Hi-Rez Expo: Esports adds college varsity national championships and high school leagues

    
9

Hi-Rez has never shied away from the fact that it is based on competitive games and believes esports is an integral part of the company. And over the last five years the studio has been building its esports scene by leaps and bounds, moving from that first SMITE tourney to multiple tournaments and world championships for more of its games and paying its league members a salary. (Over 10 million has been paid out to date between prizes and salaries.) This weekend’s expo at Dreamhack Atlanta crowned two new world champions (Team Envy for Paladins and Splyce for SMITE) and two world console champions (Astral Authority for SMITE and Elevate for Paladins). Even Realm Royale crowned champions Ausrhino and Kronicx in its first founders tournament.

With that background, it is makes sense that Hi-Rez would want to build out its esports program. And that’s exactly what the studio is doing in 2019 on many fronts. COO Todd Harris, also the president of Skillshot Media, shared announcements that put the studio at the forefront of building the esports community locally as well as nationally, from college varsity championships to high school leagues to research partnerships. And to cap all that off, all league matches will be done by LAN at the Skillshot studio instead of remotely. Here’s what we learned at the Expo.

Live and local league play

If you want to play professionally, we hope you like Atlanta. Starting the 2019 season, all teams participating in the SMITE pro league and Paladins premier league will either be traveling to Atlanta or even relocating there in order to play league games. The matches will be broadcast live in house from the Skillshot Media studio. Harris emphasized how this will allow for better programming — including more interviews, more behind-the-scenes content, and more emotional shows overall — as well as grow the local gaming community and boost the local economy. Currently, the video games industry has a $750 million annual economic impact on the state of Georgia, a number that surpasses the total sales of both the music and movie industries. And it is a growing industry (even if many gamers of other persuasions will scoff at it).

Skillshot Media, the first studio to split off from Hi-Rez into its own entity, is ready to host the leagues. Before the expo started, I toured the studio where the matches will be held and got to see the soundproof practice rooms as well as the game rooms, where teams can face and see each other across the hall through the glass but cannot hear each other. Staff remarked that trash talk gets creative when it is done silently through the large, soundproof windows that separates the two teams. The in-house production area is also ready to provide a better production experience for viewers.

Research this

Harris told me that what surprises people even more than the popularity of participating in esports is the size of audience viewing audience. Currently over 300 million people globally tune in — more than many cable networks. That makes for quite a robust fandom. So what are these fans like? What draws them in? Hi-Rez is interested in learning more about the fandom; Harris says Hi-Rez is partnering with Emery University’s marketing analytics and has launched a new research partnership devoted to the study of esports fandom. Because everything about watching esports is digital, Harris says, all the data collected offer a unique opportunity to study customer behavior and answer questions such as how watching esports contributes to playing and vice versa.

University partnerships do not end there. Hi-Rez is also working with Georgia Tech’s interactive media technologies center. By tapping into the campus’ Future of Esports class, Harris says, the company is “working together to explore the very unique human factors and interface design challenge around what we believe is the future of sports, esports.”

College league national championships

College, of course, isn’t just for studying esports – it’s also for playing. And that’s not just in spare time, either. Apparently, over 100 schools have now developed esports varsity teams with the help of NACE, the National Association of College Esports, which is the governing body for collegiate esports. Locally to Hi-Rez, Georgia State University leadership has been promoting esports even further; it’s one of first universities of its size to invest in esports, including participation in broadcasting, coaching, marketing, production etc.

Last weekend, NACE went one step further, holding the first two NACE National Championships right in Atlanta alongside the Hi-Rez Expo and Dreamhack Atlanta. This championship awarded a total of $100,000 in scholarships.

New high school leagues

Pro athletes don’t often start training in college or beyond — they begin younger. Doesn’t it make sense that esports pros start training earlier, too? As Harris put it, college is too late to start! He announced that starting next year, for the first time ever high school students will have an officially sanctioned esports league. High schoolers can take their passion to play and join a school team that can compete toward state finals just like traditional sports do. Playvs and the National Federation of State High School Associations are building this league that will premier in February 2019. And Harris was pleased to announce that Georgia will be one of the first states to implement this, and SMITE itself was selected as one of the few games for the inaugural season. We’ll be hearing a lot more, “Sorry mom, I can’t study right now — the team is counting on me!”

Mixer-ing it up with rewards

The final announcements Harris shared were related to the partnership with Mixer. Hi-Rez partnered with Microsoft’s platform for livestreaming last year. For this next year, the 2019 SMITE pro league and console league games will all be exclusively shown on Mixer. Additionally, the Paladins premier league will also be exclusively shown on Mixer as well. Harris noted viewers will benefit because Microsoft has been investing much into its livestreaming, and soon exclusive Mixer rewards will be available for viewers. Who wouldn’t want to win cool loot just for watching their favorite teams compete? It’s happening next season, so look forward to getting goodies while cheering.

Massively Overpowered was on the ground in Atlanta for Hi-Rez Expo 2018, bringing you expert coverage on SMITE, Paladins, and everything else the Hi-Rez substudios have up their sleeve!
Disclosure: In accordance with Massively OP’s ethics policy, we must disclose that Hi-Rez paid for our writer’s travel to and accommodation at this event. Hi-Rez has neither requested nor been granted any control or influence over our coverage of the event.

