HCS Update – January 2022
Hey everyone, welcome to the first in a new blog series we’ll call the HCS Update. Up to this point, our blogs have been focused on how we’ve been putting together the Halo esports ecosystem. Now that the game has been released and HCS is off to a blistering start, we want to keep the transparent communication going. In this blog series, which will be regular but not monthly, we’re going to be providing a “State of the Union” of sorts to talk about what’s been going well, where we plan to make to changes as well as, and address feedback that we’ve received. This will be the main place to look for updates on some of the larger and longer lead evolutions of our program.
For clarity, this is not the place for broader updates and insights into the game itself – stay tuned on that front.
The incredible relaunch of the HCS has us at 343 Industries feeling grateful. As we’ve said from the start, the success of HCS is dependent upon everyone in the ecosystem coming together and playing their part – and that’s exactly what’s happening. Thank you! Let’s keep up this momentum, continue to support each other, and let’s focus our sights on the next event in Anaheim.
Alright Tashi, what are we going to talk about today?
Today we are going to talk about a number of things:
- Restate our goals
- Provide a status update on how HCS is performing based on our expectations coming in
- Raleigh results
- Touch on future partnered teams
- Address feedback about Raleigh, Observer Mode, and upcoming community surveys
We know most of you have Anaheim top of mind so let’s start there.
The next live event in the season is the NA Regional Finals in Anaheim which is operated by DreamHack. This event, like the other Regionals and Supers are what we consider to be “Minors” as opposed to the Raleigh Major. This means you’ll typically see a smaller event scope with fewer overall bells and whistles in the presentation, and fewer players and spectators.
As announced last on the HCS Twitter we are no longer able to feature a live in-person audience and the open competition will be played online. See below for updated information regarding qualifiers and event format.
Qualifiers: As originally planned, the Top 8 teams from the Kickoff Major in Raleigh started not only in the first Pro Series tournament but also earned pool play at the NA Regional Final in Anaheim. These teams are:
- FaZe Clan
- Spacestation Gaming
- G2 Esports
- OpTic Gaming
- KC Pioneers
You might be thinking, “wait, didn’t NAVI get Top 8 in Raleigh?”. The answer is yes, however they’re a European team and therefore not eligible for the NA Regional in Anaheim. Because G2 had the highest amount of points out of the teams that placed 9-12 in Raleigh, they earned the final 8th spot.
Originally, pool play in Anaheim was going to feature 12 teams and the qualifier on January 29-30 was going to find the last 4 teams. However, with 16 total teams in attendance in Anaheim, the qualifier will now take the Top 8 teams and see them through to Anaheim. Those additional 8 teams will also be provided travel coverage to the event.
Anaheim Format: The format for Anaheim is quite close to the original format and should be familiar to players and fans alike.
- Pool play:
- 4 pools of 4 teams drawn before the event
- Single Round Robin, Best of 5
- 1st place team receives a bye and moves to Winner’s Round 2 of the Championship Bracket.
- 2nd and 3rd place teams go into Winner’s Round 1.
- 4th place teams go into Elimination Round 1.
- Championship Bracket:
- Double Elimination
- All 16 teams
- Best of 5, until Grand Finals which will be a best of 7.
COVID Protocol: Day by day and week by week the landscape around the COVID-19 pandemic continues to change, and while we’re glad to be able to still have a competition on LAN, we still need to abide by local regulations and work with the Microsoft Security and Events teams. Below is what you can expect at the event:
- Face masks are required for all individuals
- All players and staff must self-attest to their health in the Microsoft Health Check App each day and check in before entering the venue
- For those vaccinated, you must upload your vaccination proof to the Microsoft Health Check App.
- All players and staff must provide proof of negative PCR test within 72 hours of entering the venue.
Hardware: Finally, we can confirm today that the tournament will be played on the Xbox Series X with PCs as the servers. We are continuing our investigation of the issues we saw from Raleigh and are targeting reinstating PCs for play for the Kansas City Major on April 29 – May 1. We will of course provide updates as we draw closer to the event.
Finally, media will not be permitted onsite at the event and for any other media inquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will share more details in the coming weeks on broadcast schedule. Thank you to everyone in the community and our partners for your understanding and continued support!
RESTATING OUR GOALS
In the first ecosystem blog which was released almost a year ago at this point, we stated our original goals for HCS and these still hold true. Now that we’ve started, we just want to remind everyone again at the top. It’s important to understand our goals because this is how we make decisions for the HCS.
