Halo PC World Championship
Friday, February 20th, 2004, 2:40 PM
So you think you're good at Halo PC huh? You dominate the opposition online and you have no problem serving your friends a hearty plate of whoop-ass at the local LAN center... But have you ever faced REAL competition? Anyone can claim that they're the best player around, but until recently, there wasn't a chance to put your skillz where your mouth is. All of that changed earlier this week, as the top players from all across the globe gathered near Los Angeles for a head to head showdown for the crown of the
Halo for Windows World Champion
. We're not talking about the champ of Lenny's LAN Emporium - this is GLOBAL. This is big time Halo.
Last year, following the release of Halo for Windows, the Microsoft Marketing team behind the game began to hatch a plan to follow-up on the hugely successful 2001 Halo Nationals for the Xbox version of the game. The goal was simple - build upon what worked for the Nationals but expand it to reach a much larger audience. Not content with merely staging another North American contest, calls went out to outlets all around the planet. Big time partners like AMD, ATI, Gateway and Alienware were brought into the fold to lend their support, and more importantly, their
, a worldwide association of gaming centers, was tapped as the primary party to assist with the execution of the event and provided the use of their numerous affiliate centers around the globe. Their expertise proved to be invaluable as they orchestrated every match globally, all the way down to the game-by-game details of the finals. Their experience in the tournament scene ensured that every angle was covered and the rules and playing field were as fair as possible.
The competition began last November, as qualifying matches in each region of each country got underway. Nineteen different countries were simultaneously participating in what would culminate in the worldwide showdown. Some regions, like the U.S., saw thousands of players duking it out in the earlier rounds while many of the other countries had much smaller pools to contend with. Regardless, the competition was fierce on all fronts and the players who were granted free passage to the U.S. all represent the best their country has to offer.
Its a big big World
Everyone knows that Halo isn't just available in the U.S., but it didnt really hit me until I came face to face with the diverse group of finalists that gathered in LA. While the U.S. finalist, Noah "Chummp" Evans, traveled a whopping 30 minutes to attend, others like Nickunj "FINAL ELEMENT" Bansal from India had to endure over 25 hours of travel to make it to the event. I thought my two hour flight from Washington was bad! I cant begin to imagine what the transcontinental travel nightmare must have been like. The players were unfazed though. Nearly everyone arrived just one day before the event and were back on a plane home the day after. If you've ever experienced a really long flight to another country, then try imagining competing in a world-class game championship match while fighting off jet lag. Now that's hardcore.
Despite the fact that we had 19 different countries and cultures and a rather large language barrier to overcome, everyone shared the common language of Halo. There was very little idle chat between participants, but everyone seemed to share a mysterious kind of connection, an unspoken bond that only National Halo champions can share.
While several of the players I spoke to have been long time Halo fans, I was surprised at how many had only just bought the game when they heard about the tournament. The chance to win a trip to the U.S., as well as some cool prizes, inspired many veteran FPS players to take up a new game and discover what Halo was all about. While players like Chummp from the U.S. have been playing Halo competitively in the AGP and CPL circuits for years, others like Rick "Melachi" Sundberg from Ireland had less than 12 hours of TOTAL play time under their belt before entering the competition. This experience, or lack thereof, would become apparent in the matches to come.
Let the Games Begin
The actual final event took place at the imaginatively named
"The Internet PC Cafe'"
in Gardena, CA. Despite its lackluster title, this LAN center was the perfect venue featuring an immaculate interior, state of the art computers, a friendly staff and a tasty snack bar. The entire place was bought out for the day so the competitors had the floor to themselves, save for a few spectators and a pool of media representatives. Each of the 19 players was assigned a machine, easily identified by their national flag sitting atop a monitor. Once everyone arrived around 9 AM, they began the process of unpacking their equipment (mice, keyboards, headphones, good luck charms, etc.) and getting their stations situated. This is serious gaming. Nothing was taken for granted. Players evaluated their machines with surgical precision. Drivers were updated, discs were de-fragged, and in some cases entire components were swapped out to meet the exact requirements and expectations of each competitor. Luckily the pros from iGames were more than prepared for all of the hassles and ordeals of fine tuning each player station so plenty of time was built into the schedule to accommodate this.
Once players were all content with their settings and equipment, everyone jumped into the servers to warm-up. The nineteen finalists were split into 3 pools of players. Each pool would play 4 15-minute Slayer games across 4 different maps. The four top cumulative finishers in each pool advanced to the next round.
After a delayed start due to monitor issues at the Japan Halo station, all three pools were engaged in a white-knuckle match of do-or-die Slayer. One 15 minute game was played on Gephyrophobia, Blood Gulch, Hang 'em High and Death Island. If I didnt know better, I would have sworn I was at a Golf Tournament - the tension and silence was as thick as at the 18th hole of the
. It was dead silent, save for the clicks of keyboards and mice. After all, this is a serious event, and to allow the competitors to stay focused, a silence order was issued to all bystanders.
For the next hour, each player was oblivious to the world and completely in their own zone. The room was almost dripping with tension, but a collective sigh of relief was breathed as the final pool concluded their last match.
Pool One was pretty close but Anders "Professor" Rudolfsson from Sweden secured the top spot with two 1st place and two 3rd place finishes. Hometown favorite Noah "Chummp" Evans emerged as an early favorite by coming in 1st place for three out of four matches in his pool. In Pool Three, Jonathan "BEAST" Finglass from the UK swept the competition by getting 1st place in all four matches. He was followed closely by Ju Yong "Bluemond" Shin from Korea who had three 2nd place finishes.
