It’s a remarkable achievement — and a dream for many — to participate in the SMITE Pro League. It’s an even more remarkable achievement to make the SMITE World Championship at the end of the season, and an honor that all the elite teams compete for.
Throughout each highly competitive season of the SPL, consistency is key to reaching the coveted World Championship title. And few (if any) teams have been more consistent than NRG Esports — the two-time defending world champs. For this inaugural installment of Under the Microscope, we’ll be dissecting the powerhouse that is NRG to see how they rose to the top of the SMITE competitive scene and where they might be going next.
NRG began back in January 2015 under the name Panthera. Pro player iRaffer assembled a crew of misfits that few outside the European SMITE ranked scene knew existed. With NinjaDimi on solo, Adapting in the jungle, Optixx playing mid, iRaffer on support, and emilitoo taking hunter, this up-and-coming EU team breathed new life into the competitive SMITE circuit.
In the Spring Split of Season 2, Panthera failed to qualify for SPL after losing to both Team Dignitas and London Conspiracy. So the team made a roster change which saw Yammyn replace Optixx as the mid laner. Following the switch, the squad found much more success than they had prior. Through 7 weeks of the Challenger’s Circuit, the new Panthera roster only dropped 3 games in the finals — making for an impressive 28-3 record. Given this outstanding performance, Panthera got a second chance to make the SPL during Summer Relegations. And after defeating Da Bronko’s (EU pro Jermain’s team, once upon a time) these five young men were granted entry to the SMITE Pro League.
Thus began an unfathomable journey that would take the team to the worlds stage more than once.
Season 2 Summer & Fall Splits
Panthera got off to a slow start during their initial SPL splits, as they couldn’t recreate the same success they saw in their Challenger days. Now playing under a new organization and bearing the Epsilon name, the boys finished the S2 Summer Split with an 8-6 record that left them just short of the top three position that would have qualified them for the Finals LAN.
Following this rocky debut in the SPL Summer Split, Epsilon shook the circuit to its core during the Fall phase. The boys studied the competitive scene from a distance, and gleaned a lot of wisdom from the previous split that they brought into the final split of Season 2. Epsilon dominated as a top team, destroying the competition and earning a 27-1 record in the online phase of the Fall circuit — having only dropped one game to Fnatic.
The team snowballed this success and momentum going into the LAN portion of this split. Though it was the first LAN for each player on the roster, Epsilon had an incredible performance during the qualifying event. They found their revenge against London Conspiracy (who had prevented them from making SPL in the Spring) in a 3-0 sweep that qualified them for Worlds. The team wasn’t able to beat Paradigm in the finals, though, so they headed into their first SMITE World Championship as a second-seeded European team and had to fight through the placement stages to get a shot at the championship title.
Season 2 World Championship
After defeating the Latin American and Brazilian teams that stood in their way, Epsilon made it through placements to enter the bottom half of the SWC bracket. After taking a quick victory over the wildcard team, Fnatic, Epsilon squared off against Cloud9 — the Season 1 World Champs formerly known as Cog Prime.
The boys went the distance in this best-of-five set, dethroning the world champions and moving on to the final stage to wait for a worthy opponent. Meanwhile, NA underdog team Enemy upset the first-seeded EU team (Paradigm) in the other semi-finals set and moved on to the finals round. From there, it was a battle of underdogs — the EU misfit team versus the NA cinderella story. Unlike the semi-finals set against Cloud9, the finals match against Enemy was a breeze for Epsilon. These top-tier European players didn’t drop a single game in the Bo5 set, and claimed their first ever SMITE World Champion title.
Transitioning to Season 3
With Season 3 on the horizon and a world champ trophy under their belts, the Epsilon boys changed organizations once again and became NRG. With their new name in tow, this EU squad continued their dominance in the online portion of the Spring Split. Finishing 24-4 and taking first place in this phase, they headed into the SMITE Masters tournament at Dreamhack Sweden. Without any real contention, NRG went undefeated in the European LAN after taking out OMG.A, Eager, and SoaR.
Between the Spring and Fall splits, the NRG boys struggled a bit during the Epsilon Invitational. Despite a 3-0 victory over Enemy on the worlds stage, the NA team came back fighting and gave NRG a run for their money during the finals match. But after battling their way through all five games of the set, NRG came out the victor of yet another LAN event.
Having won three LANs in a row, it seemed that NRG was on a warpath to end the year as strongly as they could. But when the Season 3 Fall Split rolled around, the team failed to repeat the dominant performance they had during the online phase of S2’s Fall Split. Their performance was still a solid one, with a record of 11 wins and 3 losses, but it wasn’t quite enough to put them on top — and proved that NRG was indeed mortal and could bleed like anyone else. The team split with Orbit, Cringe Crew, and Team Rival, which meant they would have to fight their way through the Group C LAN in order to qualify for S3’s Super Regionals event.
The team got off to a rocky start in this LAN after losing their first game of the event to Cringe Crew, but NRG quickly recovered and proceeded to win the next 11 games! This hot streak continued all the way through the team’s path to worlds — and quick 3-0 victories over Sanguine Esports and Obey Alliance cemented NRG’s place as the first-seeded EU team.
