This week I had the chance to chat with Hi-Rez Studios’ Chief Operating Officer (COO) Todd Harris about the current and future state of SMITE and the upcoming SMITE World Championships. Take a peek at what he had to say!
MMOBOMB (MB): We’ve had the chance to speak in the past, but for our followers who may not know you, can you introduce yourself and maybe give a little insight into what being a Chief Operating Officer (COO) for a game studio actually means day to day?
Todd Harris (TH): Sure. My name is Todd Harris and I’ve been at Hi-Rez since we first started the studio in 2005. My background is computer programming but it has been a long time since I wrote code. These days it is general management of people & projects, as well as business development. Recently much of the day to day has been spent recruiting and helping our company grow from small to mid-sized. In just 9 months we’ve doubled in size; from 75 people last December to 150 employees now. Those are the people actually making SMITE amazing day to day but I get to talk externally about it.
MB: SMITE has become very big over the last few years. Can you talk about how big the title is now player wise or playtime wise? Has this growth exceeded your initial expectations for the title when you first launched?
TH: We’re over 5 million registered players and really just getting started. We felt we had something special when we first took the Alpha build to PAX in 2011 and saw such a great reaction from the crowd there, but it is now satisfying to see the game grow to additional people, markets and platforms. We’re adding servers in multiple new countries before the end of this year. And next year we will bring SMITE to the XBox One as the first free-to-play moba for console. Ultimately I have to give credit for the game’s growth to our player community.
MB: The build up for the SMITE World Championships (SWC) has started and the prize pool now sits at over $1 million. First, was the team surprised at the growth of the prize pool?
TH: We were hoping the prize pool would hit at least $1 million by January, but we were surprised to hit that goal so quickly, with months still ahead for the pool to grow more.
MB: Second, can you walk us through the format and how players qualify?
TH: There will be eight teams invited to the SWC – two from North America, two from Europe, two from China, one from Brazil and one from rest of Latin America; and each region has a different qualification path.
For North America and Europe most typical path is based on performance in the Smite Pro League, but there is also a wildcard/upset path where amateur teams in those regions can rise via a Challenger Cup and also make it to World’s.
MB: Third, what can players (and viewers) expect as the next few months start the qualifying rounds? We can watch some of this live, right?
TH: Definitely! You can watch the games live on twitch.tv/smitegame and now is a pretty exciting time to tune in. Smite Pro League games are broadcast five days a week covering the NA and EU teams. The last two weekends of October will be when the top two amateur teams play the bottom two pro teams so we’ll probably see some shake-up at that time. The biggest events are really the Regional Championships in late November and then of course the main SWC event which will be January 9 -11. The full schedule, standings, and broadcasts can always be found at esports.smitegame.com.
MB: Were there thoughts of including more teams in the SWC?
TH: We considered it. Both North America and Europe have had servers for the longest time and therefore those regions have a large number of talented pro teams. But for Season One we felt the 8 team, 5 region format was fair – it gives multiple spots to the established regions but also allows teams from newer regions to participate.
MB: As the prize pool continues to grow, have you decided on how to distribute the prize yet? Obviously the team that wins would split the money 5 ways in most cases, but is this a “winning team takes all” type tournament?
TH: We haven’t announced the full breakdown, but we plan to give the winning SWC team about 50% of the total prize pool. Every player on the winning team will walk away with at least $100,000, probably much more since the prize pool is still growing.
MB: What changes or exciting updates coming to SMITE can you reveal to our readers? Seriously, they are trustworthy and won’t tell anyone.
TH: Well, in our very next patch the creepy Bakasura gets even more creepy. The biggest update will be a major overhaul of one of our primary maps. The environment art team is working very, very hard on that. But we will likely wait until after the World Championship to release that update.
Thanks, Todd, for spending some time with us!