Halo’s Second Chance in the Spotlight

Halo is a familiar household name in American gaming. Whether it was late night playing Halo 2 trying to hit rank 50, spending hours in the Grifball playlist, watching Red vs Blue on YouTube, ormore recently hearing about how the game has slipped from its glory days during the late 2000s. Even if you don’t play any video games yourself, ask anyone that has ever played one and they will at least recognize the name. Halo has been around since 2001 fading in and out of relevancy; but Halo Infinite, the latest game released in November 2022, has arrived and is here to change everything. In 2007, Halo was on top of the world alongside another big-name franchise; “Call of Duty.” It was the game of choice at every middle school sleepover and would continue its success until 2009 when Bungie, the creator and developer of Halo, released their final game Halo Reach.

Upon release, it did not receive the same praise of it’s two predecessors, leaving fans worried for the direction of the series now that 343 Industries was taking over. Over the next 10 years, fans would be proven right. Halo 4 is regarded as one of the worst Halo games of all times. The storyline of Master Chief did not feel flushed out compared to the original trilogy, multiplayer felt lethargic and unbalanced, and why play custom games when Minecraft let you do the same thing but on a much larger scale. Halo’s esports scene was also an afterthought compared to its rival in Call of Duty. Call of Duty Black Ops 2’s inaugural Championship tournament set a new precedent for console esports alongside a thriving game. Call of Duty would continue to take the spotlight in the console scene through the disaster that was Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

A remaster of Bungie’s original four Halo games that wasn’t truly playable until the hype for the game had passed. Halo 5’s release in 2015 was better than the Halo 4, but by this point the series had faded so far from the spotlight that it could almost be considered an indie game just a few months after it’s release. The best summary of the 2010s for Halo came from the 2017 Halo World Championship Finals where the arena was nothing but a few projectors, one set of bleachers, and 8 semi-deflated balloons siting outside one of the venue entrances despite a heavily boasted $1 Million dollar prize pool. The question becomes: how in the world did the narrative change in 2021? Halo Infinite is now seen as the golden standard for a console game’s multiplayer launch with esports support, and what does that mean for the game going forward? On the 20th anniversary of the first Halo game’s release, Microsoft announced that multiplayer for Halo Infinite will be available to everyone, but here’s the kicker: it’s free. No $60 charge to buy the game, no monthly service fees, completely and utterly free. A move that shocked many fans and one that console players have been asking for with games like Halo and Call of Duty that no longer can justify the normal price tag when battle royals have rendered most traditional multiplayer games irrelevant.

In addition to this announcement, 343 announced partnerships with major esports organizations like Faze Clan, Cloud 9, and Fnatic to put their brands in game at launch. For $10, you can buy player and weapon skins from your favorite teams before a single competitive event is even held. Finally, 343 partnered with Esports Engine (run by famed console esports event developer Adam Apicella) to take Halo esports on the road in year 1 of the game to Seattle, Mexico City, Orlando, and most notably Raleigh, NC this weekend for the HCS kickoff major. The goal being to bring Halo back to its grassroots origins that were massively successful in the late 2000s.

All great changes for a game that expected to be the only Halo title that be released this decade. Despite the early upsides to 343’s new decade long approach to Halo, there are pitfalls that should be front of mind. First, Fortnite set a new precedent in gaming where consistent updates to games are expected more rapidly than ever before. Long gone are the days of waiting one month or longer to see something new in game. Luckily for Halo, they were one of the early pioneers of “Forge” or “Creative” mode; the ability to use the existing assets to create your own maps, modes, and much more. In a world where party games have started to reach mainstream appeal again (i.e. Fall Guys and Among Us), Halo is uniquely positioned to maximize on consistent new content without even needing developer help.

Early viewership for Halo esports has been promising with the first online grand final between OpTic Gaming and Cloud 9 reaching over 56K concurrent. As we enter HCS Raleigh this weekend, expectations are clear: continue to build upon the early moment that the game has seen. Nobody is expecting Halo nor its esports scene to reach mass popularity to the extent of League of Legends (which notably saw 47M concurrent viewers for its 2021 World Championship). The goal is to clearly to have a healthy and thriving console esports title that can sustain and retain fans for the decade to come. Hopefully this can be the game many have been waiting for since 2007. Take notes, Call of Duty.

Words by David Szajnuk

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