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Vote, KaLaS, Wlfy, IceIceBaby, and Deathwalker. Those are the five players (along with coach AlphaJackal) who comprise Team RivaL — the top-seeded European SMITE team heading into HRX this January. But getting there was not an easy journey for the squad.

RivaL wasn’t a sure bet for making it to the SMITE World Championship at all, let alone as the #1 team in Europe. They embarked on one of the hardest paths to worlds in Season 4, facing powerhouses like Team Dignitas and Obey Alliance. The RivaL boys met each challenge head-on, though, so they’ll skip past the placement stages at HRX to await whatever opponent battles it out for the right to face them.

RivaL’s run through Super Regionals is impressive on its own — but even moreso when you consider their humble beginnings. The team’s roster has been grinding together since they played under the CycloneGG tag during Season 3, where they climbed their way out of the Challenger Cup and earned a spot in the SPL. The Fall split of that season would be a struggle for them, and they wouldn’t even qualify for worlds.

In the Spring Split of Season 4, they finished 5th and had to fight their way through the Gauntlet. This LAN event seemed to mark a major turnaround for RivaL, whereafter they proved themselves to be giant-slayers who weren’t afraid to bring the heat at tournaments. The team came out on top of reigning world champs NRG, and even beat SoaR and LG before finally dropping to Obey. Though they didn’t take the whole show, their solo laner Deathwalker believes their victories and losses alike at events like the Gauntlet have been vital to their continued success:

“The most important thing for our team’s success is the experience from previous LAN events. We started off with the gauntlet against lower seeded teams mostly and were very successful against them. After winning the gauntlet we qualified for the “big boy” LAN where we finished 3rd/4th, so not too good but still incredible progress.” — Deathwalker

After a tough Summer split, RivaL still managed to qualify for the finals at Dreamhack Valencia in Spain. It was their chance to get revenge on Obey for getting the better of them during the Gauntlet — and RivaL’s 3-1 record against them further cemented their status as a LANimal to be wary of. The team’s final match at Dreamhack Valencia pitted them against Dignitas, the big boys on campus, who ultimately proved to be too much for RivaL. But much like the Gauntlet, the LAN experience at Dreamhack was a chance for the team to learn from their mistakes and do better at the next event.

RivaL would bring this newfound wisdom with them into the Season 4 Super Regionals, where they finally looked like a dominant crew. The Rival we saw at the Hi-Rez Esports Arena in Atlanta was no longer a “little brother team” that could easily be overlooked, but a true tour de force that ended up taking home the EU championship trophy. According to Deathwalker, though, part of their success came from capitalizing on the attitudes that other teams were bringing to the table:

“We expected to have a very difficult set against Team Dignitas and had a good feeling that if we win against Dig we would win against the winner of the other set. Team Dignitas were surprisingly the complete opposite of what we expected — and with some tilt added into the mix, they fall 3-0.” –Deathwalker

This new squad on the block is made up of extremely talented individual players who may not necessarily be the #1 person in their role. But when they come together for a team game like SMITE, their cooperation, coaching, and synergy is second to none. Solo laner Deathwalker can play any meta pick with the best of them, then switch things up and expertly pilot a god that you wouldn’t expect to be viable in the current circuit. Combine that sort of flexibility with the leaps-and-bounds improvements we’ve seen from members like IceIceBaby (jungler) or Vote (hunter), and it’s no surprise that this team has come out of the woodwork to challenge the long-held ranks of other EU teams.

Now that Super Regionals are over, the next step for Team RivaL is battling through the SMITE World Championship at HRX 2018 in just a few days. And with a bye through the placement stages that has them waiting for whoever makes it through the EU half of the bracket, RivaL has a great shot at making it happen. These boys didn’t get a chance to take the worlds stage last year — but with their steady improvement all split long and an incredible performance at Super Regionals, there’s little reason to start doubting them now. Deathwalker seems to know this, too. When asked what opponent he and his team were most worried to face at worlds, his response was as succinct as they come:

“None.”

None indeed. You’ll get to see Deathwalker, the RivaL boys, and the rest of SMITE’s best at HRX starting January 4. If you weren’t able to grab a ticket to see the event in person, don’t worry! You can still catch all the action at a participating Coke Theater near you, or tune in on the HiRezTV Twitch channel with your SWC Digital Loot Pack in tow. Whichever way you want to watch, we’ll see you there!