Finalists are competing this weekend in the US$1 million 2018 Halo World Championship competition in Seattle, Washington.
Tahir 'Tashi' Hasandjekic is the lead Esports producer at Halo developer 343 Industries and tells Newshub the event has been "amazing".
In an interview ahead of the 2018 Halo World Championship finals, Tashi answers questions on recent trends in competitive Halo play, the influence of battle royale games like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and if there's a backlash to Esports becoming more mainstream.
Newshub: How much has the Halo World Championship grown?
Tashi: We started in 2016 and since then we've seen over 300 percent growth in team participation. It's been absolutely incredible and honestly, pretty humbling. In terms of viewership, we've more than doubled our unique viewers since last year. So people are excited to watch, people are excited to play and it's going really great.
What trends have you seen in competitive Halo play this year?
We've had a team emerge that is, I would say, ahead of the pack. They're called Splyce and they're led by a bunch of young players; the youngest is actually 16 years old. He's doing things in the game that no one's even thought of before. Their raw skill is unmatched, really, and they have a really interesting play style too. They're evolving the game and this year we've seen other teams having difficulty keeping up. It's crazy, but Splyce are so good they've made the previous reigning champions come in as underdogs.
What's the most popular weapon?
I would say the trusty M6H magnum - it's the weapon everyone starts with and that thing is just a lot of fun to use. It takes five shots to take down an opponent, and players have incredible accuracy and precision with the weapon. They're contesting players with sniper rifles, getting double-kills and triple-kills. I would say the magnum is the most-used weapon.
Halo is an old franchise in the busy market of first-person shooters. Why is it still popular?
I think the gameplay, especially in the Arena modes, is so just so pure. It has a timeless quality to it. All of the Halo games are so exquisitely balanced and just, at the base level of mechanics, they're a lot of fun to play. The maps are well-designed; the weapons are fun to use. But it is well-balanced and competitive - you won't be forced to play someone a million times better than you, but then the pro-players do get decent competition as well.
Over the last year or so, Fortnite and PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds have driven an explosion of popularity in the battle royale sub-genre of shooter games. Has that influenced Halo in any way, or is it more those games were influenced by Halo?
Halo 5 was out before the battle royale explosion. I play Fortnite myself and some of the qualities I enjoy in that game are also in Halo - you have the basic weapons, there are similarities there. We're fans of the genre and specifically for us Arena gameplay is something that appeals to a wide audience across the first-person shooter genre.
Esports is now broadcast on mainstream TV and has got a lot more popular thanks to streamers etc. For some of the hardcore players, is it no longer being niche a problem?
I haven't heard that perspective much from the Halo community. If you look at how much time and effort these players put into the craft, we want them to reap rewards and benefit from the growth in its popularity. We've seen great growth, but I think players and fans just want to see it grow even more.
If there's someone reading this article in New Zealand with dreams of being a world champion at Halo, what advice would you give them?
The first step is definitely to get on match-making and compete in the official HCS playlist. That playlist's competitive settings are the exact same as those used in tournaments. All of the best players in the world play match-making in that playlist. That's where a lot of players have gotten noticed, including some of the top players from Australia like BZIIRK and Madsy on team Mindfreak. They've all worked their way up the leaderboards and that's what really turns heads, initially. After that, it's really important to build a reputation for yourself as a good team player and a positive member of the competitive community. Having a positive attitude is always attractive. If you can take on feedback from other players and are able to spend a lot of time practising, you'll have a good shot at making your way up the ranks.