July 2018 HCS Competition in New Orleans. Photo by Robb McCormick

Halo Competition is a Homecoming for Hardcore Gamers

Esports tournament brings classic game’s devotees to SXSW Gaming

Most casual gamers have watched a multiplayer match of one game or another unfold, whether streaming on Twitch or from a friend’s sofa, but the look of a professional match is something else.

In a professional Halo match, the level of play approaches the uncannily timed perfection of an AI that has been set to play a video game: players are moving constantly, hugging the bullet-blocking corners of the maps like race car drivers in a turn. Meanwhile, they’re anticipating their opponents’ moves and popping off perfect shots in the seconds-long intervals when opposing red or blue players are visible.

This spectacle will be on display during SXSW Gaming at the Halo Championship Series Invitational. The tournament features the top six finishers from January’s Ultimate Gaming Championship Halo Classic, who will compete in a double elimination tournament of Halo 3.


“For the HCS Invitational, it was important to us that we brought Halo to the masses where tens of thousands of fans have the chance to play Halo and watch the game played at its highest level,” says Tahir “Tashi” Hasandjekic, lead esports producer at 343 Industries/Microsoft. “We’re letting our hair down a bit for the HCS Invitational with multiple tournaments and fun show matches, and we’re just thrilled to watch high-stakes Halo and enjoy the festivities with the community.”

“...we’re just thrilled to watch high-stakes Halo and enjoy the festivities with the community.”

The choice of Halo 3 for the upcoming tournament is a throwback, considering that Halo 5: Guardians is the latest release in the sci-fi shooter series and runs on the latest-generation Xbox. It has been the competition standard since 2015. Halo 3, however, holds a unique spot in the hearts of many gamers. For some of the people who will be competing at the invitational, Halo 3 was instrumental either in starting their professional careers or in kindling a love of online gaming.

Paul Duarte, known as SnakeBite, is one of the top-ranked players in the U.S. and earned his first championship bracket competing on Halo 3. “I’m one of maybe a handful of players still playing that was actually a professional player at the time during Halo 3,” he says (the game was first released in 2007). “I've found it really fun to jump back onto one of the games that made me fall in love with competing.”


Halo 3 was released with a literal game-changer that is now a staple of Halo: forge mode, which allows players to build and share their own custom game environments (maps). Combined with game features that also let players make custom rules to a surprising level of granularity (Who wants to change the gravity?) and record and share images and videos of their matches, Halo 3 allowed for massive replayability and considerable creativity on the part of its players. A robust online community flourished.

Nearly 10 years later, the players who came to Halo 3 for casual online matches and after-school bouts of slayer, territories or free-for-all modes with friends are now seasoned professional competitors. With competition prize pools sometimes reaching millions of dollars, it’s easy to understand their studious dedication to the game.

“I like to dissect it much more as a strategic game,” Duarte explains. “In every Halo, it’s important to know the situations happening in-game and properly react without even thinking. I think every player just tries to make themselves aware and comfortable with every situation that can occur so that they have the instincts required to make the correct plays.”

Since 2011, Duarte has played with Tox Gaming, which solidified its current roster in 2018. Tox placed first at the HCS Invitational to earn an invite to the tournament at SXSW. Also competing are the teams Denial Esports, Team Reciprocity, Lux Gaming, Status Quo and GMS (Golden Modem Squad), featuring many other of the game’s most well-known and successful players.

Celebrations at July 2018 HCS Competition in New Orleans. Photo by Robb McCormick

Celebrations at July 2018 HCS Competition in New Orleans. Photo by Robb McCormick


Esports competitors put in countless hours with their games and Duarte, like other professionals, plays every day. Tox Gaming tries to scrimmage with another team every day as well, running through every game type that they will face in competition and looking for ways to improve teamwork, strategies and techniques.

Duarte says Halo remains fun for him, even though he has been playing one or another iteration of it since he was five or six years old.

“My history with gaming all started … when I started going over to my cousin’s house almost every single day to LAN and compete in Halo CE with friends and other family members,” he recalls. “Halo was really the game at the time that got me into competing.”

Starting tomorrow, Duarte will enter the digital arena to challenge players whose screen names would sow terror if they ever dropped into a public server: Snip3down, Flamesword, Neighbor, Lunchbox, Roy and more. They are names emblematic of the Halo player community and the game itself: part fun, part tough, and totally serious for those in-the-know.

The Halo Championship Series Invitational will run from March 15-17 at SXSW Gaming. All badges and Gaming wristbands are welcome. You can also stay home and stream it live on Twitch

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