Q&A: Kevin "Adanas" Meier on Casting, Season 3, and the future of SMITE
SMITE is an over the shoulder MOBA that launched in 2014. Shortly after it became an eSport and held its first world championship in January 2015, with a prize pool of over $2 million. At the time, it was the third-largest eSports cash prize.
I spoke with Kevin "Adanas" Meier, Commentary and Talent lead for Hi-Rez Studios. Adanas is also a former professional player for the team Reason Gaming who came in 4th place at PAX East in 2013 during SMITE's pre-season. He will be the first to point out that it was 4th place out of 4 but Reason gaming still made it. He talks about what Season 3 holds for SMITE's, predictions on players and teams, as well as some of his most embarrassing moments while working for Hi-Rez.
Ben Hernandez: You started off as a competitive player for SMITE competing at PAX in 2013, then went into production for Hi-Rez and finally into casting. Talk to me about how you transitioned into each of those roles.
Kevin "Adanas" Meier: It obviously started with just playing SMITE. I was just competing but also doing school and a 50-hour job. I had a girlfriend and it was hard to keep up with everything. So I made this transition to commentating a little bit while still playing high level ranked. I entertained some offers from teams but nothing serious. I was actually starting to really enjoy commentating. I remember the breakout game I had was before the launch tournament. Hi-Rez was doing the path to 100k. They were doing one of the Semi-finals. PeccYz was on Reason Gaming with me and is a really good friend. He said he would practice casting with me because I was doing it more at the time. So it was the other Semi-final game being cast and it was COGnitive Gaming playing.
It was St3alth, Omega, and BaRRaCCuDDa, which would eventually become Cloud9, and they were undefeated. They were playing a team Down to Frag which consisted of players like djpernicus and KikiSoCheeky. They were actually getting upset by Down to Frag, so all the viewers from the main stream wanted to come see this team that won seven weeks in a row get upset. So, they came and listened to PeccYz and me cast it. In the middle of it, my net went down and Peccyz had to solo cast it. He wasn't a caster. He was just helping me out. So, I got my name noticed a little more by Hi-Rez.
The launch tournament came about, and I wasn't on a team at the time, so I asked if I could cast it. They said no as they had already brought in F. and Krett. I had met a guy named Josh Belkin on production, and he asked me to come out and work production with him. I got very lucky for that opportunity. I went there and just busted my ass. Hi-Rez told me they couldn't offer me a job casting because they weren't hiring but would contract me for a few weeks and see how it goes. It went well, and It was a great opportunity that led to me working for Hi-Rez. Last year, they needed to expand on commentary, and I threw my name in the hat as a former player. They told me to do some more things in the community which I did, and I sent them VODs and different videos of me casting and eventually I got the job.
BH: Sounds like a lot of proving yourself. Can you tell me about one of the most Awkward moments you had when you first joined Hi-Rez?
KM: Probably one of the most awkward moments was I made a bet with Kelly. I don’t remember what it was, it was like who was going to win games. I wasn’t expecting to lose, but she got this crazy stars aligned as four games all went perfectly for her. I had to wear a dress. Let me just tell you the breeze was great.
BH: That is hilarious. Let's talk about commentator to player relationship. How close are you with the players as commentators?
KM: I think it depends per person. A lot of the players in the league now I played with three years ago. I have known them forever. I am still going to talk to Zap at a LAN. I am going to talk to MlcSt3alth who I used to team with. Jeff Hindla and Allied, who is now a commentator I am close to. I have known these guys forever. Some of the newer players I don’t really know so much. Any interaction I have is typically on social media. It’s weird because sometimes you feel you are closer to these people than you actually are because I see them so much. My job is literally SMITE eSports, and I’m seeing most of these players' tweets and watching their streams. I can figure out what type of person you are, and I feel like I am a lot closer to them than I actually am sometimes. I am not going to visit them in other states and what not though.
BH: You have stated numerous times that the SPL is an old boys club. Can you expand on that a bit?
