Since "Halo: Combat Evolved" was released in 2001, e-sports and Halo have gone together like peanut butter and jelly. Over the years it became a standard when you heard the name Major League Gaming that the first game you thought of was Halo. In recent years that solid relationship has been through some rough times to the point that MLG signed the divorce papers with "Halo 4" and announced they would be hosting only Call of Duty: Black Ops II in its upcoming circuit. So what does that mean for the players that have spent the last decade competing in Halo? First, lets talk about why did MLG and Halo parted ways.
So why now has MLG decided to call it quits with Halo? Halo pro and Youtuber Joey "Saucey Soars" Bentley says that "No one is sure, they blamed it on a contract that Virgin gaming has with Microsoft and without Microsoft or 343 putting up [money] to have the game on the circuit they couldn't have it and it looked like no one stepped up..." Virgin Gaming is a group that hosts tournaments for mostly sports titles like FIFA and Madden. The deal between Microsoft and Virgin Gaming was announced in June of 2012 but nothing came of it until around November/December of 2012 when 343 Industries announced the Infinity Challenge powered by Virgin Gaming. The Infinity Challenge was a tournament that was open to all players in which you could win a Halo-themed truck or your face in the next game depending on if you had the most points in War Games (multiplayer) or Spartan Ops. Along with the Infinity Challenge, the deal with Microsoft was supposed to include an Xbox app that will be the in-game hub for all tournaments hosted by Virgin Gaming including "Halo 4". That was scheduled to be released in 2012 but now has moved to "at the very near future of 2013", says Virgin Gaming's community manager Carl Clendenin. Clendenin was unable to comment on any additional tournaments that Virgin Gaming might have for "Halo 4" in the future.
So what does that mean for competitive Halo now? A new group known as Arena Gaming League has gained the spotlight since news of the MLG breakup. AGL hosted its own "Halo 4" tournament in Chicago, named Chicago Duel, that created a lot of viewers on Twitch.tv and a decent crowd at the tournament itself. While the event wasn't perfect, it was still an event filled with great gameplay and action for Halo fans and pros. Most of the problems of the event were stream quality and management, but as Bentley says, "as long as they take the constructive criticism everyone is giving them they can turn it into MLG v2." AGL has more events lined up for the year including an event in New Jersey starting March 9th, 2013.
The good news is groups like Virgin Gaming and Arena Gaming have picked up the organized tournaments, but do players want to play "Halo 4" competitively anymore? While players do this for a job, the game has to be enjoyable and somewhat popular in order for players to get sponsors and events. During my talk with Bentley, he feels the current state of the game "has excellent gameplay it is fun to watch..." While the changes do add more features that are similar to Call of Duty and the basic gameplay of Halo is still there, the biggest problem is in the matchmaking department. Complaints from all types of players have been directed at 343i about the matchmaking system and not much has been done to fix this. "Its about having an actual system in place that matches you with players who are on your skill level," says Bentley. "Halo 3 nailed it on the head [because] my team would search and play top teams or pro teams all the time, which was the skill level we were at but in Reach [and "Halo 4"] that never happened in arena or regular [matchmaking]." He goes on to say, "I think ranks are important because it gives players a reason to play like in "Halo 3" trying to get a 50 in every playlist was a challenge that took a long time compared to Reach and "Halo 4", where [you] just play for credits and once [you're] at the max rank, well, it gets boring. "
Even at a non-competitive level, "Halo 4" has its issues in terms of matchmaking. Most of the issues however seem to reside with the matchmaking playlist choices and the lack of map choices. However, updates like temporary playlist known as the Community Forge Test and now the permanent addition of Team Doubles (which both playlists introduced new maps into the rotation), Halo fans have started to praise 343i for their updates to matchmaking as oppose to criticisms. An upcoming update known as the Competitive Skill Rank (CSR) has also generated a lot of buzz in the pro community mostly due to the issues which Bentley mentioned above, matching players up with other players based on their skill level. Couple that with a more pro-oriented playlist named "Team Throwdown" to focus solely on competitive settings for Halo and it is convincing players that 343i is listening to their suggestions.
The future of competitive Halo rides in the hands of a lot of people like Virgin Gaming, Arena Gaming, 343 Industries, the pros, and most importantly, the fans. As Call of Duty shows in their recent news of the $1 million prize tournament that if the player base is there, it will bring more sponsors and bigger prizes. While the Halo franchise has seemingly taken a step back in comparison to previous releases, the ground work is built to pick it back up to where it once was. There have been a lot of updates to the game that could intrigue fans into playing the game more, but we won't know how it will turn out until these updates become realities.
Joey "Saucey Soars" Bentley is not shy about voicing his opinion about Halo on his Youtube Channel. Check out youtube.com/Sauceyyyyy for reactions, interviews, gameplay, and more.