Deadlock under fire as Valve accused of “poaching” pros from other games for testing

Carver Fisher

Valve’s worst-kept secret, Deadlock, has come under fire from competing multiplayer game franchise Smite as pros and creators from the game claim that Valve is directly targeting communities from competing titles to try to bring on the biggest names in other competitive games before their game is even revealed.

Deadlock has been a known entity for a while now, with an innumerable amount of leaks coming from playtests of the game that have shown what the title is like. It’s a third-person MOBA complete with lane minions, character classes, different abilities, and a leveling system.

However, former Smite pro-turned-content-creator Incon revealed that he, and pretty much any other Smite pro or creator out there, had been given access to Deadlock early. And, according to him, Smite isn’t the only game they’re grabbing players from.

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“This is something that I’ve never seen before. [Valve] are coming directly at Smite. Directly. And what I mean by that is, they are very much playing to win, and they’re going into various competitive communities of adjacent games and content creators of adjacent games, and they are getting them playing their game immediately,” Incon claimed.

“They’ve made a Twitter group with basically any Smite pro player or content creator you can think of, they gave them a code, and they said, ‘Here’s our game, come play our game and tell us what can make it better, here’s all the other Smite community members playing with you. Go have fun.’

“They are coming directly for competitive players, they’re coming directly for content creators, and they’re trying to get them involved in the process already in a game that, objectively speaking, is going to be big.”

Incon explained that he feels Deadlock is set up for success when it launches, and that there’s no chance Smite 2’s player base stands up to it. That’s especially true if Deadlock comes out before Smite 2 gets polished into a better state than it is currently.

I playtested Smite 2 earlier in 2024 and, while what they put together was promising at the time, development has been moving slowly, and the game is so early in Alpha that it’s offering infrequent playtest weekends rather than having servers up 24/7.

Meanwhile, Incon claims Deadlock is much further along in its development than Smite 2 is despite the game not having been officially revealed yet – and he gave more detail about what the game plays like than has been revealed so far by most leakers.

“It is a hero shooter in gameplay, so think Paladins, Overwatch, but put onto the mechanics of a MOBA. So think of if you were playing Overwatch but on a Smite map, essentially. You still have objectives to do, you still have jungle, you still have a Fire Giant (equivalent to Baron in LoL or Roshan in DOTA 2), you still have builds, you still have all of that,” he explained.

Deadlock will have a big neutral monster to kill, sort of like DOTA 2’s Roshan (pictured above) according to Incon

“For everybody that’s played it, what they say is, ‘Wow, this game is really fun,’ and, ‘Wow, I’ve never played something quite like this before.’ It just is a new type of game, and it’s closest to, of all games, Smite.”

Through this discussion, there were Smite pros and creators talking about Deadlock in Incon’s Twitch chat, making it pretty obvious they’ve gotten their hands on it. Venenu, a veteran Smite pro player and former world champion, had this to say about it:

“Yeah, DL has got me for sure over Smite 2. Also, progress of making the game is way faster, live updates etc,” followed by a claim that he’s already got over 100 hours in the game.

Considering how much bigger Deadlock will likely be than Smite 2, it’d be no surprise to see content creators jump to a bigger title for the sake of, as Incon put it, “job security”.

This comes at an incredibly vulnerable time for HiRez, one where Smite 2 isn’t close enough to being finished to be publicly available at all times, while Smite 1’s player base is actively hemorrhaging and losing players as the game is caught up in the transition.

If Incon’s claims are true, Valve’s active role in trying to bolster the competitive audience for its new game before it’s even been announced could be the final nail in the coffin for HiRez, a company that’s likely vesting all their hopes into Smite 2’s success.

Considering their entire esports league is effectively out of a job in the transition to Smite 2, it’s no surprise that these players are looking to jump ship and aren’t holding out hope that Smite 2’s scene will develop into something sustainable.

Though Smite’s esports scene lasted 10 years, the SPL is dead. And though there’s been a Smite 2 LAN announced, that pro scene is a shell of what it used to be.

A few days after Incon’s stream laying out what he knows about Deadlock so far, a lengthy tweet from HiRez President Stew Chisam surfaced about his gripes about the approach of their competitors.

Granted, he didn’t directly name Valve, but there isn’t another game platform out there that’s also currently making a high-profile multiplayer game that’d be in direct competition with Smite, and Stew replied directly to people referencing Deadlock as the main aim of his post.

Nonetheless, take this with a grain of salt.

“A large partner of ours that we rely on for a significant percentage of our revenues is VERY BLATANTLY targeting our content creators and pros for a competitive game they are making. Of course, a level of that is understood and expected and just part of doing business. All is fair in love and war,” he explained.

“This is not normal-level targeting; it is down to creating private group chats of just our game’s major content creators to target directly and seemingly make this a core part of their strategy.”

Chisam characterized their competition against Deadlock as “asymmetrical,” a fight that’s heavily weighted in Valve’s favor. Especially considering Valve hasn’t removed any Deadlock leaks despite NDAs being put on the playtest, allowing the hype for their game to build organically.

“Due to their nature as a platform, they know everyone who has played our game on their platform, how much they spent, growth trends over time, markets where the game performs better or worse, what other games our players play, everything meaningful,” Stew explained.

“They control each game’s on-platform visibility, which is by 10x the most efficient way to promote a game. I’m not accusing anyone of anything, and, actually, I think this partner is better than some of its competitors at this, but you could imagine how easy it would be to put a huge thumb on that scale in favor of in-house content when it comes to on-platform visibility.”

Venenu, the same Smite pro who praised Deadlock, criticized Stew’s take and claimed that Smite wasn’t the first group of competitive players targeted for playtesting. He claimed Stew’s characterization of the “partner” Stew was speaking of wasn’t accurate.

“From what I have heard and how other fellow pro players/creators got in, is not from being poached from Smite. It was more of an ask from a 3rd party to try it out,” he explained. “There are also competitive players from other games already playing it and have been way before us Smite players got in.”

Stew has since stepped back on his accusations toward their “partner”, but maintains that the larger business practices around games on a platform like Steam can be harmful to smaller devs trying to scrape out a spot in the multiplayer space.

With all that said, this new information, if true, means that Deadlock’s player base is bigger than many initially thought. High-level players from other games have likely had their hands on it for a while.

That said, Venenu also made prior claims that he’s picking Deadlock over Smite 2 after spending time with both. Whether or not that third party’s intention was to poach players, it’s working out that way. There’s a distinct difference between players being purposely poached and players moving on to a game they perceive as a better experience.

And, though this whole debacle hasn’t revealed an actual release date for Deadlock, it has provided info that reveals it’s very far along in its development and that an official reveal could happen at any time.

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