Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Halo 4 Global Championships: When Marketing Campaigns play Dress-Up as eSports

Disclaimer: I want to make it absolutely clear that 343, the players, and the commentators were absolutely fantastic this weekend.  Nothing I'm about to say is directed toward any of those three groups unless I explicitly mention them in the statement. about those Halo 4 Global Championships?  They were pretty fantastic, right?

Audley Enough, it left a bitter taste in my mouth.

I saw some tweets about how it was a great tournament.  And here's where I'm going to stop you, and correct you.

That was an awful tournament.  It was a good show.  It was a good (expensive) marketing campaign.  But again, from a competitive integrity standpoint, that tournament was terrible.

First, the format.  A...100+ team FFA feed into a 4-player 1v1 BEST OF ONE finals?  The fuck is that?  Best of one?  Really?  Now, time constraints are one thing, but getting yourself so constrained that you have to limit yourself to best of ones for GRAND FINALS for (one of) the LARGEST PRIZE POOLS Halo has ever seen?  That's pretty fucked up.  Seriously.

FPS titles have traditionally been a showcase of multiple maps and sometimes multiple game variants.  Hell, even Quake Live, which still gets played at Dreamhack events has Best of 3 finals showing off three different maps.  And if you're unfamiliar, its format is always 1v1.

By my next statement I mean no offense to the winner, Aaron Elam...but when a player openly admits to only having practiced for an event for about a week prior and ends up winning Two HUNDRED THOUSAND dollars at said event over players who have put in substantially more time and know the format of the tournament is a little fucked.  Again, don't take this statement wrong.  Ace played fantastically and he earned his win...but as someone who preaches practice, I can't help but feel if there was a little bit more consistency required of the tournament, he may not have seen as great of success.  I still extend my congratulations to him.  Hey, he was the first Halo pro to have ever had me on his friend's list.  I can't hate.

Secondly, the trailers.

Okay, what the fuck.  This is a Halo tournament, right?  It's the HALO FOUR GLOBAL CHAMPIONSHIPS, right?


For this to have been as marketing-focused as it was, I'm confused as fuck as to what Microsoft was actually trying to market.  I mean, they gave us some of the most limited scope of what Halo has to offer as humanly possible -- FFA and 1v1s of a team game... And then they go off and show us three trailers for three different shooters all coming to the XBox One console.  This event's about Halo, right?  So why are you trying to draw us to different shooters, Micro$oft?

Thirdly, the production.

Wait, the production?  Those production values were insane, Audley!  What are you smoking?

I'm not going to disagree that the production values were insane.  But the part that bugged me about it was how painfully scripted it was.  If you couldn't tell the two hosts were reading from a teleprompter, you weren't watching.  Granted, they would go off-script on occasion...but in those instances, it was the only time the two would actually engage each other or their surroundings during the show.  Otherwise, they just kept looking forward.  You could even feel when they felt the teleprompted jokes ("Spartan badassery") were too forced, and grit their teeth to grind through it.

I know Riot and the LCS use teleprompters, and often the casters read from it when setting up transitions.  However, most have enough genuine character of their own merit that it doesn't feel as awkward.

I do want to make it clear -- I enjoyed my time in Benaroya Hall during the finals.  It was a good show.  It was executed very well, and the games were intense and fun to watch.  But when I see people praising the event and lauding it as proof that "Halo is back!" and "343 gets it" I just shudder.

I repeat what I've said all along: Halo 4's launch state being poor isn't 343's fault.  That launch state is a publisher issue, not a developer one.  Publisher determines release date, and when something's released with no beta, tons of bugs, and missing content, you don't say "Oh, well clearly that's what the developer wanted.  What idiots."  That's a "Big Daddy Moneybags decided we had to release by this date or we wouldn't get paid."  Oh, and by the way... Microsoft Game Studios published Halo 4.

Also, how soon do you think an event that size will get done again?  Microsoft and Virgin gaming just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for a tournam-err, excuse me, MARKETING CAMPAIGN, that had a couple months worth of qualifiers, weeks worth of headaches for the staff that had to moderate the online qualifiers (I honestly feel for Bravo and bsangel after seeing some of the tweets they got every time a loss or a leave happened during the Online quals.).  If they manage to do another one of these before PAX Prime of NEXT year, I'll be speechless.

Microsoft still hasn't shown that they understand eSports...neither from a format standpoint, nor from the standpoint of building storylines.  Hell, there wasn't TIME to build storylines with this mega-condensed faux-tourney they held this past weekend.  I don't even recall Bravo or Goldenboy mentioning that Ace's older brother happened to be at the Halo 4 GC as well (and, if you saw, ran onto stage to hug him when he won).

So for me, this was not an entirely reassuring experience.  It still shows a deep ignorance of competitive gaming from the corporate dogs at Microsoft and there's still miles of room for improvement in nearly every avenue.  I hope Microsoft takes a more serious approach to one of its most historically successful franchises and attempts to turn this into a more focused attempt to bring the series back to what it used to be, rather than an attempt to dump money onto a game whose fans are turning away from it in a half-assed attempt to bring them back to the game.  I sincerely hope the latter is not the case.

Anyway, in closing...  I want to thank 343, all of the players (even Gamesager), Goldenboy, Gh057Ayame, Microsoft, Virgin Gaming, and PAX Prime for enabling the Halo 4 Global Championships to happen.  It is a step...maybe not in the right direction, but at least in a less-wrong direction...toward bringing Halo back to the limelight.  And without all of their help combined, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to rant about it.

It was a great experience, and the finals were extremely tense.  Regardless of my gripes, I'm still elated that I went.  And I hope to see more in the future.  I leave you with photographic proof that "Halo is dad" though.  Gandhi and Maven casting Call of Duty:

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