9
LEAVE A COMMENT

Please Login to comment
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most liked
Subscribe to:
Reader
Songs for Children

Esports aren’t real sports.

Reader
Fervor Bliss

I hope the players earn a decent cut of the revenue they will generate.

Reader
Bruno Brito

Live and local league play
If you want to play professionally, we hope you like Atlanta. Starting the 2019 season, all teams participating in the SMITE pro league and Paladins premier league will either be traveling to Atlanta or even relocating there in order to play league games. The matches will be broadcast live in house from the Skillshot Media studio. Harris emphasized how this will allow for better programming — including more interviews, more behind-the-scenes content, and more emotional shows overall — as well as grow the local gaming community and boost the local economy. Currently, the video games industry has a $750 million annual economic impact on the state of Georgia, a number that surpasses the total sales of both the music and movie industries. And it is a growing industry (even if many gamers of other persuasions will scoff at it).

Let me make this extremely clear: No matter how Hi-rez will spin this, this is NOT a good sign. Hi-rez is clearly lacking the resources to improve the EU competitive scene, so they decided to bring players to Atlanta. This is HUGE. For good and bad. The good part is that the players will be full fledged Hi-rez employees, with it’s benefits and hell, they’ll even be provided the housing. The bad is outside the fact that the competitive scene now will be focused on NA, which will fuck this game chances of taking off globally ( how many amateur level players do you think Hi-rez can fund until they go into debt? ), several of the EU players already said that S5, the last HRX was their last attempt at world. A lot of them will just retire and go back to their lives. The competitive level will take a toll because of these incredible gamers retiring.

That’s not to even getting started on EU players depending on NA healthcare, which apparently wasn’t yet disclosed within the Hi-rez plans, and the fact that the Mixer deal backfired on Hi-rez, considering that S4 had a peak of 100k viewers on the Grand Finals, and S5 didn’t hit 50k.

I want you people to think about really hard, about players traveling to live abroad to live from a game that is actually losing popularity ( majority of Smite players are Arena players ), to have a job that may not even last two years, while they have to freeze any sideplans, dedicating themselves to a game that is now completely locked to a Mixer deal that already backfired, overseen by a company that is KNOWN to drop support to games when they lose too much popularity and move to the next industry fad.

I don’t even know if the Smite competitive scene lasts three more years, and people having to move for that, and putting college, future and family/love life on hold for a uncertain future is one of the mosts complicated decisions i’ve seen people ever take.

Smite e-sports isn’t exactly dying, but it isn’t thriving either. Let’s not spin any of this crap as something good. It isn’t. This is an attempt to save the scene by making it smaller, more local and less painful on their wallet.

Reader
Sorenthaz

Yeah SMITE esports has been… well, obviously it looks like it’s been shrinking. I was actually thrown off at how the SWC happened like a week or two ago, it pretty much always happens in January in the past, and the Odyssey event isn’t even over yet.

The actual audience for Smite’s World Championship seemed pretty dang small as well, though it was neat to see Bart back. All in all though I think SMITE is suffering from the same issues other MOBAs are, where the genre is declining in popularity and they’re doing whatever they can to try and build up viewers/players/etc.

Seems like SMITE has been having the hardest time though because Tencent heavily choked the Chinese release, staggering its ability to grow popular in China and actually get any decent teams to show up for the SWC. Sounds like the South American and OCE scenes are also falling apart and the esports scene has pretty much never been able to grow past NA and EU being the most competitive regions.

Reader
Bruno Brito

I, honestly to god, am of the belief that this is Hi-rez fault mainly. Not exactly the viewership, that was bound to happen, but the division between twitch, youtube and mixed, the extremely irritating issues mixer had. Hi-rez is also guilty of the other regions not evolving to a decent e-sport place, considering that you need to feed these regions, and they never did.

Maybe Hi-rez only has the resources to feed one region, which is what will happen now, sadly, considering that S5 was one of the best seasons for Smite. Balanced gameplay, with decent picks, the top contenders weren’t exactly broken per se ( nothing like release Bellona, Cu Chullain, altho Pele is a bit irritating ).

In the end, this is what they’ll do to make this survive for like, two more years. Hence why i said that this is not a easy decision. A e-athlete moving to work on a job without future prospects, when he could just move to a better game, is something to think about long and hard.

Reader
Sorenthaz

Well, Tencent had control of China and then had another company under them handle things in South America. HiRez only really had any control over the EU/OCE/NA scenes I guess?

And yeah they jumped around on too many platforms with Mixer being an awful one to try and keep supporting. I’m sure Microsoft paid them well for that but they completely stopped doing Twitch drops in favor of Mixer codes and junk like that.

It is pretty clear though that Smite’s esport scene is probably going to crash/burn eventually. Trying to merge their EU teams into NA is a horrid idea and has led to coaches/players having to abandon the scene due to it.

Reader
Bruno Brito

They could at least oversee the operations on China and SA. The game didn’t take off in SK, for reasons i don’t understand, really. I can get the game not taking off in China, it messes with mythology, and the Chinese have quite a lot of conundrums with several weird stuff.

As for the competitive scene, yeah, pretty much. The issue isn’t even them offering jobs anymore, but the prospect of how long this game will survive for the players to make use of that. There are players already who decided to drop or are thinking of dropping if it gets too complicated to even travel for the games. And i don’t blame them.