
Game 1:
EU: Fafnir, Athena, Osiris, Erlang Shen
Rival: The Morrigan, Ravana, Janus, Artio
EU: Ullr, Cu CHulainn, Bastet, Discordia, Ganesha
Rival: Raijin, Odin, Sylvanus, Anhur, Amaterasu
The Hunter/Mage mid start worries me because I think regular players are going to start doing it, but that’s what we’re doing at worlds. Sylvanus/Geb are soloing in the long lane. Eunited takes first blood, catching Iceicebaby after he lept away, it wasn’t enough. It is interesting, the differences between the EU and NA meta, but EU is able to keep up with the EU style, if you will, letting PBM hang out alone as a support if needed. Iceicebaby gets revenge with a kill, but Venenu returns the favor, killing Iceicebaby’s Odin! This puts the score at 1-2 (Rival-EU) at 7 minutes, with a fairly even gold total. EU is up by about 600. It looks like around 9 minutes, Rival is converging on Gold Fury, with EU nearby. The fight, of course, breaks out, but Rival had to burn every ult simply to disengage. EU didn’t fight Gold Fury and instead chased the side lanes away. Benji tried a 1v3 but got nothing for it. Vote didn’t have enough stacks on his Devo gauntlet to solo Gold Fury but he did briefly try. EUnited has a 1k gold lead, but 3k experience lead, pushing ahead very slowly. Gold Fury is so important now, and another fight breaks out around it, but another disengage by Rival. But they trap Benji, but he drops the knockup to escape.

Vote had to pop ult to escape from PBM, who ulted as Ganesha but had to use Aegis to do it. Rival ties up the kills at 2-2, with a kill on Benji, finally putting him down. Despite this, EUnited, thanks to their pressure on the solo lane, have a 3k gold lead at 15 minutes. A fight breaks out near Gold Fury, Wlfy getting the first kill of it, but Benji tower dives and returns the favor. Benji is absolutely fearless in this match. Pandacat and Scream show up and grab two more kills, leaping out of nowhere and made the big plays. The lead is widening, gold wise, at 42-46k. Eunited claim another Gold Fury, making that gold difference widen. Howeer, Pandacat was caught out near Gold Fury pit, and Wulfy made them pay for it. Meanwhile, Venenu popped Wulfy in revenge. Try as Rival might, the lead grows. Vote picks off Benji near Fire Giant pit and Iceicebaby has to jump to flee, but RIval makes sure to at lesat get a tower as EUnited recently took the mid Tier 2. Rival grabbed up Portal Demon, but there’s still a 7k gold difference (52-59), but the kills are even. Meanwhile, EU takes yet another Gold Fury. There’s not quite enough vision over there and it shows. There’s a 10k gold difference at the 27-minute mark, and Eunited engage on Fire Giant and succeed in claiming it. Rival tried to stop it too late. Venenu picked off Iceicebaby, and chased them off.

At 29 minutes, it’s 5-10, three members of Rival are down, so are two of their Phoenix. It’s my thought that perhaps Rival are sandbagging to figureou t potential strategies/things to counter/players to really watch out for , despite knowing who they are and what they can do. But Rival has failed to get off the ground this game. 31 minutes, EU pushes most of Rival down, all three Phoenixes, and are able to take down Titan. First game goes to EUnited.

Game 2:
Rival: Ravana, Bastet, AMC, Artio
EU: Odin, Athena, Ares, Da Ji
Rival: Raijin, Osiris, Ullr, Hou Yi, Geb
EU: Cu Chulainn, The Morrigan, Fenrir, Terra
EUnited did their usual early-game aggressive style and almost picked Susano, but Iceicebaby barely got away. It looks like Rival tried to counter-engage early too, with Deathwalker’s Osiris poking at the other team. Rival did manage to get Gold Fury vision, which gave a tiny gold boost, and the first two kills wound up with Rival, with Wlfy making them look easy as well as Kalas. EUnited dove, and only wound up dying in the counter engagement. The gold lead is minor, but it’s something. Wulfy and Kalas returned to Fury Vision, but EU was waiting. However, Wlfy finds another kill as Deathwalker/Iceice/Kalas poke and push the solo tower.