Coming into SWC 2017, NRG was on fire. Their 5-man roster of Dimi, Adapting, Yammyn, iRaffer, and emilitoo had finished first in the five previous LANs, and showed no signs of slowing down on the worlds stage. They took down Team Allegiance cleanly in the quarterfinals, then continued into semifinals where they battled it out once again versus the remnants of Cloud9, now called Luminosity Gaming. Just like the year before, the set went the distance through five action-packed games — and once again, NRG came out victorious.
Fellow EU team Obey Alliance awaited them in the finals match of the Season 3 World Championship. This wasn’t just an EU vs. EU face-off; it was a replay of the finals match between the two teams at Super Regionals 2016. The boys on Obey were hoping to redeem themselves and take vengeance for their loss at the last LAN, while NRG wanted to prove that they really were the best SMITE team in Europe and the world. Ultimately, despite an outstanding performance from Obey’s solo laner Variety, NRG did the unthinkable and took it all in this finals match — thus winning the SMITE World Championship twice in a row!
A Rocky Start in Season 4
Though NRG had been a tour de force throughout Seasons 2 and 3, the team finally started to come off their winning high at the beginning of Season 4. With an online record of 9-5 in the Spring Split, the team just barely missed the SMITE Masters LAN in Atlanta, GA and dropped into the Gauntlet as a final boss of sorts. During the Spring Gauntlet, NRG fell hard to Team Rival in a 1-2 set that ended their six-LAN winning streak. These EU giants had seemingly been brought down.
However, there was still some hope for NRG as they defeated eUnited in the wildcard match, which earned the team entry to the SMITE Masters event. In the initial phases of the Masters LAN, NRG took down the Australian team Dire Wolves during placements and found themselves pitted once more against Obey Alliance during the quarterfinals. Though the NRG boys put up a good fight, the third time was the charm for Obey — and they took the set with a 2-1 victory that left NRG down and out.
During the Summer Split of S4, NRG took another third-place finish in the online stage with a 10-4 record, and got knocked out early from another LAN — this time at the SMITE Masters event at Dreamhack Valencia. After barely beating Trifecta 2-1, they lost to eventual LAN winners Team Dignitas without picking up a single game. It wasn’t a great performance from NRG, and things were about to get worse.
The lows just kept getting lower as NRG transitioned into the Fall Split, as they ended the online phase with their worst record to date: 6-8. The team had to battle their way through the Gauntlet if they wanted to make Super Regionals and have any shot at qualifying for worlds. This all-important Gauntlet had a big surprise in store for NRG’s first set versus The Papis. Much to everyone’s surprise — especially NRG themselves — this relatively new EU team won the first game of their Bo3 match. But NRG wasn’t about to let that fly. They got mad, buckled down, and bounced back to win the next two games of the set so they could advance to the next round.
Their opponents in that next round, Valance Squad, caught the brunt of NRG’s rage and paid the price dearly. Valance came into the set cold, while NRG was hot with anger and disgust at the position they’d gotten themselves into. Dropping a game to a team like The Papis was all it took to make the boys see red. Winning the first game in just 17 minutes and the second in just 25 minutes, NRG stormed the European Gauntlet to await their chance at qualifying for HRX through Group Play at Super Regionals 2017.
Where NRG is Now
Some teams are downright LANimals — meaning they have a better win percentage in an offline event than they do in online competition. And NRG is perhaps the fiercest LANimal of them all. Just when it seemed like the team had hit their lowest point in the most important split of their careers, NRG proceeded to make it back to the top. They went undefeated in the Group Play stages at Super Regionals after defeating Noble Esports, Team Dignitas, Trifecta, Spacestation Gaming, and Elevate in spectacular fashion.
Looking ahead to the SMITE World Championship at HRX 2018, some might not consider NRG to be one of the top-tier competitors given their drastic decline in performance at the beginning of the Fall Split and the replacement of solo laner Dimi with ManiaKK. But before you write off this EU squad as being middle-of-the-pack, consider these facts:
- Four out of five NRG players have won the last two SMITE World Championship.
- The four core members of the team have played together since March 2015, and Dimi was only replaced after the SMITE Masters at Dreamhack Valencia.
- NRG has a 76.4% LAN win rate and a 78.5% online win rate (which was 81.6% before the S4 Fall Split)
- Going into SWC 2017, NRG was on a 17-game win streak at LANs. Going into HRX 2018, the team is on a 5-game win streak from Super Regionals group play.
Though the facts prove that NRG is surely a force to be reckoned with, there’s no guarantee that the team will win a third SMITE World Championship. But if we were the betting type and wanted to generate odds, NRG would still be a clear-cut favorite of ours. All eyes will be on this defending team during the 2018 World Championship, and everyone from the analysts to the competition will be dissecting the team’s performance under a microscope. One thing’s for sure, though — NRG fans will be on the edge of their seats and cheering the boys on as they try to make their World Championship repeat a threepeat!