These are the goals and how we will determine the success of the program and ecosystem. Success in these areas means we can expand and grow over time, shortcomings in these areas means we may need to rethink our approach.
- Extend engagement outside of our games with players, and potential players.
- Build a platform that players, teams, sponsors, tournament operators, and content creators can sustain successful businesses around. (Participating and investing in Halo needs to provide returns based on their goals)
- Build a vision and aspiration for our fans, players, and gamers to create a movement. (We want to create as many 1 + 1 = 3 scenarios as possible. If we all band together, we can truly create something special)
- Create exciting and epic moments in gaming culture. (When are the times we are creating a moment and capturing the attention of the greater online gaming community?)
- Player retention, loyalty, engagement, and more in-game. (The development team will own these goals more than the esports team, but still important for us to track and contribute to.)
So, how are we performing? And when I say “we” I mean everyone in the ecosystem from Teams, to tournament operators, players, fans and us at 343 - because we are all in this together. Let’s take a look!
Viewership: We’ve already seen record viewership for Halo Infinite esports with the first online qualifiers surpassing concurrent viewers of all prior Halo esports events except for the Halo World Championships. With Raleigh having now concluded, we have now set the new record for all of Halo esports and in terms of concurrency have doubled the prior record from HaloWC 2017. We’ve said it many times in the past but viewership is absolutely critical to the success of this ecosystem and we’re so thankful to have so many fans watching. We’d like to also thank the amazing co-streamers that we partnered with and provided Twitch Drops to. We were very happy to see they saw an increase in viewership as well.
Participation: We are also seeing record participation in HCS with 788 global teams participating in the 2nd online qualifier, and selling out all team passes from the Raleigh. We also saw over 600 players sign up for the FFA down in Raleigh. Overall, this is incredibly strong and we are looking to keep the momentum going.
Since launch, we’ve been excited to see so much interest from organizations looking to join the HCS and potentially the Team Partnership Program as well. While we’ve been having a number of meetings already behind the scenes, we wanted to share our thoughts publicly as well, so the entire ecosystem knows our approach.
In terms of expansion, it’s critical for us that we are taking good care of our launch partners rather than expanding the partnership program too quickly. We don’t want to, in a matter of a year, expand from 9 partners to dozens and forget about our launch partners. It’s important to us that our growth in partnerships is slow and steady. We’re currently targeting 1-4 new partners for the second wave in the partnership program. This is not a quota however, there’s not a minimum number of Teams that we feel we need to hit no matter what. The quality of the Teams is the most important part of this.
With regards to timing, we’re targeting opening up applications for partnership in the February – April 2022 time frame. We will announce when applications are open, we will be publicly sharing the requirements needed to apply, what we’re looking for in a partner, and we will publicly announce the new partners once we’ve made our final selections. This process will take months and we will likely not announce the new partners until late 2022. While North America is a focus region for us at launch, we’re actively seeking international Team partners that have a shared vision of growth for Halo esports while also meeting our high standards and criteria.
We will provide more updates on this process in 2022. For now, any potential partners can email me at: email@example.com
We also want to use this blog series to talk about various feedback that we’ve received both about the competitive experience of the game but also various parts of the esports program. As mentioned above, this isn't the blog series that will dive into broader game updates.
Raleigh Open Bracket: Raleigh was the first Halo Infinite ever and the largest HCS event ever, and overall we felt we delivered on a very strong experience through and through. However, we’ve heard from some players that competed in the open bracket that the experience there was less than satisfactory, with the main complaints being lack of time to warm up, extra-long wait times, mouse and keyboard support, and more. Coming out of Raleigh, the HCS team and Esports Engine have been meeting to discuss where improvements could be made all up and that of course includes the open bracket as that’s a priority for us. We are confident that for Kansas City we’ll be able to build on the experience in Raleigh and continue to not only provide a competitive open bracket tournament, but also a fun weekend to spend time with the Halo community.
Observer Mode: With regards to Observer Mode there’s two main pieces of feedback that we’ve heard, the first being about colors and difficulty reading things like the scoreboard, and then also the misalignment of reticle for online events. With regards to colors, our goal is here is to match the outlines and UI elements to the branding of the teams and we’re working with the development team on improvements here so that it’s clear and readable for viewers. Regarding the reticle misalignment, this is caused by an increase in latency which is why it’s most apparent during online matches as opposed to on LAN. To set expectations, this is not a simple fix and will take quite a bit of time to see significant improvements. On top of these, there are other bugs and improvements that we are tracking for improvement and the experience will continue to be refined over time.
