Hi-Rez Expo 2018 – An ESI Assessment

As an attendee of this year’s Hi-Rez Expo, we were on the ground to see what went down at the US studio’s major event of the year which featured the finals of Smite, the Paladins World Championships, and the Hand of the Gods finals too.

From a catch up on Smite and Paladins’ esports scenes, to big announcements from Hi-Rez about new modes, new characters and even a new game, we’ve been left with plenty to discuss. From an esports perspective, it was Todd Harris’ talk with the media which left the most lasting impression.

One of the major talking points of this year’s Hi-Rez Expo was the announcement of a new battle royale mode; titled Paladins Battlegrounds. Battle royale titles are currently enjoying a period of notable popularity right now, and the developer’s hope is that theirs is the one to have a lasting impact.

“We usually don’t start with designing a game for esports”

Todd Harris, Co-Founder and COO of Hi-Rez, is one of the top executives in charge of Paladins. Speaking to the press Harris said of the decision to build Paladins Battleground: “We spent a lot of time exploring which new game modes could work. This was a sizable process as some modes might work in some shooters but that doesn’t mean they’re a good fit for Paladins.”

Of its esports potential Erez Goren, Hi-Rez Co-Founder and CEO, added: “We usually don’t start with designing a game for esports, but we do build them so that this can happen if the fans want it.”

With Paladins Battlegrounds there’ll be “various one off competitions, but it’s unlikely to be a proper esports game as such unless the community really wants it”. He also noted that one of the main challenges for the mode was, as expected, that the “spectator experience is a challenge”.

“The ‘spectator experience is a challenge'”

Harris also chimed in here with the difficulty of turning a battle royale game into a proper esport due to the difficult logistics due to the amount of players. He said that it’s “unlikely we’ll have a league, but we’ll let the community guide us”.

The aim is to release the new game by the end of Q1 of 2018. Todd Harris was a busy man throughout the Expo, and in another talk he discussed the developer’s esports agenda. Of the Smite scene, as it heads into season 5 of the Pro League, he explained how the plan with the Smite Challenger Circuit is for it to become more of a scouting and feeder league.

Interestingly, he also explained how in 2018 that “at least one, and maybe two” major tournaments would be based outside the US. In response to a question about sustainability for Hi-Rez, Harris commented that they’re continuing to talk to broadcast platforms and evaluate potential partnerships. He also explained how they’ve built a solid economic model for both Paladins and SMITE, and that whilst they may expand the amount of teams in each main league for now they’re the right size.

Alongside the major Paladins Battlegrounds announcement, Hi-Rez launched another new Team Deathmatch mode for the FPS title.

Not one to rest on their laurels, Hi-Rez also revealed a wholly new game, Bot Smashers, which interested parties can sign up for here in addition to plenty of new stuff for Smite fans. A new character in Cerberus was revealed in the initial keynote as well as a new map ahead of season five.

Over on the competitive side of the Expo, Na’Vi emerged victorious in the Paladins World Championship with a storming 4-0 victory in the final over Fnatic, whilst EOEPeach took the win in Hand of the Gods, and NA side eUnited were crowned the Smite World Champions.