Ranked / Competitive Reveal
Hey everyone – this is Tashi from the Esports team here at 343. First, we’d just like to thank everyone once again for participating in the most recent Halo Infinite Technical Previews, your time and support goes a long way towards ensuring a smooth launch later this year.
We understand that while you’ve gotten the opportunity to see and play the more light-hearted and social parts of Halo Infinite’s multiplayer, many of you are also chomping at the bit to learn more about the ranked and competitive side of the game. Well, today is the big day, and we have a whole lot to share.
In this blog, we’re going to be talking to folks from the Multiplayer, Sandbox, and Competitive Insights teams to learn more about our philosophy and approach to competitive gameplay in Halo Infinite, as well as sharing important details around starting weapon, motion tracker, and more.
The fun doesn’t stop there though, as to go alongside today’s blog, we’ve just released a new video on the Halo YouTube channel where Multiplayer Lead Andrew Witts and Competitive Insights team member Visal Mohanan (eL ToWn) join host Andy “Bravo” Dudynsky for a dive deep into one of Visal’s full gameplay videos on the competitive version of Strongholds on Recharge.
We’ve embedded the video below, but for the best experience we recommend reading the blog and then enjoying the video as the second course of today’s meal – one you won’t feel guilty about finishing.
Our guests for today’s blog are as follows:
- Andrew Witts – Lead Multiplayer Designer
- Quinn DelHoyo – Sandbox Design Lead
- Elan Gleiber – Sandbox Designer, Equipment
- Austin “Mikwen” McCleary – Competitive Insights Team
- Greg “Gregor” Haas – Competitive Insights Team
And before we get into it all, here’s the TL; DR on today’s news for Ranked/Competitive in comparison to Halo Infinite’s social multiplayer settings::
- The BR75 will be the starting weapon.
- Motion Tracker will be disabled.
- Grenade Hitmarkers will be disabled.
- Friendly Fire will be turned on.
- Modes will be Slayer, Capture the Flag, Strongholds, and Oddball.
- Weapons, equipment, and grenades on maps will be set on static spawners meaning they will always appear in the same location on each map and mode combination, and will respawn at the same intervals.
Let’s dig in!
Halo Infinite Arena Map, Recharge
Tashi: Thank you for taking the time today to talk competitive with the community today, gentlemen. I wanted to first start with a question for Andrew and Quinn – when it comes to competitive Halo gameplay, for Multiplayer and Sandbox respectively, what would you say are the core principles or pillars of the franchise that the team kept in mind for Halo Infinite?
Andrew: The Multiplayer Team’s approach to the Ranked competitive arena experience is similar to the Arena pillars in general which we’ve covered before in a previous Inside Infinite article, but as a reminder:
- Fair Starts
- Players start the match with fair and balanced gameplay mechanics.
- The Lone Wolf Survives but the Pack Thrives
- Players feel like they can have a high impact on the game individually through their skill expression within the combat sandbox and mode ruleset, but the team with the better coordination, communication, and reactive skills will seize the most victories.
- Mastery = Mechanical Depth + Tactical Decision Making
- Mechanical skill expression will get players far in the Arena ecosystem, but mastery comes from macro gameplay decision making within a map and mode’s framework. A match with two teams of equal skill should be determined by the teams’ tactical decision making as the mode’s state is continued by player action.
- Concise and Clear Game Mode States
- Arena game states are communicated efficiently and urgently. When a mode’s state is progressed then all players should be informed of the change and have a window of opportunity to react to it. This meant to bolster tactical decision making.
- Power is Earned and Impermanent
- Scavenging gameplay within a map/mode combo pushes teams to contest the acquisition of items within the Sandbox. Any item that can be earned can also be taken away through combat resolution, positioning, and tactical actions.
We wanted to take the baseline pillars from Arena and push them as far as we could for Halo Infinite’s competitive settings. In that way, competitive is an extension of our other initiatives on MP such as introducing systems that allow us to update the game with new items, modes, and maps in a way that that feels curated for the competitive audience. This was important to us because we want Ranked Arena and our competitive settings to grow with the game over time, allowing us to react to feedback we receive from the competitive community.
