The Smite World Championships

The SMITE World Championships were this weekend (is it SMITE or Smite? I think it’s the former, but damn, that’s obnoxious. I’ll stick with the latter). To recap, Smite was my GOTY for 2014. It’s the first e-sport I’d ever gotten into. And this weekend was more or less magical.

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When I was young, my parents enrolled me in cheerleading. I stayed in this sport for a hot second before I landed in softball, where I stayed for approximately six years – from six or seven years old up until I moved to Arizona, when I was thirteen. My family are still big baseball fans; I’m a big baseball fan. I now live in Seattle, where the people who live here live, breathe, and die for the Seahawks.

I get it. I get sports. Unlike what feels like a good portion of people in gaming, I get it. I remember oiling up my first glove, wrapping it in a rubberband, and stowing it under my mattress to break it in. I know the smells of the baseball field and the satisfying thwump of the ball hitting the glove. I know the joy of heading into a giant stadium, in a sea of people wearing the same colors, hollering your heart out for your team down on the field. My parents pay for MLB Ticket, a service so that they never miss a game for our team (the Los Angeles Dodgers, if you wanted to know). My parents have converted their guest room into a shrine to baseball: Dodger posters lining the walls, blue bedspread and pillows. Mine and my siblings’ old sports trophies line the walls in this room. When I sleep in this room, I close my eyes to the warm feeling of nostalgia.

So. I get it. Which is why, I think, when I discovered an eSport I could finally understand, it felt a little like coming home.

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I don’t remember when I heard of Smite, but it came to me like a lot of games, through my partner. I think the conversation went like this, as it typically goes:

“Hey, we should play this game.”

“I’ll be really bad at it.”

“Play it anyway.”

“No.”

“Free cuddles.”

“Done.”

I will do anything for cuddles, let it be said.

I don’t even remember how I fell so swiftly in love with it. I tried Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s MOBA, before I tried Smite. I even tried DOTA. They both left me feeling foolish and that nothing would ever click, that nothing would ever make me feel adequate enough to play those games with other people. Smite was different, immediately. As someone who didn’t grow up playing games, I still occasionally feel clumsy around a mouse and a keyboard, especially if I can’t WASD my way through games. With previous MOBAS, I couldn’t hack my way through. With Smite, I could.

We played with a friend at first. That grew. Eventually we grew to a group of about seven in a Skype chat, who would tag in and out and help each other level up and give advice. We all founds gods – champions, in League of Legends terms – that we were most comfortable playing, and then started working on mastering more. It became a daily ritual. It came somewhere, this Skype chat, where we could chat about not only the game, but also other things happening in gaming. Some people have gone, others have joined.

It feels like a team, like a home.

Right now I mainly play Kukulkan, a mage. I support. I poke. I clean up. I like this role. I’m no ADC. I can’t carry. But there isn’t pressure to. I have a place. I have a role. I have a home.

I have a team to support.

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My rehashing of the Smite World Championships would pale in comparison to Philippa Warr’s excellent write ups for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, so I refer you over there to get a play by play of all the action. I watched on Twitch with my partner, while we both chatted in our Skype group about what was happening. Unfortunately I missed a lot of it (East Coast time is not my friend), but still enough to feel like it was something big.

The final prize pool was over 2 million dollars, making it the third biggest prize pool in eSports history, after DOTA’s 2013 and 2014 Championships. The winners took home just around 1.3 million dollars, the rest of it split between the lower ranking teams. The last matchup was a tense “best out of 5” gameplay, that actually went to 5 games. I’m no stranger to “best of” game series. Baseball’s World Series is, after all, best of 7.

I rolled out of bed on Sunday and blearily headed straight to my computer, the Smite Twitch channel still open in a tab from the following day. I paused to get breakfast and then set up for the last few matches of the tournament. In Skype, we talked about the choices the players made, the gods they were banning. I dug up this amazing match from a previous qualifier and we chatted about it in awe. The last match was a blur. But I remember it being tense, and that tight feeling when it became clear that one team was pulling ahead handily. It became obvious that it wasn’t going to be a nailbiter.

And yet somehow, it was still one of the most magical things I had ever experienced in video games. I had never before watched a sporting event like this, talking in a chat, instead of cheering on a field or on a couch with my family. And yet somehow, it was still solidifying. I was connected to a community, to a vision, to the human experience that always rises and falls with sports, any sport. I was there. I was part of it. It felt alive. It felt, once again, like home.

2014 GOTY List

Welcome to my very first top of the year list! This list will be more focused on games. If you want to know what I did in 2014, in terms of writing and other stuff, you can find that here. For this unnumbered, unfiltered, RAW OFF THE CHAIN list, you will find games that I played and enjoyed, even if they weren’t necessarily released in 2014. So! Off we go! Spoiler: there are only five, because thinking of ten was too hard.

Threes!

What can be said about Threes! that hasn’t already been said? Not much, but I’ll try. Threes! is a mobile puzzle game, made by a team of three (hah). The music is undeniably catchy and whimsical. The look is pastel and pleasing and the voice work is so satisfyingly on point. Really, what else can I say about Threes!? Threes! reinvented mobile gaming for me. I’ve always been picky about what games I have on my phone, because I don’t use my time on just anything, and Threes! opened my eyes to what mobile gaming can and should be.