For Nick, our friend from India, a 25-plus hour travel adventure would come to an end after the first hour of play. Lucky for Nick and his Mom, they have friends and relatives in the US and they were not flying straight back, so the loss didnt sting quite as much. One other casualty of round one was Helmuth "l[plexiq" Melcher, the player from Austria. Apparently a victim of jet lag and possibly a touch of heat stroke, he was in far from championship form as the entire ordeal took its toll and he nearly passed out on the spot. Like any sport, competitive gaming can take its toll both physically and mentally and even these "harmless" events have their casualties. Luckily Helmuth returned later in the evening and was feeling much better.
Once the first round wrapped up, everyone got a much needed breather before the next round began. You'd think that after playing for a stress-filled nonstop hour that people would want to stretch or maybe get some fresh air... Not so. Nearly everyone got up from their Halo stations and walked just a few feet before plopping down in front of a different computer to check emails and browse the web. Some players even took the time to fire up other games like Counter Strike or Warcraft. Clearly these were hardcore gamers!
After a lunch break and some re-arranging of a few player stations, the semis were ready to begin. The format was the same - the remaining 12 players were split into two pools, each playing four 15-minute Slayer matches. The maps were Ice Fields, Blood Gulch, Death Island and Hang 'em High.
Once again the competition was fierce, but a few standouts quickly emerged. BEAST from the UK swept three of his four matches continuing his dominating win streak from the earlier round. Likewise, Teppei "SIGUMA" Terabe, the player from Japan, dominated his pool with three out of four first place finishes. Naturally I was inclined to root for the home team and after guaranteeing a top four finish, Chummp delivered and ensured that the US would be represented in the finals. An hour later, the match ended and the stage for the finals was set. Eight players, from eight nations, were ready to go at it one more time for the title.
Once again players were slightly re-arranged, to ensure that nobody was sitting next to or able to see another competitors screen. Everyone hates a screen-looker, right? The format was the same as the prior rounds, except that five games of Slayer would be played. The maps were Gephyrophobia, Death Island, Blood Gulch, Hang 'em High and Ice Fields. While it might seem somewhat excessive, the number of games across different maps through each round ensured that the playing field was level and ruled out the chance of a fluke win by any one person. After the 3rd round concluded, the winner was more or less determined. BEAST took first place in the first three rounds and looked to have the championship in the bag. After Round Four, there was only one possible scenario that could prevent him from winning - if Korea won first place in the final match, and UK got last, Korea could squeak by with a win. BEAST stepped up his game, and closed out the final round with a decisive first place finish, thus becoming the first and only Worldwide Halo for Windows Champion.
In addition to the trip to the U.S., a room at the lovely Torrance Marriott, and some good eats, all 19 finalists got shiny new ATI video cards to take home with them. As a special bonus, the U.S. National Champ was awarded a Gateway 42" plasma TV. The top 3 finishers all won brand spanking new Alienware Aurora game PCs complete with the new AMD 64-bit processor and a top of the line ATI video card.
Halo for Windows Worldwide Championship Final Standings
1. Jonathan "BEAST" Finglass - UK
2. Stefan "forZe-FooKz" Dammers - Netherlands
3. Ju Yong "Bluemond" Shin - Korea
4. Anders "Professor" Rudolfsson - Sweden
5. Noah "Chummp" Evans - USA
5. Teppei "SIGUMA" Terabe - Japan
7. Jacob Grubbe "mYm*m_iCe-" Rasmussen - Denmark
8. Rick "Melachi" Sundberg - Ireland
9. Henrique Santos Pinto "Phycho" de Souza - Brazil
10. Alejandro "Jano Loco" Santacruz - Mexico
11. Nicolas "Cloud" Fridli Leon - Chile
12. Dag Erk "dMb" Jorgensen - Norway
13. Josh "iS'HoOh++" Hall - Australia
13. Helmut "l[plexiq" Melcher - Austria
15. Sunny Oke "Bloody" Ching Siang - Singapore
15. Sam "aT-Spawnikiv" Cheikh-Saad - France
15. Hong-Chi "Achino" Jang - Taiwan
18. Nickunj "FINAL ELEMENT" Bansal - India
19. Juho "Dsky.kor_" Vainio - Finland
B-blam!-! That bloke can play!
Once the media and photography flood subsided, I sat down with BEAST to chat about his win. His secret to winning? "The sniper rifle. These were big maps and I went for the Sniper Rifle as soon as I could. The pistol was my secondary weapon." BEAST has a background playing FPS games, but is really a Halo-exclusive player for the most part.
He began playing the game shortly after its Xbox release and picked up the PC version last September when it hit the UK. He clearly had more experience than many of the other players, but at the end of the day it was raw skill that prevailed. BEAST was a very humble and quiet player - not exactly what you'd expect from the top player in the World. (and a sharp contrast to the boisterous boasting of his US counterpart). If I had to make a comparison to another top athlete, I'd say BEAST is like a gaming version of Pete Sampras - a professional who dominates his game, but maintains a quiet personal demeanor. He's all business - he came, did his job, and left. BEAST was scheduled to fly out later the next day, heading back to the UK where he would have only one days rest before entering into a large 2v2 Halo Xbox tournament. I have a feeling we're going to be hearing more from Mr. Finglass in the months ahead. Come back to Bungie.net in a bit for a more in-depth interview with BEAST as we talk to him about this tournament, his winning strategies, and what the future might hold.