Quinn: For competitive Halo there is a strong handful of tenets that we strive to understand and follow. But from a sandbox perspective, there are two ideologies that matter most to us when crafting our gameplay features. First, the importance of nailing the classic need for a starting utility weapon. If you remember, this is something that was very important to us on Halo 5: Guardians as well, and is why the Magnum played such a key role as the starting utility weapon for that title. For Halo Infinite, we felt it was important for the utility weapon to be in the form of a rifle. Halo has a rich history with powerful pistols like the Magnum, but it also has as strong a legacy with rifles like the Battle Rifle. For us, the BR75 is the definitive version of that iconic weapon. As a player, you will feel confident and powerful with it equipped, just as a Spartan should. Additionally, it is stunning both visually and audibly. The artists and audio experts really could not have written a more accurate love letter to Halo fans with their work on this weapon. We love it, and we hope you do too.
Second, is that power and control are earned, not given, which is one of the key Arena pillars that Andrew touched on. The sandbox toys combined with the maps and modes create a competitive cocktail that must reward decision making, aiming skill, movement, and even risk taking. Specifically, to sandbox, the equipment and weapons all have roles with intentional strengths and weaknesses. So, when players have earned these toys through combat, they need to understand not only how to use them, but when to use them as well. Some toys will be very straightforward on how to use them. Others will require lots of play time and practice before a player excels with it. That is by design.
That’s great to hear! So, one thing we are excited to share today is that the starting weapon for ranked/competitive will be the BR75 (Battle Rifle). I’d love to learn more about what went into this decision, why the BR75 was selected, and how it was designed and tuned in order to meet the needs of the players.
Andrew: The process consisted of a lot of iteration with MP, Sandbox and the Competitive Insights Team. We playtested a ton of different loadouts over the years and each iteration allowed us to learn more about how our game performed at a high skill ceiling. We’ve toyed around with different weapon starts but we frequently would come back around to the Battle Rifle and how it’s spot in the Sandbox often overlapped with the demands of the starting weapon in Competitive Halo, specifically.
Another area of heavy consideration was secondary weapon, and what it meant for players with a full inventory as well as its effect on scavenging. Going back to the Arena pillars, we want power to be earned on the map and scavenging gameplay is super important for us to maintain even at the competitive level. If players have a full inventory of effective items off spawn, they may not need to contest for other items in the map. We eventually playtested with only a Battle Rifle in the player’s inventory and the response from our competitive matches was positive. Players felt effective off spawn but also felt the need to contest for other items on the map to fill their inventory so they can best optimize their impact on the match.
Austin: I think the most obvious thing is bringing the new but familiar feeling. The BR and competitive Halo have a very historic relationship at this point, but I think the more interesting piece is the gameplay element. It's a slower TTK (Time-To-Kill) than a majority of the sandbox and a little bit lower of a skill floor to be more inviting. The skill ceiling however is largely due to the delta between itself and the rest of the sandbox, it's no longer the "best" weapon on the map at all times, but it's going to be your most important tool to show off your skill and perform well on the map.
Greg: The Battle Rifle has such a deep history in Halo and has a been a staple within the competitive scene since Halo 2, it just feels right to have it as the starting weapon with Halo Infinite being a spiritual reboot. When working with the Sandbox design team on the starting weapon for ranked/competitive, one of the goals for the Competitive Insights Team was to lock down and refine our ‘base-line’ and then mold the rest of the sandbox around it so we could work towards that perfect harmony. During this process there were times we’d test out three or four designs a day then go back to the drawing board with the weapons designer David Price and determined what worked and what didn’t. Thinking back when we were going through the process I can recall when the pendulum might have been swung too far in either direction, we either didn’t want to pick up anything else on the map and just use the Battle Rifle or we wanted to pick everything up on the map and avoid the Battle Rifle. After many iterations I think we landed in a balanced spot which allowed for more diversity in weapon selection in competitive play. The Battle Rifle in competitive play will allow players to hold their own in any situation with skillful shots, but you’ll want to scavenge to get a more situational advantage.
Diving a bit more into what excites me about this version of the Battle Rifle, I feel this version encompasses many great elements of previous Battle Rifles that will make returning players feel right at home, and make new players understand what all the hype is about. Fans of Halo 2 will notice the smooth shot cadence in relation with a snappy strafe speed (my personal favorite). Halo 3 fans will appreciate the emphasis in skill required to hit that final headshot. Halo 4 players will recognize the great shot registration, and lastly, Halo 2: Anniversary players will enjoy the smooth descope experience. With these elements combined, I believe we have created a top tier competitive starting weapon that will allow for the utmost skill expression and players to have their own identity with how they use it.
