The Hi-Rez Oceania Championships 2016 run this whole weekend, closing SMITE’s esport season and kicking off Paladins here in Australia. Ahead of the event we spoke to Alex ‘HughZ’ Hughes, local caster for the OPL, about what we can expect to see from the event and how it places Hi-Rez in the Oceanic Esports scene.

RN: Catch us up on the split so far. What were the big moments from SMITE Split 3?

Split 3 has been the story of Avant Garde v Team Pandamonium for the top spot and Avant Garde got the top spot by beating Panda in a close 2 – 0 victory in Week 6. 1 point separates the teams heading into the regional finals and many expect that matchup to be the Grand Final. Legacy, who were hugely dominant last split, have struggled amidst roster changes and role swaps but now find themselves back in their original roster. Alpha Sydney is hungry for this LAN experience having been denied last split mainly due to their mid-laner Swifty being banned for the last week of the regular split. They haven’t had much success against these top teams but they feel they can pull off the fairytale LAN win like Avant did last split.

RN: Who’s your pick for the grand final spots? Any curveballs to keep an eye out for?

I think it will be Avant Garde v Team Pandamonium in the Grand Final and that will be a great match to watch. Avant step it up on LAN and Panda have been preparing furiously for this so fireworks should ensue. Legacy and Alpha both have potential but I feel they just quite aren’t complete teams yet, Legacy is lacking a leader/driving presence in their team whilst Alpha are similarly disjointed. Watch out for ElChuckles on Avant and Rowe on Team Pandamonium to be the ones to decide how things go this finals.


RN: This finals event is big, but how has Oceanic SMITE & now Paladins esports performed over the year here?

SMITE this year in my opinion has stayed roughly where it was this time last year, more of a consolidation year than anything else although there was room for it to grow. Being the only region not invited to Dreamhack was not beneficial for the competitive scene as many feel slighted and that it hampers our opportunity to compete at worlds if we don’t get practice against the world’s top teams. The OPL and lower level competitions gained a lot of structure this year which is beneficial moving forward but, mainly since I am not a patient person, would like to have seen some more changes made. In terms of other Hi-Rez esports, the only one thus far is Paladins and we are only just starting to see the scene be born and develop. There has been a largely positive reaction and embracing of Paladins thus far and it is a title I myself am keen on investing some time into both playing and casting.

RN: Aside from events like this, what do you see as the major steps to keeping Hi-Rez esports alive and strong here in Oceania?

Attention and coverage by Hi-Rez and other media sources/social media presences. SMITE is a fantastic and fun game title to both play and especially watch, given both the lore of the character’s being rooted in mythology and thus giving a host of familiar names for viewers to identify with and the unique 3rd person viewpoint in game that is often shown in broadcasts. As well as this, the style of the game makes it a little easier to follow along for an inexperienced viewer compared to other MOBAs such as LoL and DOTA2. Some more regular updates given about by Hi-Rez about how the competitive scene is going as well as advertisement and promotion of the Pro League would do wonders for bringing people in. I saw this week a Facebook post about the Regional Finals and a comment there struck me where a guy asked how he could get involved in the competitive scene. Better advertising of the path to pro and that a pro scene exists at all is essential to see continued growth. Investing into production and broadcast of the OPL as well would be nice as esports as a whole and within Oceania is moving to a much more professional standard than in years past. Much of this can be applied for general players of the game as well – we saw with the launch of Overwatch huge advertising efforts across the globe to bring the game into the gaming world and the game is now one of the largest titles in the world, even competing with LoL in the heart of LoL territory, South Korea. Obviously Blizzard has resources beyond what Hi-Rez does but a greater push at marketing the game to casual gamers through things such as twitch adverts, youtube ads, banner ads and promoted videos on big YouTubers channels would bring a large influx of gamers in. Being Free-to-Play and on the Xbox One and PS4 Consoles is already a step in that right direction but more can be done.

As for Paladins launching into esports, obviously the comparison is there to be made with Overwatch and with Hi-Rez being as supportive of the Paladins esports scene as they are it makes it a very attractive option for players of that genre to move into. Blizzard’s massive push for making Overwatch into a huge global esport that can compete and indeed in many ways mimics traditional sports may cause some difficulties for Paladins being seen as a legitimate contender but if Hi-Rez can commit to advertising the Free-to-play model of the game then there is definitely a player base for it.

The Hi-Rez Oceania Championships 2016 run November 26-27. For full details, schedule and stream location, click right here.