Over the weekend, eight of the top Halo esport teams from around the world flew to snowy Colorado to participate in the Halo World Championship Tour: X Games Aspen Invitational 2016. At stake was $30,000 in prize money and, more importantly, X Game Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. For many pro players and fans, it was a dream come true to see Halo at the X Games and the tournament did not disappoint, hosting some of the most competitive and intense matches ever in Halo esports. In addition, segments and highlights of the tournament were integrated directly in ESPN’s coverage of the X Games, giving many viewers at home their first taste of Halo and esports on television.
Of course, no great tournament would be without its drama, and X Games Aspen saw several storylines play through – would European teams Epsilon eSports (UK) and PENTA Sports (DE) be able to make a dent against the historically stronger North American teams? Would long-time veteran Brett “Naded” Leonard finally get his first win at a major in-person event with Team Allegiance? Could Tyler “Ninja” Blevins get his revenge against Team Liquid after they dropped him? And finally, would Evil Geniuses be able to recover after the loss of fellow teammate and champion Tony “Lethul” Campbell Jr. to their arch-nemesis Counter Logic Gaming?
Day One – The Tournament Begins
The tournament kicked off on Thursday, January 28, as teams were split up into two groups and began competing in group play, where teams in each group faced off against each other with the hopes of proceeding to the semifinals and finals match for a chance at the Gold. Day one of the tournament would see several dominant matches, as top ranked teams Team Allegiance, CLG and Evil Geniuses defeated Epsilon eSports, PENTA Sports and Dream Team in a convincing 3-0 fashion in a best of five matches. Thursday would also host the first grudge match of the tournament, with Renegades and Ninja facing off against Team Liquid, who had cut Ninja only weeks before the tournament. Ninja would get his revenge, with Renegades cleanly sweeping Team Liquid in another 3-0 victory.
Day Two – The Competition Heats Up
On day two, the competition would heat up greatly with eight intense matches scheduled for Friday, including the one Halo esport fans have been most anticipating: Evil Geniuses vs. Counter Logic Gaming. The drama of the tournament began right at the start, as the UK’s best Halo team, Epsilon eSports, proved its worth by defeating Renegades in dramatic 3-1 fashion. Team Allegiance would once again show why it was the first ranked team in North America, handing Team Liquid a 3-1 defeat and eliminating any chance of Team Liquid earning a medal at X Games Aspen. PENTA Sports and Dream Team similarly saw their chances of earning a medal disappear after losing two or more of their team matches and Epsilon eSports was placed in the same situation after Team Liquid earned a moral victory by sweeping Epsilon 3-0.
In the match of the day, Evil Geniuses faced off against arch-rivals Counter Logic Gaming (CLG). This would technically be the second time Evil Geniuses faced off against the new Counter Logic Gaming; the first being a 2-3 loss to CLG during the fifth Halo World Championship North American Online Qualifiers. Despite this loss to CLG, casters and esport fans were confident that Evil Geniuses posed a significant threat to CLG due to their reputation and record of never losing a major in-person event over the course of the Halo Championship Series. However, past records and reputations were dismissed as CLG stunned all by defeating Evil Geniuses 3-0; an incredible feat compounded by the fact that CLG hadn’t dropped a single match throughout the tournament.
Day Three – Earning the Gold
With half of the eight teams eliminated from medal contention, Saturday featured two best of seven semifinal matches between Counter Logic Gaming, Team Allegiance, Evil Geniuses and Renegades that would determine who would compete for the Bronze and Gold. In the first semifinal, Team Allegiance and Evil Geniuses would square off with Evil Geniuses quickly taking the first two matches before Allegiance pushed back, going to an eventual game six. Evil Geniuses came out on top 4-2, guaranteeing the team would receive either the Gold or Silver medal, while Allegiance was relegated to the Bronze medal match. Counter Logic Gaming would also defeat Renegades in a strong 4-0 finish, ironically pushing the entire series into a series of rematches with Allegiance facing off against Renegades and Evil Geniuses battling against Counter Logic Gaming.
For the bronze medal match between Allegiance and Renegades, Allegiance would prove relentless by sweeping Renegades in a 4-0 fashion and earning Naded his first major victory at an in-person event over the course of a decade long career. While the loss was clearly disappointing to Renegades, there were also signs of hope for the team as new pick-up and one of the youngest Halo pros Braedon “StelluR” Boettcher displayed moments of brilliance, often dishing out more damage than his veteran teammates.
The Gold medal grudge match between Evil Geniuses and Counter Logic Gaming would prove to be the best match in the tournament and arguably one of the best in Halo esports history. With some healthy trash talk exchanged prior to the matches, both CLG and Evil Geniuses came out swinging. CLG took the early lead by winning a close Capture the Flag match on Fathom. In response, Evil Geniuses came roaring back in game two on Truth Slayer, with team captain Eric “Snipedown” Wrona earning top marks in score, damage and accuracy. Game three would be another strong Evil Geniuses victory – only CLG’s Bradley “Frosty” Bergstrom, another standout newcomer to professional Halo, was able to come out positive. CLG came back to form, winning games four and five and positioning the team to win the tournament in six. However, Evil Geniuses was able to force the series to go the distance, narrowly winning game six on Plaza Strongholds. Game seven would be on Regret Slayer and through solid teamwork alongside strong performance by Hamza “Commonly” Abbaali, another youthful newcomer to Halo, Evil Geniuses would ultimately come out on top and win their share of the $30,000 prize pool and X Games Gold at Aspen!
The medal winners would later reunite and brave heavy snowfall to arrive at the awards podium at X Games Aspen, displaying their hard-earned hardware for all to see.
Day Four – A Fitting Finish
With the intense competition of the main tournament out of the way, it was time to slow the pace and relax a bit with the celebrity and fan-voted all-star match in the X Games Aspen invitational. Filling out the roster for the celebrity match was an assorted mix of X Games Athletes, including mono skiers Nikko Landeros, Trey Humphrey, Dave “Madman” Poole, Ravi Drugan and skiers Fabian Bosch, Kai Mahler, Taylor Seaton and Luca Schuler. The athletes competed in a series of three free-for-all matches, and it was quickly clear that Nikko Landeros had some experience in Halo, winning all three free-for-all matches handily.
Following the celebrity match, the tournament shifted to the last battle of the event – the Halo pro All-Star match. Fans were asked to vote for their favorite player and rounding out the group of eight were Snipedown, Lethul, Paul “Snakebite” Duarte, StelluR, Aaron “Ace” Elam, Ninja, Justin “Roy” Brown and Matthew “Royal2” Fiorante. Players were drafted by guest coaches Kyle “Elamite” Elam of Team Liquid and Dave “Walshy” Walsh, one of the most successful and well-known Halo players of all time. In a surprising move, Walshy chose Elamite’s younger brother Ace with his first pick. Elamite responded by picking up Snipedown and Lethul – raising the question whether the two rivals would be willing to work together once again.
Team Elamite was able to pull ahead early on, with Snipedown and Lethul working together to secure victory in the first match. However, Team Walshy ultimately proved to be too much and won the All-Star match 4-1, with strong performances by Roy, Royal 2, Ace and Ninja.
With the end of the All-Star match, competitive Halo concluded at X Games Aspen while fans continued to stream into the Xbox tent to try their hand in Halo 5: Guardians. It was a fantastic event filled with incredible individual play and coordinated teamwork, fast-paced decisions made under intense pressure, and one of the best finals Halo esports has ever seen. Congratulations to Evil Geniuses for winning the X Games Gold medal as well as Counter Logic Gaming and Team Allegiance for Silver and Bronze!