Quinn: To be honest, I think Austin and Greg could not have answered this any better. Like I said above, the BR75 is something that we are very proud of. It really does feel like it takes all the best elements from previous iterations and puts them all together to form a utility weapon that players just love to shoot and duel with. The duel is something that we can’t stress enough. If the starting utility weapon is compelling in a 1v1 duel, then we know it is hitting the competitive mark.
BR75, the starting weapon for Ranked / Competitive play for Halo Infinite
EQUIPMENT AND GRENADES
One thing that’s totally new is the equipment in Halo Infinite and how that will all work in ranked/competitive. Elan, what can you tell us about the process for how equipment were developed and tuned for the competitive Halo Infinite experience? Greg and Austin, is there a particular equipment that’s your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
Elan: With bringing the Halo 3 equipment-type gameplay into the modern era, one thing that stood out was the lack of equipment in the Halo 3 competitive scene. This was something we wanted to rectify, bringing equipment into the core of Halo’s combat dance in a way that compliments, enhances, and respects the competitive legacy. Equipment in Halo needs to be an extension of the player's skill, a way for them to utilize their mastery of Halo knowledge (mechanical and movement skill, map knowledge, spawns, etc.) to gain an advantage, rather than a strict buff advantage (usually reserved for our Power Equipment).
We worked closely with the Competitive Insights Team to break down and understand the vast history of competitive Halo’s relationship with equipment/abilities, and how they have affected the gameplay and competitive meta over the years (for better or for worse). We've had long discussions and done plenty of analysis over designs, tunings, and map placements throughout the project, and have regular playtests on changes and the overall health of equipment in every competitive map and mode combination. I even get to sit in and play alongside them on some of the playtests, and while I accept my role as “Mikwen target practice”, I always walk away with a deeper understanding of competitive Halo.
When it comes to tuning equipment, it can be a difficult and delicate process of maintaining competitive balance without hurting the overall fun of the equipment. What we try to focus on is preserving the mechanics that have the most skill depth and provide the most interesting interactions with the rest of the sandbox, which will create the fun “Halo” moments we all love. For example, the Repulsor used to cause quite a bit more damage when a target collided with map geometry like walls and pieces of cover. It was definitely a lot of fun to get Pancakes and win fights, but it ended up devaluing the gun skill of the player using it as it was far more consistent to launch a player into a wall than land a precise burst. Working closely with CIT (Competitive Insights Team), we tuned down the values to a level that didn't compromise the base TTK (Time-To-Kill) of an enemy, but still allowed for fun Pancakes and outplays through skillful timing that we've seen plenty of in the most recent flight.
Austin: I think the Grappleshot and Repulsor are VERY close in terms of which is my favorite, but I'm going to go with the Grappleshot. This is one that internally I was shocked that it actually felt viable in a competitive space, I fully expected it to be a pretty big problem in competitive and it never was, even with Visal swinging around like a mad man. I think that's largely in part to it being neutral, having a resource amount, and the thoughtful design by the Sandbox team to make it fun and fair. Can you move far quickly? Absolutely, but the amount of times this truly happens in a competitive match makes it pretty exciting when it actually does happen. I use it more often to quickly get weapons, Power Equipment, or to reposition very quickly. It's hardly ever strictly a traversal-only tool for me, and I think that's why I like it so much.
Greg: My favorite equipment would be the Repulsor. What makes this equipment so interesting to me is the multipurpose use. With it you can: engage or disengage combat, use it to traverse, as a counter defense tool to knockback projectiles, give your objective toss an extra little boost, and send your enemies flying off the map. The list goes on and on, even after two plus years of playing with it internally we are still discovering new ways to use it. My personal favorite way to use the equipment is when I have the Sniper Rifle and am being chased and as soon as I turn a corner, I knock myself up which buys me enough time to get one last shot at the enemy. It feels amazing when you pull it off. I absolutely can’t wait till the community gets their hands on this and I get to see all the highlight reel plays!
A big piece of feedback we received from competitive Halo 5 players was in regards to Grenade Hitmarkers. Quinn, what can you tell us about why the decision to remove Grenade Hitmarkers was made? As a competitive player, Austin can you talk about the differences you’re experiencing when compared to Halo 5 and what it adds to gameplay?
