Halo Infinite has what it takes to thrive as an esports game

While I have been a gamer for my entire life, it was actually very early esports that got me to take the medium seriously. When I was playing Counter-Strike 1.6 at far younger than I should have been, my friend and I would head over to a local gaming café where we would play in small tournaments or casual matches with whoever was around. Later on, it was seeing Halo 2 tournaments hosted by MLG on TV that got me to buy an Xbox and start playing console games online for the first time. I followed the competitive Halo scene up until the end of the Halo 3 days and then … just kind of fell off.

Esports changed after that, or at least it felt like they did. There were still some first-person shooters doing tournaments, but all the attention seemed to have shifted to MOBAs around that time. Games like DOTA 2 and League of Legends have hosted the biggest Esport tournaments of all time, with giant cash prizes and even bigger viewer numbers.

The problem is that I can’t get excited for any of these events. They’re not bad games — far from it — and the players are playing at professional levels, but they aren’t always fun to watch. That’s why Halo Infinite has me so excited. From a spectator’s perspective, it has all the right ingredients for a great esports title.

What makes a good esport?

Winners celebrate their ESPYs award show 2019 best esports moment.

The biggest, most successful esport games of all time aren’t always easy to digest. When casual viewers can’t tell what’s happening in a match, regardless of whether it is a physical sport or esport, that’s a problem. I’ve seen dozens of highlights and clips shared from some of the most “exciting” moments in League of Legends tournaments and have no clue what I’m looking at. I play games all the time and have at least a basic literacy with all genres, but at the top level of a game so complex, it all just looks like flashy effects and flailing polygons.

That goes for competitive shooters, too. As a fan of the genre, I can appreciate the absurd skill that nailing a headshot while peaking through a bullet hole takes, but to most people, they wouldn’t even see anything happening.

A good esport needs to be easily legible either on sight or with as little explanation as possible. Otherwise, it’s only going to be fun for diehard fans who know the dozens (or hundreds) of characters, nuances, and jargon. There’s a reason popular sports have such simple rule-sets. You don’t need to be a hardcore basketball fan to know that getting the ball in the hoop, or kicking the ball past the goalie, is the goal. There are more complex rules to learn beyond that, but if that’s all you knew you could still enjoy watching without feeling completely lost.

No matter what, everyone will have to learn something to properly enjoy watching an esport. That’s where the presentation and casting elements come in. Games and tournaments have already made massive strides in these areas. We can swap between all the different player’s perspectives, or even to global views to see everything at once. Casters have the daunting task of both understanding the highest level of play in a particular game and finding a way to communicate it to an audience that may have no experience in the game, all while being entertaining.

Perhaps it sounds strange to focus on the spectator so much when describing what makes a great esport, rather than talking about the games themselves and their potential for high-skill play. But that’s the thing: Esports need to cater to an audience just as much, perhaps even more so, than to the actual players to be successful. The greatest game in the world will never be a successful esport if no one likes watching it.

How Halo Infinite can hit it big

Halo players compete in a Halo Infinite multiplayer match.

Halo Infinite has everything a game needs to work as an esport. I’m not just saying that because of my nostalgia for the old MLG days. Halo has always had a few special things ingrained in its multiplayer design that solve — or at least alleviate — most of the issues other esports games face. Right off the bat, all players are equal. Once you know what one person can do in the game, you know what everyone can do. You don’t need to memorize character skills, abilities, or keep track of what items players have or loadouts they bought.

That feeds right into the casters and presentation being much easier to manage. They won’t have to spend much time explaining nuances to viewers and instead can focus on the actual play. The teams are in clear colors so anyone can tell at a glance who is against whom, and it’s easy to know which team is winning. And that’s what really makes Halo Infinite exciting to me.

Halo has always had a long time to kill, or TTK, compared to other shooters. Unless someone has a power weapon, fights last long enough for people to get invested and register what’s going on, unlike Rainbow Six Siege, CS: GO, or even a Call of Duty game

Even at the highest skill level, teamwork is way more important and clear. Halo Infinite will reward smart strategies and positioning more than the ability to click a single pixel in the fraction of a second an enemy enters it. Casting will go a long way here, but this is where the specific spectator modes need to shine. Giving the viewer a tactical look at the map and replaying what transpired, where each team went, and how one countered the other, is not only going to make it easier to understand but is just plain fun too.

Halo Infinite has a lot of work to do behind the scenes, but the core game, the actual pace and structure of the matches, are perfect for an esport. Everyone starts on a level playing field, games don’t last too long, there’s a high skill ceiling that doesn’t alienate anyone watching who isn’t intimately familiar, and it is about as legible to an outside observer as a game not based on a physical sport could be.

I haven’t tuned in to an esport event live in over a decade, but I find myself itching to see how the first Halo Infinite tournaments turn out.

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