The CPL Report
Posted by Sketch at 12/23/2003 3:36 AM PST

The CPL Report

By SketchFactor
Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003, 11:36 AM

You and your friends think youre good at Halo? Good enough to beat out 31 other teams and walk away with your chunk of a $30,000 prize pool? Thats exactly what team [xeno] did last Saturday when they won the CPL 2003 Winter Championship deep in the heart of Texas. The Cyberathlete Professional League, along with NVIDIA, Intel and many other corporate sponsors, wrapped up a week long game-a-thon by dishing out over $130,000 in prizes to players of Halo PC and Counterstrike.

For those new to the professional gaming scene, the CPL has been around since 1997 promoting the sport of PC gaming. With Counterstrike as its core focus, the CPL draws competitors from around the globe, all vying for the title of number one. In fact, both teams in this years CS finals hailed from outside the U.S. The winning team, SK, came all the way from Sweden. Honestly, up until a few months ago, I was pretty out of the loop on the whole scene. Not that things havent been happening out there quite the contrary. Not being much of a CS player myself, it just missed my radar. That all changed a few months ago when the CPL announced the addition of Halo PC to their competition roster.

But enough about that. Halo is what has drawn me to leave a cold and rainy Redmond, WA to witness the worlds best players. Anxious to see such a high stakes game of Halo, I embarked on a one night adventure to the Hyatt Regency Dallas. Ive never been to a professional gaming event before so I wasnt sure what to expect when I arrived. I entered the hotel, bag of Bungie swag in tow, and my first thought was that I had come to the wrong place. This is a NICE hotel. Too nice. There was neither hide nor hair of anything gaming related within eyesight. I checked in and headed upstairs to drop off my luggage, surveying the scene in search of some confirmation that this was in fact where the CPL event was taking place. As I exited the elevator and turned a short hallway, it became clear that this was the right hotel. 4 boxes of Dominos pizza were stacked in front of a door to my left. An NVIDIA sticker was crookedly stuck on a door to the right. Room service trays with spent cans of Mt. Dew lay a few doors down. Gamers were here.

The actual event started on Tuesday so when I arrived on the scene Friday afternoon, the finals were close at hand. The room was massive and teeming with gamers though obviously nowhere near its capacity. A huge portion of the hall was devoted to the BYOC gaming area. Players brought in their own PCs and set up shop in this huge expanse of LAN nirvana. Naturally, there were all sorts of sweet souped up machines on display including one that was built into a hot rod rumored to have cost over $40,000 to construct.

The rest of the venue was split into the actual competition area and a vendor booth area. (the NVIDIA booth is pictured to the left)Various companies set up displays to showcase their products - Video cards, PCs, mousing surfaces, laptops and the like were plentiful. The actual play field consisted of rows and rows of identical computers; Halo on one side, Counterstrike on the other. A control booth sat slightly elevated in the near corner and the commentary booth lay just outside the left hand wall. Yes, you read that right a commentary booth. The major Counterstrike matches were being broadcast on nearby big screens as well as over the internet. A professional commentating crew delivered the play by play as the action unfolded onscreen. Cool.

32 5-man teams came from all parts far and near to test their Halo skillz and take a shot at the title. The event began last Tuesday and had whittled down to the final few teams by the time I arrived. The teams that remain were the best of the best. This was serious Halo. Obviously all the players that remained were very good, but it was the cohesion and teamwork that seemed to separate the best from the best. It was clear that hours and hours of practice were required to reach this level of competition. Teams communicated via Ventrilo though it seemed some had near telepathic abilities. A team sat five across, all in a row, while their opponents sat several rows away. Referees patrolled the aisles to ensure order. All throughout the afternoon teams came and went, the silence of keystrokes and mouse slides occasionally shattered by cheers or frustrations.

The final match began the next day, at 4:00 PM. It had come down to team [xeno] and Demise - two teams that started at complete opposite ends of the bracket. Demise was part of the CPL and held a spot in the upper tier bracket. The lower tier consisted of open entrants, and members of the CAL (Cyberathele Amateur League), which is where [xeno] came in. Team [xeno] actually lost to Demise in the semi-finals of the winners bracket and got bumped down to the losers bracket. In a bizarre twist of fate, [xeno] battled their way through the losers bracket and ended up meeting Demise in the championship showdown. The game was Assault. The map was Blood Gulch. Both teams battled it out through 2 matches consisting of 2 twenty minute halves. In the end, [xeno] emerged victorious 0-1, 2-1 and became the first ever CPL Halo Champions. As a reward for their efforts, the winning team netted a cool $9,000 in cash while the runner-ups settled for a not-too-shabby $6,900. You can see the full listing of the top 8 finishers over at . Theres also a great CPL Halo Preview story with some background information about the top teams. Check it out.

Another highlight of the CPL event this year was the sneak preview of the HEK by members of Gearbox. The HEK, or Halo Editing Kit, is the suite of tools that allows players to customize and create new experiences within the Halo engine. Randy Pitchford and Marc Tardiff were both there to host a special seminar and walk everyone through the basics of using the HEK. Most everyone in the room seemed very excited at the prospects of what could be created and more importantly, the overall simplicity of editing Halos tags. After Marc walked us through the basic elements required to create a new map, the real fun began. To demonstrate how easy it is to change the rules and parameters in the game, Marc took audience requests and began tweaking elements of the game. Within minutes, he adjusted a few drop down menus, ran a compiler script and we were in the game playing with a newly souped up sniper rifle that had increased zoom and a blue night vision scope. This was just the beginning. The further demonstrate the power the HEK possesses, Marc went in and constructed his own version of a new and improved Warthog (with attendee feedback of course). The result was a Warthog that flies with the driver having full control over the gun, which happened to shoot out Master Chiefs instead of bullets that exploded on impact. It might not be your idea of the ultimate mod but it did prove how powerful and simple the HEK can be. An official release date for the HEK has not been given but it should be released fairly soon. A video of this editing seminar will be made available online, provided my video skills yield something decent.

In addition to witnessing the ultimate game of Halo and checking out the HEK seminar, I made the trip to Dallas to help show off Halo PC as a guest in the NVIDIA booth. Halo was made available for freeplay on their machines several times a day, every day of the event. The booth (pictured right) drew plenty of players, many of which had never actually played Halo before. We had two mini Slayer tournaments each day with all of the winners being invited back on Saturday for a chance to win a brand new NVIDIA graphics card. The final match was a single game of Slayer on Blood Gulch. The first player to hit 25 would score the expensive video card. The competition was extremely tight but in the end, Taz Carper (pictured below) won by a mere 2 kills. I later found out that Taz had won 3 video cards over the course of the event by sweeping several different mini tournaments happening on the floor.

Barely 24 hours after arriving it was time to pack up and head back to Bungie HQ. The CPL event was like nothing else and judging by the various sponsors and the professional quality with which everything was presented, the future appears to be very bright for the sport of professional gaming. Halo PC has already been confirmed as part of this years Summer 2004 Championship and the prize money has been increased to $50,000! There has never been a better time to be a Halo player. Ill certainly be there when the event rolls into Texas next July. Will you? Get your team together, start practicing, and maybe, just maybe, it will be YOUR name in the next wrap-up story.

For more information about the CPL and the CPL Winter 2003 Championship, visit these sites online:

CPL Official Site

Got Frag?

Check out over 1,900 photos at JZDigital

CPL videos at

More CPL photos and videos at

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