Desert Golfing

Desert Golfing showed up relatively late on my consideration for this list; that is to say, about a week ago, when it first started showing up on GOTY lists across gaming sites. I downloaded it and blew through to hole 200 immediately. I like Leigh Alexander’s piece on it quite a bit, which you can check out here. Like Threes!, Desert Golfing is mobile and simplistic in its design. My partner prefers to chart out his moves, while I prefer to blast through each hole, my score for each hole repeatedly in the double digits. And I don’t care. If I randomly get a hole-in-one, I’m ecstatic and pumping my fist in the air. If I miss it, it ain’t no thing. And I like that. There is no fanfare except what I abscribe to a hole-in-one. There is no punishment, except a seemingly arbitrary score ticking away at the top of the screen. But in this game, it’s just you and the sand and the hole and the ball. You are your worst enemy. You are your best friend. Sometimes there’s a cactus, but mostly it’s just you. I’m obsessed; I’ve started writing fanfiction. I haven’t written fanfiction about a game in years. Thanks, Desert Golfing, I thought I was finally clean.

Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Hearthstone introduced me to CCG’s. I’ve written previously about Magic the Gathering, and how Hearthstone eased my way into it, with a softer landing than I would have experienced had I gone in with zero CCG experience. Hearthstone is an experience all on its own – its presentation is sleek, on both mobile and desktop, the art is stunning as always, and the core game mechanics are as brilliant as anything Blizzard has ever done. I haven’t played Hearthstone in a few months, but I’ve given it up in favor of Magic, and its more intense gameplay and human interaction. I have grown to love Magic in a way I didn’t think was possible and I owe some of those feelings to the gentle way paving of Hearthstone.

Quing’s Quest VII: The Death of Videogames

This is a game made by Deirdre”Squinky” Kiai, who brought us the unique Dominique Pamplemousse. Quing’s Quest is made in Twine and in a few words: it is a sparkly ball of light, with feelings of intense joy and lots of glitter. This is the only game this year where I romanced anyone – sorry, Dragon Age: Inquisition. Nero, you foxy, smart, wondrous thing, you, I will romance you every day if you let me. Anyway. 2014 was an ugly, ugly year for gaming culture, with the rise of Gamergate and all the awfulness it entailed. It was easy to feel hopeless; frankly, it’s still easy to feel hopeless and frustrated about video games, to wonder why I even care about advancing this medium of art. Quing’s Quest took those feelings and personified them, literally. I don’t want to give away the ending, because this game is an utter delight that you need to play immediately if you haven’t. Seriously. Stop reading this and go play it.

Smite

Smite is my GOTY. I’ve written about Smite before, and a little about why I love it, and the problems that I feel it has too. Those problems haven’t gone away; if anything, it’s even more of a glaring offense now, with the addition of gods that continue to fit the mold of Nearly Naked Lady Syndrome, culminating with Awilix, a Mayan god who, when she dances, leans forward and wiggles her chest. Hi-Rez, PLS. It’s extremely aggravating, considering the time I put into Smite. So, then, why is this my GOTY? Let’s say you’re a girl who played baseball when she was younger, but was never any good. Or really, felt any good at anything. Even video games. I wrote a little about that before, that Smite makes me feel like I can play video games, and that I can be good at them. That feeling as only intensified. My favorite game of all time is Kingdom Hearts 2, and the feelings I feel when I play Kingdom Hearts 2 all come down to happiness and love and connection, and when I play Smite, the feelings more boil down to adequate and self confidence and good enough. Have I felt those in other games? I think so, but never do I consistently feel them as I do in Smite. Other than that, I’ve simply spent more time in Smite than I have in any other game this year. It’s awoken me to an interest in e-sports, a career path, something to strive for.

Just fix your goddamn ladies Smite, and we’ll be peachy as all get out.

So that’s my 2014. A lot of small games, and mostly mobile. I had a lot of things happen in 2014, and I wonder if that’s why most of these games are repetitive and able to be played on the go, without the use of my main rig. For 2015, I hope to play “bigger” games – games like No Man’s Sky and Night in the Woods, games that have an end. I’d like that. And maybe I’ll even take a crack at Dragon Age: Inquisition, and romance someone other than Nero for the whole year.

First Impressions: Smite

It’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these – primarily because I’ve been too busy playing Smite to play and write about anything else. The title isn’t exactly correct, either, because my first impressions of Smite have turned into second looks, third glances, and now tenth or eleventh eyerolls and bulging stares as I learn more and more.

Smite is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), like Dota 2, League of Legends, and Blizzard’s new entry into the territory, Heroes of the Storm. Smite is developed by Hi-Rez Studios, is free to play, and was officially released out of beta into the wild in March. Smite’s camera is third person over the shoulder, utilizing WASD instead of clicking and directing your character with your mouse. You have 3 basic attacks, with one ultimate attack, a passive ability, and a store to choose items from depending on your build. You play as gods, some with name recognition, like Thor, Odin, and Athena, and others that you’ve never probably never heard of, like Bakasura, Ullr, and Geb.

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