KM: There are a lot of these players who have been playing at a very high level for a long time, but they are in the scene where they haven’t improved their own personal gameplay. I think there are a lot of young guns in the scene. A lot of players who have only been playing for a year and a half or two years are coming in that have a lot of potential. They are kind of getting screwed because it’s like, "I don’t know who you are, so I'd rather get this guy that has been on the bottom SPL team for three years." Or they've been at the bottom of the barrel forever, and I think it also leads to those players not improving themselves. They feel safe that people know who they are and they will get on a team eventually. I think one of the greatest things that happened honestly was Rosterpocalypse because a lot of these players who have been on these top teams forever are actually now spread out. If you look back on season 1 and even pre-season 1, it is all the same players in the same top teams.
In other eSports, you will see players rise and fall but all the players who know how to work have been together. Now they are split up, and I think there is a much wider culture of winning. These players are going to know how to bring these new players in. They are not going to go for the same people who have been on the bottom teams forever; they are going to be looking for new talent. SoaR Gaming is kind of the opposite because it is all the people who have been on the bottom teams coming together with a better mentality. But the Leftovers have Badgah and even though Faeles has been around for a while, they picked up new players like Nika who has been this ranked all-star. They made it into the SPL, and we don’t know how good they will actually be. It is bringing in the new blood. Fnatic brought in Jiffy and BigManTingz. Now that these players are spread out, they have a greater ability to grow new players. With Fnatic, you know Realzx, Zyrhoes, and ManiaKK are going to be fine. They don’t have to worry. All Realzx has to do is teach BigManTingz how to play at a competitive level and Zyrhoes teaches Jiffy. These guys have had the same mechanical skill for the past year and needed an opportunity but didn’t get one because it was an old boys club.
BH: With that said, you recently tweeted about talent only taking you so far. Can you expand on that?
Natural skill won't take you far this season. I'll be interested to see if the members of Team Flex put in the work, as a team, to be strong— HiRez Adanas (@HiRezAdanas) January 23, 2016
KM: Mechanically there are all these players that are pretty equally matched. There are your outliers. You have Andinster in the high and whoever may be in the low end. It is decision making that a lot of these players are lacking and just kind of reacting to what is in front of them. This goes into picks and bans as well where I think people are just trying to pick comfort picks instead of what is best for them. I got into it with Sozage a little bit last season. I remember last year, he had picked Hel into a Serqet which was the stupidest thing I had ever seen. Straight up it was dumb, and he had five deaths by ten minutes. For the longest time, he had focused on just picking his comfort Gods and refused to adapt to the meta. That goes back to the old boys' clubs where this guy is doing these things for himself, he is losing the teams games, and why isn’t anyone replacing him? I think these players need to realize if they put more thought into the game and decision making they will find a more competitive environment. It’s not going to be the Cloud 9’s and the Envy’s sitting at the top like they have for the past two and a half years.
Look at Epsilon, they were all players who had no success outside of iRaffer. All of them had been on the scene forever, and they started thinking about the game more intelligently. iRaffer brought them together. They all had the right mindset to improve and started to create diverse strategies. They were not the best team at the start. The same team that won Season 2 SWC did not qualify for the Spring Split. They were ok, but they were not that good. They stuck together, worked as a team, and kind of figured things out. It is not just natural skill it will also take game planning and general thinking.
BH: Sticking on the topic of players with respect to their teams, we saw Baskin and Andinster leave teams to play with friends. Is that good for SMITE or bad? Do you think it was a good decision or bad?
KM: Andi leaving to play with friends is a little bit different then Baskin. Both are different when you think of that actual term as well. Andi left to play with TheBoosh and Snoopy. These are not some Challenger Cup players, these are some of the best players in the world. And Woony Tunes realistically is probably going to be the #1 team. Maybe they hunker a little bit, but even last year Cloud9 didn’t sit at #1 for most of the season. They had their ups and downs and even missed the spring finals after winning the first SMITE World Championship.
