HNC Qualifying Roundup
By Matt Soell
August 14, 2002
With the Halo National Championship tournament underway, we now find ourselves in a new situation: thousands of people from across the country are playing Halo on a nationwide ladder for cash and prizes. Obviously we couldn't let this event pass unmentioned, so we enlisted several Bungie fans to help us cover the games in different regions of the country. Today we present the first reports from the front. We begin with a detailed and extensive report from El Bastard, who attended the games at NetFX in Lake Mary, Florida.
People massed around 2 television sets while the sounds of carnage rang out in the cramped room. I arrived while Flight one was in progress and was immediately drawn into the din. The NetFX location in Lake Mary Florida was host to plenty of skilled players and the matches were well-fought and enjoyable.
While most centers lost a substantial portion of their original registrants, we were fortunate to not only have half of the originally scheduled players show, but also to have more than a few players sign up at the door. What followed was fun and chaos in addition to some wonderful surprises.
I watched flights ranging from 2 people to 7 matching their wits and testing their skills. Accordingly, some odd tactics were seen as well as some sad moments of watching 3 players duke it out at one base while the remaining player was stranded on the other side of the map. What follows are several of the more memorable moments from the first round on Sidewinder.
Picture if you will, a sniper concealed in the shadows waiting on his foe. Imagine a little doe skittishly moving forward out of a cave stopping to chew on some grass. The sniper lines up a perfect headshot on his stationary opponent and in what can only be described as an act of pity, proceeds to choke on each and every shot on his still unmoving target.
Everyone knows people who have played Halo through on Normal, but seem to always get their asses handed to them during LAN play. Usually, this person feels that their tactics are superior and it was the game that failed in the execution. Such a player might, say, jump into a warthog, drive close to a heated battle, then hop in the back and try and use the LAAG to wipe out his foes. In theory, such a guy should get a few kills, right? Well, theory or not, this interesting "tactic" resulted in a grand total of 3 kills. You'd think wandering around shooting rockets randomly into each base might have improved his chances by a factor of 5 at least.
Everyone loves to teleport on a map the size of Sidewinder, but in one game, it became risky business as the brutally effective tactic of hiding next to one came into play. Player after player thought they were moving into prime position to snipe when all they were getting was a shotgun point blank to the back of their heads.
I personally suffered from lack of opposition in my flight of 4. While everyone else was engaged in carnage, I was sitting on the exact opposite end of the map. Sure, I died half as much as anyone else, and I still managed 20 kills, but each and every time I died, I would spawn in the most remote spot possible. In what can only be called a fit of frustration-induced-madness, I used the needler as my primary weapon to take down foes who thought they could merely run away from the pink shards of death. Strangely successful, over 20% of my total kills came from my one-man rampage of needling doom (the remaining 80% were melee kills - you figure that one out ;).
I would have to say that the overall game play would best be described by taking 3 kinds of cheese, some old shoes and a tennis racket - tossing them in a blender, hitting frappe and somehow making the best chateau briand in the world. A few of the advancements were completely unexpected, while some seemed destined to go all the way from the beginning. Strategies of all kinds seemed to work based solely on who you played against. What was good for the goose never seemed to work for the gander and yet somehow it managed to make sense. The first round came and went and it was definitely an enjoyable day.
The 2nd round definitely drew a line in the sand and dared people to step over. While generally killing all of your opponents while staying alive yourself is a great way to ensure that nobody is getting flag time - it ultimately proved to be the undoing of at least one player *cough* me *cough*. While all games in the second round were intense, a few were so embroiled with carnage that the sounds of trash talking could be heard from a player or two. The crowd was definitely into the matches and were cheering on the displays of skill and bravado, laughing at the humiliation of some, and cringing at the driving skills of others.
The most memorable moment in the 2nd round came while the hill was in the center of flight 2. Everyone gravitated to that spot and the carnage was glorious. 3 or 4 people were having intense pistol battles for what they thought was "their" hill. However unnoticed by those players, one person had grabbed the active camo and staked out a tiny corner of it. Players ran around him fighting while he did nothing but watch the bodies fly. Ghosts flew over the rocky terrain tumbling overhead, and yet still he was silent as can be - content to add almost a full minute to his time while observing the fray. Unfortunately as all good things must come to an end, so did his invisibility. As he was sitting there quietly enjoying what he thought was the ultimate anonymity, one of his foes carefully walked up to him and planted a shotgun blast point blank to his head.
