Hi-Rez Expo 2017 (or HRX 2017) in Atlanta has come and gone, and as one of the bigger expos in North-eastern USA, it brought fans and developers together in an energetic celebration of all things Hi-Rez Studios.
At this point the crown jewel of Hi-Rez studios is the third-person MOBA Smite. Since its launch in 2012, Smite has quickly become the studio’s most popular IP, and is also one of the most played MOBAs on the market. Hi-Rez Studio president Stew Chisam stated on twitter in May that 20 million people have played the free-to-play MOBA. Those numbers fluctuate, but there’s no doubt Smite has a consistent and passionate community.
That’s why, to kick off HRX 2017, Hi-Rez studios announced a new spinoff title for mobile and PC—a collectable card arena game titled Smite Rivals. Along with that came news that another Smite spinoff, Smite Tactics, is entering closed beta with a founder’s pack that allows early users to get special in-game content. The final bit of Smite news came with the announcement of Season Four changes, which ranged from new character “The Morrigan” (the first playable character from the Celtic pantheon) to an in game Celtic event, a new Egyptian map, and the ability to queue multiple game modes at once.
But Smite isn’t the only Hi-Rez game, and the studio decided to rebrand the expo formerly titled Smite World Championships to HRX 2017 in an effort to showcase their other titles, most notably Paladins. The team-based objective shooter Paladins got some love with a Season One, where Hi-Rez announced a new castle map and new skins for Ying and Viktor.
“Last year we really started to use that ‘Hi-Rez Expo’ terminology and this year we are really starting to embrace it,” says Chisam, adding that before this year they only really had one eSport title. “You see how it’s grown, you go to running multiple tournaments simultaneously, having it span not just to the eSports arena, but into the ball room [of the Cobb Energy Center for the Performing Arts].”
The growth of the expo didn’t just expand on the games Hi-Rez makes; it also brought a larger audience, with Chisam saying they even had to turn down many people who wanted to buy tickets. While he did admit that perhaps HRX 2017 might be too big for their location, he didn’t say if that would prompt a move to a bigger venue next year. Location aside, there was a big turn out of both Smite and Paladins fans, and with two new games on the way, it was a way for the developers to get some face-to-face feedback on their upcoming titles. While the studio is known for being active on Twitter with their users, HRX 2017 provided a more intimate experience for developers and fans alike.
“I’ve been sending myself emails [this weekend] whenever I get a really good request [from a fan] or when someone will point out a bug or an unintended design result” says Smite game designer AJ Walker, who also mentioned that he sent about 15 emails to himself. “The best thing is, a lot of the stuff they suggest is already in the pipeline.”
Both Smite and Paladins were on full display in their respective tournaments. The Paladins tournament was a rematch of the Dreamhack Founders Tournament in June 2016 semi-final match that saw District 69 sweep Burrito eSports. This time around Burrito found redemption by taking out D69 in game seven and winning the Paladins tournament.
The Smite PC tournament saw second-seeded Obey Alliance take on first seed NRG eSports. Going into this tournament Obey had a reputation of struggling against top tier teams, but they seemed to have a shake at Dreamhack. However, that stigma might stick with them after they lost to NRG in a convincing fashion, with NRG winning three matches to one.
With a high octane finish, HRX 2017 changed its branding from a Smite centred tournament to a celebration of Hi-Rez Studios and their fans. As a studio that’s already pretty close with its community, having more direct access for fans seems like a popular decision.