I think people are taking playing with friends incredibly wrong. The dynamic of that team is Andi wasn’t enjoying the game. If you're not enjoying the game, you are going to be playing at a lower level. So, he is playing with his friends, but these are the highest level of friends you can play with. Now he is enjoying the game which means he is going to be playing better. There are also rumors about Andinster who was kind of directing Jeff and St3alth around, and now he can be a little bit less of a shot caller and allow Snoopy or whoever it is to take over. Allowing him to play a little bit more of an adapting style where he can play loose and really shine as a player without worrying about controlling others or telling people what to do.
At the same time, what is going to matter is if Snoopy starts feeding every game six weeks in a row, and he doesn’t want to kick him. If that is the playing with friends, then it becomes less of a business and ok we are failing because of Snoopy. Now, I don’t think that is going to happen, but that is when you have to decide if you are actually playing with friends or do you want to make this a business. If Snoopy is feeding his brains out and is the reason that Wooney Tunes are losing games, Andi will have to decide if he will kick him or is it really "I am playing with my friends deal". That is going to matter especially when you look at going to DreamHack at the end of the Spring Split. I think they are going to be fine, though. Baskin is a little bit different because he was on, realistically, the best team but he jumped to SoaR. SoaR also has a lot of potential around them. I think his was more around playing with friends. That is because he might be going back to school and quitting SMITE.
BM: If Baskin leaves after Spring Split that would change the entire dynamic of that team.
KM: I think that also depends on how SoaR does honestly. If SoaR wins and he wants to stick around and go to school on the side he can. He just can’t invest himself full time or it becomes very hard to balance. Then why wouldn’t you stick on Woony Tunes if you were going to do that anyway? I guess that is probably an "I am probably going to quit but I am still going to join a solid team." We will have to see what it actually is in the end.
BH: As a fan of SMITE, I am excited to see what Andi could do without shot calling. Many consider him the top jungler as is, so thinking of him taking his game to the next level is kind of scary.
KM: Andi has been the best player in North America for 2 ½-3 years. There are going to be times when he isn't #1, but overall with his consistency he has been #1. Word around the street is him and TheBoosh are just this dirty two-man combination. Not a lot of people know it, and it is so weird because I have taken a step back as well. Outside of the old boys' club, it is also about the "in scene." That has come up recently with a big debate around all the power rankings. Players saying people don’t know scrims. They are right, people don’t know scrims because nobody talks about scrims. All our players just want to talk about each other, but that draws no interest to the broadcast. A lot of our players don’t understand that more people will watch them, more money, more excitement and everything else comes to the scene when there are these analytic and editorial discussions. Not necessarily drama but discussion about things such as predictions and power rankings. To complain about people talking about SMITE eSports is to complain about the people that are funding your endeavor to play video games for a living, and it is ridiculous.
BH: After the SMITE World Championship, there was some talk of Organizations not treating the players correctly. How does Hi-Rez handle organizations that fall into this category?
KM: Hi-Rez has always actively done our best to protect players. When it comes down to it these players are also signing deals and they need to read their contracts as best they can. Hi-Rez has always been about protecting its players, especially these young kids who have not really dealt much in eSports. A lot of these players have not come from other eSports. Very few have made a transition whether from the fighting game community or other MOBA’s. DJpernicus is probably the biggest name that has transferred over from other eSports.
BH: I feel like a lot of these guys are young being 16 or 17 years old and have no idea on how these things work. Can these players approach you or others in regards to the process and what to look for?
KM: I know dmbrandon does that a lot: working with players, especially from the console scene, who didn’t know anything. These players need to realize they can ask others and don’t need to try and do it alone.
BH: People have said picks and bans was a big part of why Enemy made it so far last year.
KM: That is also why they failed. I agree they kind of figured out their own strategy, but they didn’t have an adaptable strategy against Epsilon. I also don’t think they played very well in the finals. In the second or third game, they had a lead and SaltMachine went back to his old stupid style where he was just diving instead of playing intelligently. I think they played the same strategy and it worked well and nobody before had beaten it, but once it started getting beat they didn't adapt.