When the dust settled, there were 17 players advancing to the 3rd round of Snipers on Sidewinder. The matches here were fantastic. Due to the lack of shields, most players found that while a sniper rifle was great from a distance, there was no substitute for the pistol - especially when used in conjunction with well-placed grenades. A shocking majority of the flights were over within 3 minutes as those destined to move forward made short work of the others.
While the four who moved on definitely deserved it (2 players had 16 points, 2 had 15) the tie breaker for 1st place was very entertaining to watch as Launch Pad showed tremendous skill in not only finishing off Hitokiri, but also utterly desecrating his corpse. C12 (from the 7th column Elite Enforcers) took 3rd and "Joe" rounded off the top 4.
I'm not sure how the regionals are going to go, but if it is even just half as much fun as what I saw, I know that we'll have had twice as much fun as them. Sign me up for the next one, and tell the kids I'll be coming home late.
And now a quick report from SwirlFire from the battle at NicksLAN in Houston, Texas - which sounds like a heated and emotional event.
The first day was very uneventful. The press showed up and there were lots of onlookers. [Editor's Note: only in Texas would a crowd and press presence be seen as "uneventful."] Only 101 of the 256 people showed up for the day and only 15 walk-ins. There were some organizational problems and several people played more than once and it caused some tension between the players. Though there were problems, most of it went pretty well. There were a few Seventh Column chapters that showed up with their home made t-shirts and numbers were swapped between many groups. There was some trash-talking but nothing broke out. The second day started with some early practice games and "testing of the grounds." The games were all pretty close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. There were congratulations by competitors and I walked away from the last game very distraught. The bottom line was it was fun and every one would love to participate in another one.
Still in the South, Raajin chimes in with the scoop in Vidalia, Georgia.
Vidalia, GA proved to be an eclectic gathering of newer players from unrepresented states in the Southeast, as well as some grizzled veterans from some of the Southeast's most notorious 7th Column chapters, looking to avoid the massive crowds that were registered in the more metropolitan southern locales. The lower attendence number at the smaller GameKong v enue did NOT, however, mean an easy ride to the Semifinals, as many players learned the hard way.
During the late-morning warm-up matches, the early arrivals quickly established a brutal set of rivalries between clashing styles. The newer Master Chiefs displayed an aggressive "gun-n-run" style of offense, wasting no time in immediately and relentlessly pursuing the nearest lifeform with nothing more than their trusty pistol sidearms. Most of the chapter representatives and other players with previous tournament experience seemed to favor a more reserved style of play, utilizing their detailed familiarity with the maps and weapons to get themselves well-armed and then proceeding to protected locations for ambushes and sniper kills.
As the qualifying games began, the newer players quickly showed that what they might lack in conventional strategy, they were more than capable of making up for with sheer tenacity. More than a few were left with their jaws on the floor as the quick-hitting tactics cut swaths through the ranks of the more calculating combatants. As the qualifying rounds progressed, the vast majority of the players previously expected to quickly advance fell by the wayside, placing 3rd, 4th, and 5th in their qualifying matches.
It seemed almost as though the warier warriors were unable to adapt quickly enough to the fast-paced tactics that the "run-n-gun" players were utilizing. The "run-n-gun" players died frequently, but also racked up kills at an impressive rate with repeated open-field gunfights amongst themselves. The less aggressive players rarely found themselves on the receiving end of a bullet, yet at the same time increased their own kill scores at a much slower rate, as they avoided the killzone itself, prefering to rain fire down on the melee from the periphery.
But quick reflexes, erratic manuvers, tank bombardments, and skilled teamwork between small groups of players would win the day by and large in Vidalia. The results proved that anything can happen in a single-elimination, short-game tournament, as most of the expected favorites went home early while many "underdog" players proudly advanced to the quarterfinal round. So strong were some of the upsets, that the roster of advancing players included one Master Chief who loves the game (but doesn't actually own a copy of it), and another MC who had not actually played the game before (though his brother, who brought him along, is an avid fan).
