Prize money isn’t everything in esports, but it’s one way to value a competition at a glance. It’s a proxy for the level of competition and just how serious the esport really is. Hi-Rez Studio’s Smite may not feature the million dollar payouts of some of its contemporaries, but it’s getting close as it quietly builds an esports future.
Smite is the multiplayer online battle arena game that features a third person camera instead of the point-and-click top down view of competitors League of Legends and Dota 2, and while it doesn’t feature those games’ massive playerbases, it’s still managing to make its mark in the esports landscape.
This weekend, the first eight teams secured their spots in the Smite Pro League, the culmination of ten weeks of open qualifiers. That puts them one step closer to the big prize: the Smite World Championships, a $600,000 final in January with a prize pool that promises to rise thanks to fan contributions.
The qualification process featured ten weeks of online tournaments, with points awarded based off tournament placements. The top four teams in North America and Europe won their Pro League spots, as well as berths into one of the two upcoming $50,000 Kick Off LANs, small tournaments to celebrate the start of the league season.
In North America, Cognitive Gaming, Dignitas, Snipe, and Cognitive Red made it through the competition. Cognitive Red got a helping hand from their big brothers in the Week 10 Qualifier, as after Five Angry Men beat Red in the quarterfinals, they needed just one win to pass Red in the standings. Cognitive Gaming, though, took Five Angry Men down in the semis.
The European region saw Cloud9 narrowly beat out Launch Tournament champions Team SoloMid for the top seed, but the last two spots were even more contested. Team Coast Blue were just ahead of SK Gaming, and IIIII (if you’re wondering, that’s pronounced eye five) thanks to placing third in the week 10 qualifier. Despite losing to IIIII in the qualifier, SK Gaming managed to eke through and secure their Pro League spot by ending in a points tie and taking revenge on IIIII in the tiebreaker.
Two more teams will qualify in the Pro League Play-In at the end of this month.
The competitions are part of Hi-Rez Studio’s bid to push Smite as a premiere esports title. The Smite Launch Tournament in April set the stage for a big bet on esports, and the company delivered with an impressive league structure similar to the League Championship Series that’s helped make League of Legends an esports success.
The Smite Pro League will be the centerpiece of that structure, a seven week tournament where six teams in each region will battle. Matches will be broadcast daily, with bigger bouts scheduled for the weekend. The league feeds into two Regional Championships in November, essentially playoffs where two spots at the World Championships will be on the line.
Similar to League, amateur competitions will run alongside the league, with the best performing teams earning a chance to break into the Pro competition. All in all, it’s an exciting time to be a fan of esports—and, increasingly, of Smite.