Long gone are the days of sitting in school huddled around that one friend’s laptop watching the latest Top Ten ESPN/MLG Halo 3 video on YouTube. But it’s hard to forget Chris Puckett’s commentary, which delivered the energy of a thousand cans of Monster on top of some truly stunning no-scopes, brutal exterminations, and mind-blowing multi-kills.
Those were halcyon days for Halo, which was last featured in a full MLG season back in 2011. While competitive play has continued since, Master Chief and his mates have clearly been surpassed in the esports FPS field by Counter-Strike and others, including Call of Duty more recently. However, could Infinite signal a comeback for Halo as a top-tier esports title?
One interesting development is 343’s announcement that competitive online Halo Infinite play will be cross-play and cross-input. That means that, just like the current set-up with the Halo Master Chief Collection that allows Xbox/PC cross-play, Halo Infinite tournament and online event play will feature the PC master race pitting their wits against Xbox gamers. Players are free to use gamepads or mouse/keyboards as they wish.
The aim is to remove barriers to entry and to get Battle Rifles into the hands of as many people as possible. Halo Infinite has the advantage of being able to leverage on a super-strong IP, with thousands still playing online via Halo MCC almost 14 years after the launch of Halo 3. However, building up a loyal player base among players who were too young to properly experience Halo during the Chris Puckett-fuelled glory era is crucial as these are the players driving the esports revolution more broadly, so making it accessible is a good move.
Another thing that could work in Halo Infinite’s favour but that isn’t directly related to the game itself is Activision’s seeming reluctance to address the consistent cheating and hacking that goes on in COD and Warzone. This isn’t necessarily something that is going to affect the elite esports players but audience engagement is key for esports and if more and more casual players are being put off COD by these sorts of issues, then the knock-on effects are clear.
Halo Infinite will not come close to the popularity of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive as a top-tier esports FPS title. You only have to look at top betting sites to see how many major CSGO tournaments are ongoing and open for betting on at any time to get a feel for its dominance. However, Halo could take a chunk of market share away from other competitors in this space if it ticks all the right boxes after launch. A return to the Top Ten days of old could well be on.