Congratulations to all the advancing players, and we hope to be able to see everyone again next year!
Michaelg2001 fired off this short-but-sweet account of the bloodshed at Digital Ops in Michigan.
If you were walking around East Liberty Street near the University of Michigan this weekend, you may have admired the beautiful weather, the beautiful women, or the various shops and eateries in the area. You may have been so busy with these other wonders that you might have missed all the killing.
It was day one of the National Halo Tournament, and Digital Ops transformed a nightclub into an area for mass destruction. Inside the darkened club (watch your step!), dancing girls and alcohol had taken a leave of absence - they were replaced by Xboxes, screens, projectors, and dozens of gamers ready to make the kill.
Competition was fierce. Every competitor could take you out, and if he or she couldn't, then the player respawning behind you could! The action was fast-paced, so anyone who hung back from the firefights would have to forget about winning and be satisfied with a respectable third or fourth. It's not to say that they lacked skill in Halo, it's just that the other players were damn good. Everyone could see the games taking place, so if you were smart you could scout your prospective rivals for the second round. The interactions between players were minimal, but if you hung around you could meet some interesting people.
Last but certainly not least, God_Snot's rundown of events from the Cyberwiz Cafe in Lombard, Illinois.
The HNC Tournament was the very first event held at the Cyberwiz Cafe. Since the Cafe is still under construction (it won't officially open for another few weeks) it was a little difficult for competitors to find the place.
I arrived nearly an hour before the first game at 10AM and already there were a dozen gamers waiting silently while the proprietors put the finishing touches on the setup. They had four Xboxes hooked up through large (I'd guess 21") computer monitors. That gave each competitor a full half of a high resolution viewing screen, luxurious compared to the fuzzy quarter screens most competitors were used to. A quick survey found that none of these early birds had heard of the tournament through a Bungie site. They all came from xbox.com or some such xbox site.
After the setup was complete came the moment we had all been hoping for. Practice. The owners of the establishment were kind enough to allow anyone to practice for as long as they wanted provided the actual Tournament rounds were conducted on time and according to the rules. A good game of Halo was just what was needed to break the tension. Soon competitors were kidding around like old pals. The overall mood stayed positive throughout the Tournament. I was there ten hours and never saw an angry gamer. Everyone definitely became serious though as the Tournament rounds began. The first few rounds showed some interesting upsets. The clear winner from the practice round struggled to place 4th in the actual game. I felt for him as my hands began to shake during my Tournament game. I came in 6th. A friend of mine came in 4th (would have been 3rd had the game lasted a second longer) in the same game. Though I consistently beat him in our gatherings, he had the all-important advantage of not being nervous.
Once things really got going, some truly exceptional players got to show off their moves. I was a little disappointed though when I talked to the winners afterwards. Nearly all of them played nothing but Slayer on big maps.
When I suggested a practice game of Oddball on Damnation, everyone just stared. So as an experiment, I convinced the group to play a game of Crazy King on Blood Gulch as per Round 2 rules. Players included a 1st place winner and several contenders from previous games, along with my Xboxmate, the 7-year-old son of the owner. I won easily. The 2nd place gamer had about 3:30 on the clock when I reached 5:00, and that was the 7-year-old. The other players had all done exceptionally well in kills though and were happy with the outcome. They just really like Slayer a lot and are amazingly good at it. So everyone had a good time.
By the time I left at around 9PM, about nine Tournament games had been played, some with less than eight players. About 110 people total had been in the store. Many of these folks were underage friends of competitors and played in the practice games. Everyone was quite satisfied with the day. They had met many fellow gamers from their area (I got contact info for 3 different groups) and had a lot of fun.
These are just a handful of reports from the dozens of tournament sites across the US. We've never had any tournaments on this scale before, and we expect things will heat up even more during the regional semifinals this weekend. We'd like to thank all our roving reporters this week, and we invite anyone who'll be attending the semifinals to help us report on the ongoing action.