There’s a lot to be excited about.

A sold-out arena. Screaming fans. The best talent in the world.

No, we’re not describing a concert or even a playoff football game – although this event definitely had the same vibe.

We’re talking about Hi-Rez Expo – an online gaming conference and eSports world championship held each year by Hi-Rez Studios. This year’s event was sponsored by INAP.

image of HRX 2018 Powered by INAP

For four days in early January, thousands of fans packed into Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre to watch the world’s best PC and console gamers battle it out for SMITE, Paladins and Hand of the Gods supremacy. Tens of thousands more fans watched the action live online.

And for the very first time this year, Hi-Rez executives held a keynote address to announce the studio’s plans for 2018 and beyond.

Here are five things we’re excited to see in the next year.

New SMITE Gods and Conquest Map

This news shouldn’t come as a surprise to SMITE gamers. Hi-Rez has been adding playable characters to its signature game on a fairly regular basis.

This year we’re seeing at least three new additions – Cerberus (a three-headed servant of Hades) and two unnamed gods from new pantheons, Slavic and Voodoo.

SMITE also revealed changes ahead of the fifth season of its pro eSports league. The conquest map is getting a makeover. Most notably, a new symmetrical design will mean that lanes and jungle paths will have the same layout, regardless of the side on which you start. Players will also notice new environmental artwork changes.

And possibly the most anticipated change for players is the return of jungle fog, which hides monsters and opposing gods from view if you have no characters in that area.

Paladins: Battlegrounds

At the beginning of the year, PC Gamer predicted more battle royale-style games in 2018.

Just days later, we’re introduced to Paladins: Battleground, a new game mode that calls itself the first hero shooter battle royale.

The game features 100 players battling to the death in a massive map that shrinks as the game progresses. Matches last for 20 minutes, during which players will team up to find weapons and kill other teams. Think Paladins meets the Hunger Games.

The best news? The new mode will be available for free to all Paladins players when it’s released later this year. And if the crowd reaction after seeing the trailer provides any indication, Paladins: Battlegrounds will quickly become a fan favorite.

Paladins Goes Mobile

Perhaps overshadowed by the Paladins: Battleground reveal was more news about the iOS and Android multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) Paladins Strike.

Fans have been testing a development version of the mobile game for a few months. Now the general public is able to sign up to try it out prior to the game’s still unannounced release date.

Bot Smashers

Speaking of mobile, Hi-Rez gave us a sneak peek at its latest game, an iOS and Android strategy battler called Bot Smashers.

The presenters didn’t share much information about this game, other than users would be controlling robots to build their own bases and destroy their opponents. One key takeaway is that Bot Smashers is all about quick gameplay so matches are intended to be short.

No word on a release date, but fans can sign up now to test the game when a development version is made available.

Nintendo Switch Rumors

There was no mention of Nintendo Switch by any of the presenters during the keynote address. But when speaking to bloggers and reporters during the event, Hi-Rez CEO Erez Goren teased a project in development to bring one of its titles to the popular Nintendo platform.

Goren would not give a definite answer, opting to just say “maybe” when asked about the plans. So for now, we’re left wondering if the studio will try to port one of its existing games (after all, SMITE and Paladins are available on Xbox One and PS4) or will be planning something new for Nintendo’s more family-friendly demographic.

Hi-Rez Studios is Powered by INAP

Without a reliable and scalable IT infrastructure, Hi-Rez Studios wouldn’t be able to host such an incredible event and seamless gaming experience.

That’s where INAP comes in. For the past 10 years, we’ve been supplying high-performance, ultra-low latency managed hosting and network solutions to keep Hi-Rez games running smoothly with no lag time. Our scalable and flexible solutions provide 100 percent uptime, even during peak periods, which keeps Hi-Rez gamers happy and coming back for more.

We can provide the same level of service and quality for you too. Contact us to learn more about INAP’s solutions to power your gaming environment.