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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.