No team is perfect. Every roster has their strengths and weakness, and playing around those is a key component to being a top contender in the SMITE Pro League. In the last instance of ‘Playing Around Your Stars’, we looked at EnVy and how playing around CycloneSpin helped propel them to one of the best teams in North America. Unfortunately for them, the meta shifted, giving a helping hand to those who couldn’t handle the pressure, and they were unable to figure out a new gameplan to qualify for the SMITE World Championship (SWC). FNATIC however, were able to secure a spot at SWC, with a little bit of help from the most destructive duo lane in Europe.
All statistics presented in this article are from the SPL Fall Split, unless otherwise stated*
We’ll start with the hard statistic. FNATIC’s duo lane of Realzx and Badgah combined for a total of 40% of their team’s kill distribution, compared to the 32% coming from the rest of the SPL teams in Fall. Much of that falls on Realzx, who had the highest kill distribution percentage of any Hunter in the SPL at 29.4%. FNATIC’s playstyle during Season 2 was very slow and methodical with a goal of not forcing any early fights and waiting for the late game, where Realzx could take over. This is easily shown in just their picks, with Realzx playing 20 games between Rama (12) and Freya (8). Two gods that need items to ‘come online’ and start making an impact. Unfortunately though, this play style may have led to their eventual downfall at SWC, as the meta shifted to favor hard pushing and early rotations.
Let’s break down WHY the meta shift hurt FNATIC. Season 1 we saw the era of Hunters, with easily accessible Crit, they were late game monsters that could rampage through your squishies, and even tear through the frontline with the Qin’s Sais-based Unicorn build. On top of that, there were two Blue Buffs on the map, meaning they could spam their abilities with little-to-no repercussions and easily control the early game. Season 2 was a different story. Blue Buff was removed, the Critical Strike tree was adjusted to be more expensive and less effective, Qin’s Sais took a major nerf, and a majority of Hunters had their wave clearing abilities toned down. Also God bless for the Greater Sprint nerf. In return, the Attack Speed Buff was added, and Hunters had their base Attack Speed’s increased significantly.
As the Season went on, more players started to realize that Hunters were the least impactful role in competitive play. Unless they somehow got a few early kills on their opponent, it simply took them too long to finish their build. Even then, Solo Laners had just as much of an impact late-game, while still remaining monsters in the mid-game. Eventually Hunters with high early pressure shot up in pick priority, as these ability-based gods could not only out push their opponents to rotate, but also had serious damage without needing to rely on item dependant Basic Attacks. The introduction of Sol truly forced this play style on most teams, as her early pressure couldn’t be matched by anyone outside of Neith. Then again at SWC, Chiron made his mark with strong wave clear and a high base damage Ultimate. At SWC we saw Neith as the most picked (23), Sol as the second most banned (16), and Chiron found his way into the top 10 picked (11).
But back to Realzx and why this meta-shift hurt him. Much like EnVy and CycloneSpin, FNATIC relied very heavily on Realzx to be more impactful than his counterpart, not necessarily just impactful. He has been, debatably, one of the best Hunters in the world for the past three years, and as long as FNATIC could let him get online, he would constantly outplay opponents. As teams started to adopt the early-game hunters, it forced FNATIC into awkward situations where they couldn’t hold out until late-game, with heavier pressure from the duo lane. So, after an entire split of Rama and Freya, Realzx was forced to bring out Neith and Sol picks which,while effective, didn’t fully allow him to outplay his opponents and be a dominating late-game carry like he used to be.
Just like CycloneSpin, Realzx was the ‘star’ of FNATIC last year, and even when the meta shifted to help those less mechanically inclined, he was a scary opponent to go against. FNATIC were [11-3] in any game that went past 30 minutes, with two of the loses on Neith, and seven of the wins on Rama. If the rest of FNATIC could go even heading into the late-game, Realzx could simply take over and hard carry. Unfortunately they couldn’t, and FNATIC suffered another devastating loss at the hands of Epsilon at Worlds.
A new year, a new Season, another shot at the Championship. As the hunter meta develops, it seems we’ll be seeing a much higher effectiveness out of them, and sooner too. With Qin’s Sais seeing a buff, the introduction of the Relic system, and how cheap the current Hunter build is, maybe Realzx can fall back on his Rama again. Only time will tell, but the bigger story is the removal of Badgah from the FNATIC lineup. The two had been a duo since 2013, and Realzx will have to adjust to his new Support quickly as the Season 3 Pro League looms ever closer. Will Realzx still be able to put FNATIC on his back come late-game, or will he even need to?
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Kevin “HiRezAdanas” Meier is Lead Commentator and International Esports Analyst at HiRez Studios. You can follow him on Twitter @HiRezAdanas.