Around 8 minutes, EUnited looked like they were rotating towards the right side of the map and they got Deathwalker for it. Wlfy and Iceicebaby at 9 minutes grab a kill each, while EUnited work on Gold Fury, but get pushed away by Wlfy. Before long, we’re looking at 6-1, and a 3k gold lead (30-27k) in favor of Team Rival. Two fights go down, and the gap grows, with 8-3, and a 5k gold lead for Rival. Each of these fights, no matter what happens, it seems like Rival manages to eke out a slight advantage. Wlfy catches yet another EU member out, putting his personal KDA at 4/1/3. Vote gets Gold Fury Harpies easily and leaps away, safe from harm.

A 7k gold lead at 18 minutes, and it does feel like Rival is a completely different team from last game. I stand by them sandbagging to see what EU wanted to do, and are not letting EU to out-pressure them, which has definitely been visible this whole game in each fight. Vote snatches the left tower, and Osiris is pushing on the right lane hard at 19 minutes. Rival acquires Gold Fury, and still almost have a 10k gold lead. Vote is keeping up with objectives and makes sure their team gets Fire Giant at the 21-minute mark. Vote has definitely been a machine on these objectives, killing them all one after another, with no one even attempting to stop him. AN insane tower dive from Kalas’ Geb sets up a trio of kills and then a tier two tower, then a phoenix, thanks to one ult from him and the followup from Raijin. The rotation to mid Phoenix happens, easily taken, and from there, Tier 2 left tower. Almost nothing is left for EUnited, as they have out-bullied EUnited at every turn. Going back for Gold Fury, the lead is arguably insurmountable.

26 minutes pass and Fire Giant is up, and almost as soon as he appears, Rival was there, and FIre Giant was no more. EUnited chose to wait in their base for Rival to come dive Phoenix, which they gladly do, easily demolishing one. Wlfy and Iceicebaby put in work, forcing Benji tor un away from his own base and teleport back around. The Titan goes down, and it’s tied 1-1.

Game 3:
EUnited: Fafnir, Athena, Odin, Isis
Rival: Bastet, Ravana, Artio, Sylvanus
EUnited: Raijin, Cu Chulainn, AMC, Amaterasu, Nemesis,
Rival: Osiris, Ullr, Geb, Ra, Serqet

Early on, Venenu chased Iceicebaby down and got First Blood (around two minutes). It was a really ridiculous chase, as that early game exp is very important. But a kill is a kill I suppose. Venenu would strike again, diving and killing Wlfy, this time with his team. One of the interesting things that I liked in this game was the proxy farming, and I hope that it comes back in Season 5. I like it because it’s incredibly risky but can really put you ahead if you don’t die in the process. Not long after this, Deathwalker almost died when being surrounded by EUnited, but he lept away just in time. PBM gets a kill and then almost immediately after, Screammmm dies. Deathwalker spies PBM alone at the Fire Giant pit and snatches him, and before long it’s 6-3, three kills for EU. From there, the rotation to Gold Fury, giving a 3k gold lead.

Screammm slid around the left tower, catching Vote ina pincher, taking him down as well as taking down a pair of towers as well. At 14 minutes, it’s 7-3 (38k-33k gold). I thought it was going to be a 3-1 but I’m no longer sure at this point. Rival stopped EU from taking Gold Fury and almost stole it for themselves, but a disengage happens and EU loops around to try again. Rival’s waiting this time too, but it’s not enough. They also take Kalas and Deathwalker down as a result. A 7k gold lead and five kills up, it’s looking grim.  Somehow, I have no idea how, PBM gets out of a 3 man gank, but Rival does get Portal Demon. They engage on Fire Giant, disengage … and try again. Venenu gets a double and is paying serious dividends for his team. I do not understand how Raijin was unbanned so many times! Teams try to get him, but don’t seem to realize everyone, every team wants Raijin right now. A 3-0 fight in EU’s favor shows this off pretty well, and it culminates in Left Phoenix.