Mid-week tournaments: We’ve also heard feedback that, for some players, the mid-week tournaments are difficult to participate in. Our approach is to have content available to watch throughout the week and not stack everything during the weekend. Our goal is to drive viewership as well as avoid conflicts with other streams and events. Ultimately this is a balance between viewership and schedules for people to participate. We will look at the results and make determinations based on our goals. If we feel we’re not meeting them then we will adjust accordingly.
More international involvement: We are very thankful to have many passionate competitors across so many different countries in the world who are looking to participate in the HCS. It’s critical for us that we are building the HCS in a way that is sustainable long term and because of that, we decided to launch for focus on the 4 main regions competing today where there are the most players and viewers. Over time, as we strive to hit our goals year over year, we do have plans to slowly add more countries/regions into the scene. We are going to be taking a methodical approach to this, and you will see us leveraging programs like HCS Grassroots to support local tournament operator groups and communities to begin hosting competition. As those grow and mature, we will look for small ways to include those players in the broader program when and where it makes sense. Before we decide to officially bring in a new region for HCS, we need to ensure that slice of the ecosystem is strong and sustainable first. Keep an eye out for HCS Grassroots competitions that are announced in the coming months.
For all the latest on the HCS be sure to follow HCS on Twitter and keep it locked to Halo.gg
NA COMPETITIVE RULING
Following the announcement of Royal2’s suspension on 12/12, the HCS Administration made the following additional rulings on 12/14:
Royal 1’s conduct, as evidenced by his December 12, 2021 tweets, violated the HCS Code of Conduct, specifically Non-Disparagement and Treatment of League Officials. HCS determined Royal 1’s conduct to be severe disparagement of HCS Administration and severe mistreatment of League Officials. Therefore, the Administration has issued a fine against Royal 1 for severe disparagement of HCS Administration, and for severe mistreatment of League Officials.
Lethul’s conduct, as evidenced by his December 12 - 13, 2021 tweets, violated the HCS Code of Conduct. Specifically Non-Disparagement and Sportsmanship. HCS determined Lethul’s conduct to be severe disparagement of 343i and HCS Administration, and Social Media Misconduct. Therefore, the Administration has issued a fine against Lethul for severe disparagement of 343i and HCS Administration, and for Social Media Misconduct.
HCS Code of Conduct Ruleset excerpts:
VII. Code of Conduct I. Non-Disparagement
While the Administration will always value constructive criticism and feedback in relation to the Program and encourages Participants to express their opinions in a professional manner, disparagement and harassment will not be tolerated. Participants are prohibited from using language or otherwise communicating to any person, public forum, or entity in a way that would be considered disparaging or slanderous in connection with the Administration, the Program, 343i, or any associates or affiliates of the Administration or 343i. Such violations can include but are not limited to: direct or targeted personal attacks towards 343i or Program officials, excessively vulgar outbursts aimed towards 343i or Program officials, or obscene or toxic language aimed at the game title or Program.
VII. Code of Conduct J. Treatment of League Officials
League officials, including members or representatives of the Administration, Referees, or any other associates or affiliates of the Administration, are to be treated with respect and Participants are expected to comply with their reasonable requests. Participants are prohibited from engaging in the use of language or other communication that may be considered demeaning, harassment, denigrating or otherwise unacceptable behavior deemed as such by the Administration in its sole discretion.
VII. Code of Conduct K. Sportsmanship
“Participants of the Program will be held to a high standard of behavior, communication, and action. Participants are expected to represent the Program in a professional and courteous manner and are strictly prohibited from engaging in communication or actions that could be considered vulgar, toxic, antagonistic, inflammatory, threatening or generally misrepresent the Administration in relation to the Program at any time.”
VIII. Disciplinary Actions & Penalties I. Non-Disparagement
Typical Minimum Penalty: $1,000 Fine, and/or Suspension
Typical Maximum Penalty: $3,000 Fine, Indefinite Suspension
VIII. Disciplinary Actions & Penalties J. Treatment of League Officials
Severe Mistreatment of League Officials
Typical Minimum Penalty: $1,000 Fine, and/or Suspension
Typical Maximum Penalty: $2,000 Fine, Indefinite Suspension
VIII. Disciplinary Actions & Penalties K. Sportsmanship
Social Media Misconduct
Typical Minimum Penalty: $500 Fine, and/or Suspension
Typical Maximum Penalty: $1,000 Fine, and/or Indefinite Suspension