My heart is pounding. It’s hard to hear anything over the thumping. My teammates are yelling, and even though it’s coming through my headset just fine, they sound a million miles away. I maneuver around a pillar out of sight of the opposing team. It’s a high stakes game of hide and seek, and they don’t see me as I start to cast resurrection on my fallen comrade. They still don’t notice as I get halfway through the spell. By the time they finally spot me, I have three seconds to go and the friends I still have alive are doing everything they can to stop anyone from getting to me. The opposing warrior finally reaches me but it’s too late, my druid is back up and soon the match will be over.
I loved arena in World of Warcraft. I enjoyed the style. The way a game would start and the feeling-out process would begin. Like boxers circling and jabbing, we would do laps around the arena trying to gage the skills of the bad guys. Then, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere, the action cranked all the way up from a slow paced technical match into a full-on high octane brawl. Sometimes an arena game would be over in minutes, or it could take much, much longer. The brawl could shift into something of a marathon. The team built to last would slowly whittle their opponents down and eventually claim victory. There were many team compositions and player specializations, you could make all sorts of deadly combinations. I was addicted. I would sit with my teammates for hours, going over strategy and practicing. I loved it. Unfortunately, I did not love the grind, so before long, I turned my back on WoW.
After a break from gaming to evaluate my life (as one does after getting clean of the WoW), I went back to my roots and started playing consoles again. I found it immensely enjoyable to be able to log in, start a game, and then log off when I was done. I didn’t need to grind for hours just to keep up with my peers. Having fun didn’t require a bunch of prep work. Life was good and I was enjoying the games I was playing. Around this time, an old halo clan mate of mine told me to come play a moba (multiplayer online battle arena) with him. I’m glad there are about a thousand miles between us so he couldn’t see my eyes immediately roll back into my head. I did not want to jump into a new genre and have to spend a ton of time learning how to crawl again, so I made a counter suggestion and moved on for a time.
Flash forward about a year, and a guild mate from the WoW days started pushing me to play this game that was still in beta. He said it was called Smite, and felt like WoW pvp had a beautiful baby with a shooter. I politely fought it off for awhile before deciding to download it. I played maybe two practice matches. I did not understand a thing that was happening in this game. It felt like a smart phone tower defense game, and so far away from a WoW arena game that I didn’t really give it a second look until well after it had come out in full release.
Late last year, we found out Smite was coming to the xbox. For me, this was exciting even though I did not like the game. It was a door, an opportunity to convince my friend to buy an xbox to come play games with me. More than a year after my first attempt, I tried to play Smite again. I figured it would be good to learn the game before it made its way to console, that way I would be ahead (or at least not still so far behind it was embarrassing). The second attempt went better than the first, but not by much. I actually played some games with my friend and started to learn some of the mechanics, but it still never really grabbed me. I wanted to stick it out and give it a fair shot, but one day I went to my computer and it wouldn’t turn on. Even though I was supplied a loaner computer, I never built up the motivation to actually get it going. For a while, my Smite days were done again.
I knew Smite was on its way to the xbox, anyway. I even signed up for the beta, and eventually got my hands on an alpha code. I honestly didn’t think the third time would be the charm, though. I played a game on my own after work while I waited for some friends to enter their own alpha codes and download the game. It felt the same as it had in the past – just not for me. I knew, though, that I had to really give it a shot this time. My friend (read: Smite fanatic) had acquired an xbox one to play with me and friends of ours, so I couldn’t just write Smite off again. I no longer had any reasonable out, so I figured I might as well give it my all.
The first couple nights were terrible. I was bad. I couldn’t find a god I liked or was good with. There were so many things happening at once and so much new info to take in that I was honestly not enjoying any of it. This wasn’t just another game with new controls to learn. I had to learn new lingo, new basic strategy, new items, new abilities, and pretty much just new everything. After every game, I wanted to quit for good. I was not having fun, and would log off frustrated. I am pretty competitive… I hate to be bad at things. My friend kept saying ‘it takes time, you will pick it up eventually’. That seemed too far away. It had been a long time since I was just terrible at a video game, and I did not like it.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I was completely dominated by a player using the god Ymir. Ymir is the king of the frost giants, hailing from the Norse pantheon. He was the first god that allowed me to recognize a clear set up and combo. This player would freeze, then trap me behind a wall, and by the time I was unfrozen, his team would collapse on me and that was it. Every time. Game over. I was intrigued, so in the next game I decided to give it a shot even though it went against my normal play style. Ymir is a guardian, and I normally play the role of healer or magic damage dealer. The change was good. I finally started to feel like I was grasping a god, which helped me wrap my head around the gameplay. I started to feel it, but had yet to figure out what it was.
I can’t tell you which specific match made it click, but it finally did happen. I do recall the moment: As this particular match is nearing its end, our teams circle each other. The game is tied; moments from being over, for better or worse. Beefier gods jockey for central position and control as assassins sidle around flanks, hunters harass edges, and mages lurk, waiting in the wings for the right moment to unleash their divine devastation or escape the sound of a dagger unsheathing in the dark. Lines are drawn, bloodied, districts rezoned. We poke, bait, and try to force the other team to make a mistake. We wait, patience fraying. It’ll only take one wrong step from either team to end the game. My heart feels like it stops, while somehow simultaneously beating itself free from the confines of my chest. My team is yelling in my ear, but I hear nothing as the enemy Thor pushes a little too close to me. I watch as I, as Ymir connects with his chilling breath, freezing Thor where he stands. My hands shake as I try to place a wall behind him, cutting off his escape and his reinforcements. It’s a blur after that, but I do remember the feeling… It was the same feeling I would get after a WoW arena match. It was the same feeling that, for years, kept me playing a game I essentially hated. The same feeling that I got playing competitive Halo. The same feeling I got playing sports when I was younger. That rush. That thrill. The urge to throw up, the fear of failing, the highs of victory, the feeling of invincibility in that moment, utterly untouchable.
Don’t misunderstand, I am still not good at Smite. The more competitive game types like conquest are still a riddle I need to crack. I am locked in, though. This past week I bought my first alternate Ymir [digi-mirs are the champions*] skin, and I can’t wait to be able to unlock every god. I have joined my friend in trying to recruit all of our old clan/guildmates into Smitedom (alpha codes permitting). I don’t know where I will be in a year and I don’t know what game I will be playing then, but I do know that I am enjoying Smite and look forward to riding this wave for a long while. So if you’re not sure about the moba scene, I am right there with you – but give Smite a chance. It may take a few tries for new players like me, but it is well worth the effort.
*chaaaaaange into digital ‘mirs’
tooooo save the digital… world!