2019 was a big year for SMITE esports. The Pro League was played entirely on LAN, we created new salary opportunities for our players, and we introduced some crossplay competition that had never been done in our leagues before. All in all, we made a lot of steps forward in Season 6. But now that we’ve revealed all our announcements for Season 7, we firmly believe the best is yet to come for SMITE esports.
As we prepare for 2020, our headline goal is simple: to create a thriving SMITE esports ecosystem where players at all levels have the support they need to compete at their maximum potential. That’s why we’re making a few changes to the SMITE Pro League for next season, as well as introducing two brand-new amateur leagues: the SMITE Challenger Circuit and the SMITE Open Circuit. Using some of the lessons we learned from Season 6, we’re excited to move onward and upward as a new season brings new opportunities for the world of competitive SMITE.
After spending a full year on LAN in the SMITE Pro League, we felt confident that we’d made the right call in moving our pro players to Atlanta. Our competitive environment was more stable than in prior years, and having direct access to the players allowed us to work more closely with them in resolving any technical issues. We were able to create more content with our pro players, including pre-game interviews, documentary content, and our hit Role Queue series. We even converted some of our best player footage from the year into an SPL-themed GIF archive that put the faces of our players on the GIF keyboards of every major social media platform.
With those kinds of results, there was no question that continuing with the LAN format would be the right move for Season 7. But we also recognized that there was still plenty of room for improvement, and decided to focus our betterment efforts on the areas that needed it most: our broadcasting strategy and the pro league format.
Revisiting our broadcast plans was the starting point. For the last two years, we’ve experimented with weekday broadcasts and platform exclusivity, trying to find a streaming schedule that worked best for our staff and pro players. But as we looked to improve in 2020, we realized it was time to stop prioritizing the right broadcast plan for us and start prioritizing the right broadcast plan for our fans. Once we committed to that goal, the way to achieve it was clear — move our broadcasts back to weekend primetime slots, and make our streams 100% platform agnostic so all our viewers can watch where they want, how they want. We appreciate the unwavering loyalty that our pro league fans showed throughout the era of Mixer exclusivity, but we’re thrilled to be moving into a new era with more platform choices than ever before.
With a broadcast schedule that we felt would maximize our viewer experience, we knew the next step would be redesigning the pro league format so it’s more satisfying to watch. First, we designed the pro league match schedule to guarantee more matches played per week and ensure that each team would play at least one match per week so players would not see long breaks with no competitive play. Then we moved all regular season games back to best-of-threes so that we could accommodate extra matches each day without burning out players, and so we could reserve longer best-of-five matchups for high profile events like our playoffs.
To round out all these format changes, we introduced a points-based system to mitigate the primary issues with our year-long record system in Season 6. We wanted to make sure that every match would count for something, and that we could reward teams who made significant performance improvements between the first and second halves of the season. With that in mind, we designed a point system that gives us the flexibility to meet both those goals and better reflect how each team is actually performing at a given point in the season.
But as we made all these changes and used last season’s match records as a sort of map for how this year’s changes might work in practice, we realized something very important — no matter what format or what standings system we used, it didn’t change the fact that the pro league was not nearly as competitive at the bottom tiers as we would like. After much deliberation, we’ve made the difficult choice to reduce the size of our pro league from ten teams down to eight. While we realize that our fans might interpret this eight-team restriction as a sign that the league is in poor health, we’d like to emphasize that this isn’t the case. Reducing the number of teams is a strategic change that should help us make this league as competitive as it can possibly be from the top of the standings all the way down. Thanks in large part to the new amateur opportunities that we’re introducing in 2020, we can finally make the SMITE Pro League an elite part of our esports ecosystem where only the absolute best of the best are able to compete — and we can do so without damaging the long-term career potential of players who don’t make the cut for SPL this season.
Longevity is essential to the SMITE esports ecosystem, and as we laid our plans for 2020 we wanted to ensure that players at every level were provided with resources and opportunities to lay the foundations for a long-term career — especially players at the amateur level. The SMITE Minor League, SMITE Console League, and SMITE Combine systems left a lot to be desired, and none of them seemed to provide a satisfying path to the pro league. We knew we wanted to create a more complete ecosystem for our esports at all tiers, and after much discussion we felt the best option was to dismantle all our old systems entirely and introduce two brand new crossplay leagues at the amateur level: the SMITE Challenger Circuit and the SMITE Open Circuit.
The choice to go full crossplay was not one we made lightly. But as we prepare for the 2020 season and beyond, we’re committed to the idea that competitive-level players are competitive-level players regardless of their input. As SMITE moves toward a more unified crossplay ecosystem, so should our leagues. And after the incredible crossplay competition we saw at the Season 6 World Championship Placement Round, we’re more confident than ever that crossplay is the future for SMITE esports. We’re incredibly excited to be combining our best talent pools for both the Challenger and Open Circuits, and believe it will make the competition better than ever before. For console players specifically, we’re also hoping this change will provide a more complete competitive experience than having a separate Console League that rarely overlaps with our other circuits.
Because providing new competitive opportunities is a headline goal for our amateur circuits in 2020, we felt it necessary to rework our LAN and prizing structures for all leagues at that level. After looking at player feedback from Season 6 and seeing what fans had to say about our amateur competitive structure, it was evident that we needed to incentivize performance in a way that directly impacts compensation. Simply having the skill to qualify for a league shouldn’t be all it takes for a team to be successful in our amateur leagues. In our ideal world, teams who show up to compete and who perform are rewarded proportionally for their investment, and new players who are hungry for amateur competition have more opportunities to prove themselves against established amateur teams.
With that ideal scenario in mind, we’ve designed the Challenger Circuit and Open Circuit to be a complete amateur ecosystem with a prizing structure that directly rewards well-performing teams. We’ve also added amateur-only LAN events that will allow both entry-level and Challenger-level participants to gain valuable experience in a professional competitive environment. To top it all off, we’ve implemented multiple relegation opportunities so we can better foster the up-and-coming talent from our open-entry circuit. We’ve also added guaranteed broadcasts to both amateur leagues so that every amateur player has an opportunity to be seen. We’re thrilled to watch how these changes will improve our amateur scene, and are looking forward to the next generation of SMITE esports talent that we’ll be able to cultivate in the years to come.
In many ways, we believe Season 7 is a sort of renaissance for SMITE esports. And to that end, we here at Hi-Rez are rededicating ourselves to supporting esports and integrating them into the SMITE community. In addition to all the updates we’ve outlined here, there are still many other esports projects on the horizon that we can’t wait to share with you — including some exciting new in-game esports integrations and a complete overhaul of our esports websites.
There’s plenty more good news coming down the pipeline, so keep your eyes and ears open for further esports announcements closer to the start of the 2020 season. We’ll also be following up today’s announcements with other pieces of content, including behind-the-scenes video interviews with the staff that helped shape the 2020 season and a live Reddit AMA with our esports crew.
From the bottom of our hearts, all of us here at Hi-Rez would like to thank the fans who joined us for the incredible journey that was Season 6. SMITE esports would not be possible without your passion and your loyalty. We’re eager to see what Season 7 has in store for us, and we can’t think of a fanbase we’d rather spend it with than all of you. Cheers to another successful year of SMITE esports, and here’s to many more!