BM: Let's talk individual players some more. Give me a player you think will be a top player this year? Who is going to put the work in?
KM: Metyankey. Him or Homiefe. I been scared to say it publicly or tweet but SoaR boys seem to be like Epsilon. What I mean is, they are a lot of players who were the 6th man, subs, coaches, or bottom tier SPL players. That was kind of the same thing as Epsilon, but now they all have a better mindset. They are not only playing with people they enjoy but they are also taking everything in stride. They are recognizing when they play bad and when they play well and working on fixing their problems as a team.
There is a lot of hype around SoaR, and I don't know if they are going to be Epsilon. I am not saying they are going to win Season 3. It seems to be the same formula though from the outside looking in. I have had some interactions with Homiefe and talking to Met. Met has been around forever, like, since I was playing, and he could never get on a team. He was just not good enough. Even last year he jumped onto Elevate as a support, and that was just a shit show and a half. Talking to some players that was just a bad environment, not necessarily organization but the team members and the roster together. Met makes the switch to Hunter this year. Scrims are awkward in that you can take a lot from them but you also have to take them with a grain of salt. Met has apparently been killing it in scrims. Homiefe also is probably the next best jungler next to Andinster when he is on his game. But only when he is on his game and he is not consistent enough yet.
BH: Who do you think will be bad this year in the SPL?
KM: Dignitas. Absolutely garbage.
BH: I want to talk about working on the analyst desk. As an eSports commentator, you get to interact with fans more often than commentators from traditional sports. How often do you read chat while you cast? You have people complaining about how you criticize players, yet there is always people criticizing the commentators the same way. If someone pronounces Ao Kuang wrong chat jumps all over it.
KM: Leave Allied alone! He is just doing his thing. I don’t read chat at all. There is no way in hell it will not take away from your casting. Whether it is something that pops in your mind while a fight is going on or reading chat, it is going to take away from the casting. It should be you and the game and what you are talking about. Any commentator in any game should not read chat. It is the worst thing you can do.
BH: Can you talk a bit about SMITE and Hi-Rez's growth? SMITE and Paladins will be going to DreamHack this year. How big of a move is this for Hi-Rez?
KM: It's awesome. DreamHack is huge in the gaming world and has been around forever. It is awesome because we didn’t really do any EU LANS last year, so going back to Europe is nice.
BH: So what can we expect out of SMITE 2016?
KM: It is a lot of the same thing. Two 10 week splits. I think the big thing is what we touched on earlier with the Rosterpocalypse spreading out the scene. I think we are going to see a lot more exciting games and a much closer scene. Like we saw in North America at the end of the Fall Split where all the teams were trading games off each other. Envy starts failing and Team Solomid was collapsing. Also, Titan is also wondering what is going on and Epsilon is 27-1. Just a lot of great story lines, and I think we are going to see a lot of that. The skill level is going to be big, and I think we are going to see a couple of teams who have not been successful sneak up to the top.
BH: What about out of Adanas? What can we expect from you for 2016?
KM: I am going to try and grow myself a little bit more. I keep saying that, but then I get home and I am like "hmm watch some Netflix and play some SMITE". I do want to try and grow in media. Not just some of the writing I did but videos. Also, just better commentating. Last year was my first year on the desk, and I have been growing as best I can but I am excited and think my commentating is better this season.
BH: Lastly what would you tell someone who is interested in being a Commentator for eSports or SMITE specifically?
KM: You are going to need luck. Unless you are the best at what you are doing, you will need some luck. You always have to bust your ass so when you get that lucky shot you impress. If you get that shot and you are just a guy that is there and not a guy constantly doing things, you won’t get your shot. Don’t sit there and wait for someone to tell you what to do. Do stuff so you can show people what you have to offer. Be active. That is the way of life.