Quinn: Grenade Hitmarkers in competitive play will be disabled. The primary reason for this is, like power, we believe information should be earned, not given. In competitive play, the story that is lived by the players and told by the commentators should be one that is rich with speed, aggression, mystery, risks, and gun skill. Removing the Grenade Hitmarkers brings some balance towards mystery and risk taking that we felt has been missing since Halo: Reach.
Austin: Grenades are a part of the "golden triangle" and grenade skill is one of the 3 major pieces when it comes to exceling in Halo. Grenade Hitmarkers added a layer to Grenades that made them that much more powerful than before, and that was the ability to “fish” for enemies. This ability had cascading effects on the entire game where you could throw a grenade, get a hitmarker, know where the enemy is and that they only have half shields, and thus is an easy kill. In my opinion, the even more negative effect being when you make a really good sneaky play to stay alive and get hit by a pretty random feeling grenade all but ending your sneaky play. This is one of those changes that opens up more room for movement.
Adding more skillful usage to grenades by not giving them as obvious of an information tool as hitmarkers were one of the small but massive changes for the competitive aspect of the game.
MOTION TRACKER AND SKILL GAP
In comparison to the social settings, the Motion Tracker has also been disabled. Andrew, can you talk about what went into the decision here and what our philosophical approach is?
Andrew: Like Battle Rifle starts, the call to disable the Motion Tracker from Ranked Arena and competitive settings was determined by lots of playtesting. Over time, we found that the more information players would have at their disposal, the more combat encounters would begin before combatants would see each other. While we embrace this gameplay in our social game mode experiences as it offers clear benefits to the fun of “the Halo dance”, for competitive settings we want to push players’ map awareness and target acquisitioning skills to the forefront of the experience. We know this will ultimately raise the skill floor on coordination and teamwork, but we think it gives players new opportunities at the same time. Ultimately, we feel that players earning their information in gameplay adds more to the skill expression within the competitive Halo experience.
Another often popular topic of conversation is around “skill gap” and “skill ceiling”. Quinn and Elan, when you and the team are creating the Sandbox and equipment, what can you say about our approach here for Halo Infinite? Austin and Greg, in your experience, what are the skills in the game that you feel will allow players to really push the ceiling higher and increase the gap?
Quinn: When creating new sandbox items, we intentionally have a spectrum that land somewhere between the skill floor and ceiling. By design, it is the job of some sandbox items to have a low skill floor so that players can quickly understand how to use them. Other sandbox items have a higher floor. (Floor meaning how much time needs to be invested before higher levels of effectiveness is achieved.) Those are usually the weapons/equipment that players may not like upon initial use but can learn to appreciate with repeated use and practice. We have seen some of that already in the previous flights with weapons like the Pulse Carbine. On the surface, its floor is pretty low. It’s a burst firing plasma gun. Cool! But when used in combat, it’s not readily apparent how to be “good” with it right off the bat. Because of that, some players may disregard its efficacy and write it off as not being good. Other players will stick with it and find that it is actually a strong weapon that fills a role in the sandbox. That is just one example of how we are thinking of highlighting a skill gap in our gameplay.
Elan: When creating any new equipment, the first question we ask ourselves is “How does this interact with every other element of the Sandbox?”. “What happens when you grapple a player? A vehicle? Level geometry? Objects?”. Each interaction is simple on its own, but layer that with a whole match of players all scavenging different items with their own interactions and you have a massive amount of depth and possibilities that even we don't know the limits of. These interactions are crucial because they are not only what makes Halo feel like Halo, but what creates the skill gap that drives the competitive side of the game. The mastery and utilization of all those interactions in-game is what will define the top teams, creating advantages and outplays that will be talked about for years to come.
Austin: One of the hardest things in Halo is to quantify all of the things that go into "why" a player is great, but I'm going to try my best. I think Halo Infinite is a return to form in a lot of ways with a little bit more emphasis on positioning skill, acquiring tools on the map, teamwork, and having great aim than Halo 5's heavy emphasis on movement. These will always inevitably shift, but in my opinion the skillset currently does a great job of keeping all of them fairly balanced. Are you really good at controlling weapons? Do that. Are you a heavy movement player? Do that. Do you just want to not miss and win every fight? Do that. Do you want to just hold spawns and make sure you're keeping great positions for your team? Do that. They're all there, and I think it's interesting to watch and play all of these different styles return and be as close to equally as important as they can be.
