Competitive Halo Is Back: PAX Prime Showdown Recap And A Look Into The Series' Past, Present And Future As An eSport

By Matthew Buzzi , Updated Sep 01, 2014 02:14 PM EDT
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The Halo PAX Prime Showdown was a definitive success. Thousands tuned in to watch the livestream over the weekend, the matches were often intense and entertaining, and the star players put on performances worthy of highlight reels.

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While it may be slightly premature to declare the definitive return of Halo to the competitive scene, I don't think most would argue that it seems inevitable. The series' eSports success peaked around the time of Halo: Reach, when so-so popularity and an imperfect game led to MLG removing the franchise from its circuit. The series had been the league's flagship since its early days, but other properties such as Call of Duty and StarCraft became more worthy of the league's finite time and money.

The lukewarm reception of Halo 4 did not help the matter, and the community spun into smaller and smaller tournaments, with some pros turning to Call of Duty. 343 Industries--the current guardians of the Halo franchise--quietly continued to hire active and former Halo players and community members, bringing them in as employees who could offer invaluable insight into crafting a better competitive Halo experience. These include Andy "Bravo" Dudynsky, Mason "Neighbor" Cobb, Eric "Ghostayame" Hewitt, and others, who now work in various roles at the studio.

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Neighbor was arguably, for a time, the best Halo player in the game during Halo 3's days on the MLG circuit, and having insight such as his--along with the rest--would theoretically help 343 to create a more competitive game for the hardcore fans. It's an aspect of the game that the developers care deeply about catering to, as shown by these hires, and the announcement of The Master Chief Collection further endeared the studio to fans.

The game will offer all four past main Halo titles on one disc for Xbox One, and bring back Halo 2 online multiplayer while taking Halo: Combat Evolved onto Xbox Live for the first time. Halo 3 and Halo 4 multiplayer will be included (though the games are still both currently online), with the difference being that all games will boast dedicated servers this time around.

The PAX Prime tournament, which used a pre-release version of The Master Chief Collection's Halo 2 Anniversary remake, gave the community a taste of what's to come. Though there were some freezing issues that held up the competition occasionally (the build is still in development), the tournament was without a doubt, as stated above, a success.

Toward the end of the competition, there were 27,000 concurrent viewers on Twitch watching the games. The full list of teams that qualified on Friday or were invited can be found here, but it was the all-star lineup of Snipedown, Pistola, StrongSide, and Ace--sponsored by Excellence Gaming--that stole the show. A handful of other pro teams turned up as well, but the level of play that EG displayed was at times extraordinary.

The squad--pre-tournament favorites given the outrageous array of talent on one team--won the competition without dropping a series, sweeping aside most of the competition. It was a close call at one point, going down two games to an impressive Triggers Down lineup featuring FearItSelf, Hysteria, Heinz, and Lethul, but the eventual winners fought back to take the series in commanding fashion.

Many of the games were close (there were others that were not, it must be said) and it was always entertaining. Halo 2 Anniversary's remastered maps look fantastic and though it remains to be seen which game is picked up competitively, there is a lot of hope and optimism in the community after the weekend's events. Snipedown put on a show for the viewers with some incredible performances, and some of the biggest names in the game proved that the series can be as fun to watch as ever with the right game and competition. The prize (placement results and prizes here) for EG was $5,000, far from the largest winnings in Halo history (Ace took home $200,000 for himself by winning the Halo 4 Global Championship in 2013), but the Halo PAX Prime Showdown was not about the money.

MLG picking up one of the games from The Master Chief Collection would be the community's biggest boost, as the league represents one of eSports' biggest stages. MLG founder Sundance DiGiovanni has expressed his interest and excitement in The Master Chief Collection following its reveal, and he remains chummy with many of the Halo players from the series' role in MLG's formative days.

While it is still early, and The Master Chief Collection does not launch until November, many have declared that "Halo is back" after the display at PAX Prime. Having watched the Halo 2 Anniversary tournament, and having followed the series' competitive scene through its peaks and valleys over the last decade--which included many of the very same players who competed yesterday--I have a hard time disagreeing.

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