Pandacat melts Fire Giant, at least, til Rival shows up. The Osiris steal at the last possible second is insane! Even the media area was going nuts! It wasn’t enough sadly, because EU absolutely melts member after member of Rival, then head to Gold Fury. At this point, Team Rival is down about 25k gold. Another Fire Giant, and the win goes to EUnited. This one got incredibly out of control. I do believe this was the largest gold gap of the weekend, but I cannot be 100%. This match just in general was rough, and it showed that nobody at SWC respected the early-game of EUnited.

Game 4:
EU: Fafnir, Raijin, Nemesis, Susano
Rival: AMC, Ravana, Discordia, The Morrigan
EU: Osiris, Ullr, Bastet, Sylvanus, Zeus
Rival: Athena, Poseidon, Erlang, Hachiman, Bellona

A very risky, aggressive start, which is no big surprise. Three mid for EUnited and leaving into the jungle. A skirmish in the jungle on the other side breaks out too, but Deathwalker backs off at about half health. Wlfy almost fed first blood though but popped relic to get out safely, and Bellona covering his escape. EUnited lurk around Gold Fury about 2 minutes, making sure to get that vision from Harpies. And first blood goes to Deathwalker, taking out Benji under tower! Somehow Deathwalker got out of another fight with almost no health. I really like that Rival is using that CC/Taunt/Kraken comp that was so successful yesterday. The trick is to see if EU can overcome it.

Rival takes the first Gold Fury at 7:44, giving a minor lead, but Venenu snatches a kill off Kalas shortly afterwards. Scream grabs Wlfy with the dot, and Benji and Scream fall, but Venenu gets revenge with a double kill. It’s 3-4 in EU’s favor, but gold is pretty even. Deathwalker stomps out Scream with a timely assist from Athena’s taunt. Meanwhile, in the left lane, Pandacat gets chased own by Vote and Iceicebaby! Venenu is also out of position and falls to Iceicebaby, and the 2k gold lead goes to Rival (29-27K). Iceicebaby gets another and Rival escapes after a Sylvanus ultimate. Meanwhile, at 15 minutes, Rival secures Portal Demon while Bellona duels Osiris. A drive-by by Zeus secures a kill at tier 2 tower on Vote and Kalas falls to Polarbear Mike! EU then snatches Gold Fury, and just like that the lead is almost narrowed, 41-40k/7-6. A battle near Portal Demon, and culminates with Deathwalker killing PolarbearMike and Scream.

Venenu melted at a Fire Giant bait, while Bellona continues to whittle away at Fire Giant. EUnited stole it despite a Poseidon Kraken. That also gives EU a tower and then EUnited stole another objective in Portal Demon! Another tower falls of Rivals, and Deathwalker almost escaped a host of ults, EUnited then takes him down, Iceicebaby and then a Tier 2 tower and a Phoenix. The Gold Fury dissipates to the EU team, and they go back to buy, each having over 2k gold to spend. A mighty power spike was just hit, and it looks grim for RIval. EU have a 7k gold lead, and it’s time to contest Fire Giant. The disengage occurred, and it will be contested again soon. Pandacat gets Wlfy in the right lane, and the chase is on! Venenu gets a kill, another drops, and EUnited have taken the title!

With luck, the EU teams will learn to adjust to this new, more aggressive NA meta, and we’ll see some amazing counter-play in the coming season. How would things work with a losers bracket in SMITE? It could be feasible, if all placements/seed matches go on a few days earlier. Perhaps a few more one-offs, send people to losers and fight back? The only major downside I see to that is how long SMITE matches can last. I see that being an issue. Regardless, we had an amazing time, saw some incredible matches, and learned a ton about what you can expect in the coming season.

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