Greg: When I first read this question my mind instantly went to those old Xbox 360 gamer profile pictures from MLG that would describe specific player roles - “Main Slayer”, “Objective Player”, “Support Player”. Within our team we each have our own niche, for example: Clete “Assault” LoRusso is known as the “Grenade Player”. He’s able to use a variety of grenades in such a successful way it stands out in our playtests. We also have Visal “eL ToWn” Mohanan, who is known for his “Movement” skills. He’s able to vanish mid combat and buy his team so much time. I’m known as a “Scavenger”. You will find me using anything I can get my hands on which I feel always keeps opponents on their toes because they don’t know what to expect in the next battle. Halo Infinite offers so many new avenues for players to explore and we already have plans to expand that space even more.
Halo Infinite Arena map, Live Fire
Andrew, the team has put a lot of work into the modes as well and I know Strongholds has had some tweaks from Halo 5. Can you talk a bit more about this area?
Andrew: Our process began by spending a lot of time playing a ton of game modes from past Halo games and discussing them together and with the Competitive Insights Team. We discussed pain points in past titles and did a deep dive on each mode so that both the MP and CIT had a common language for us to align with as MP created the Arena modes for Halo Infinite. The MP Team wanted to iterate meaningfully on modes based on some of the issues we identified.
An example of a mode that received these iterations was Strongholds from Halo 5. The MP and CIT agreed that the mode had a lot of competitive depth and offered a fun experience that leveraged Halo gameplay quite well. The two spots where we decided to iterate on the mode were on scoring visibility and the “contesting” rules.
For scoring visibility, we really wanted to improve the signaling to players that they must own two or more zones to begin scoring. To help with this, we added scoring effects to our new area capture object (the one that your Personal AI sits on) and a custom mini-scoreboard for the mode that shows zone ownership so that players don’t need to search for pinned nav markers to see who owns what Stronghold.
Improving scoring visibility also allowed us to focus on the “contesting” ruleset as well. In Halo 5, a contested zone (some progress made by the enemy team on a zone owned by your team) would still be considered “owned” and thus would continue scoring. We felt like this did not allow for comeback moments specifically towards the end of a close match. A team could be in the process of capturing a Stronghold to begin scoring but during the capture loop, the other team wins the game. Our new rule avoids this situation by stopping a team’s scoring updates as soon as their Stronghold majority is challenged by the other team. We feel this still stays true to the competitive integrity of the mode and allows more opportunities for tactical decision making to win the game.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share all of this! Any closing words for the players out there?
Andrew: I’m super excited about the future of competitive Halo Infinite. I’m incredibly proud of the work that the MP, Sandbox, and Competitive Insights Team have done on the competitive settings for this game and cannot wait to read about players’ climbs through Ranked as well as all the amazing HCS moments that are to come. I also just want to say thank you to everyone out there reading this blog. We’re so excited for you to play this game.
Quinn; Thank you all for your passion and excitement for Halo. Without you, Halo wouldn’t be what it is today. The launch of Halo Infinite is only the beginning.
Elan: I’m already impressed and excited from what I’ve seen in the recent flights, and we haven’t even started yet. I can’t wait to get in the game day one and grind ranked with all of you, cheer on all the teams in the HCS tournament this December, and especially watch the game evolve over time as you all master the sandbox. Stay creative Spartans!
Austin: I think in a lot of ways these settings are a return to Halo's form. There's a lot of new here, but I think we have a really good foundation that competitive players have come to expect. I personally can't wait to watch everyone hit the ground running and see competitive Halo back in action.
Greg: This game is such a perfect blend of classic and modern Halo with new elements that just make sense. I’m excited for the future of Halo and cannot wait to hop into matchmaking on day 1 and grind with everyone!
Thank you so much to Elan, Quinn, Andrew, Austin, and Greg for the insights today and of course for your hard work in making Halo Infinite.
As mentioned above, we have released a full gameplay video with commentary where you can see exactly how all these new elements for competitive Halo playout in a real game.
We are so thrilled to not only have a great social experience for Halo fans, but also a ranked/competitive experience that really tests your skills, teamwork, communication and so much more in new yet familiar ways that remain true to Halo’s identity. In just a few weeks we’ll be pulling back the curtain on the ranking system for Halo Infinite so you can see exactly how you can work your way to the top and the rewards you’ll get along the way. And hey, one day you’ll be on top of the ranked leaderboards, and maybe the next day you’ll find yourself on the HCS Mainstage.
Until next time,