It’s a moment years in the making. Cloud9 coach Emanuel “Hoaxer” Lovejoy can imagine the roar of the crowd before the stands are filled with a single person as he walks into the Raleigh Convention Center ahead of the Halo Championship Series Kickoff Major. It’s not surreal for him, it’s what he’s spent his career surrounded by.
“I have gotten past the surreal stage of this,” Hoaxer said. “Once we had our grand finals for the first online tournament for qualifiers for Raleigh, once I went back and realized what that series was, I was like we’re so back, it’s insane.“
Halo as an esport has been on the back burner for the last half-decade. No new Halo has come out in six years, but people have still been playing various games in the series at a competitive level. That said, these competitions haven’t been front and center in the esports world like League of Legends or VALORANT. The Halo Championship Series has changed all that, bringing everyone to Halo Infinite for what could be 10 years of top-tier competitive play.
“Just looking at all the chatter on social media and just the buzz is insane,” said Hoaxer. “After that, I realized this was real and Raleigh being sold out, spectators sold out, team passes. It is just one of those things where we always knew Halo Infinite was going to be big, we just didn’t know how big.”
Hoaxer’s path through Halo to Cloud9
Hoaxer began competing in Halo back in 2002, shortly after the original Halo came out at the tail end of 2001. He competed for a series of different teams before realizing that he needed to adapt to remain competitive. He started coaching. What started as a favor for friends of his at one of the last LAN events turned into an opportunity to compete under one of the most prestigious organizations in North America.
Hoaxer was attending DreamHack Anaheim in 2020 to compete “for the hell of it,” but his team was eliminated from the event early. Shortly after he was approached by Kevin “Eco” Smith, Braedon “StelluR” Boettcher, Joey “Trippy” Taylor and Zane “Penguin” Hearon, who were in desperate need of a coach for the remainder of the event. Little did Hoaxer know that this team that he was coaching as a favor would soon turn into four out of the five members of the current Cloud9 Halo team.
“They [Unlimited] asked me if I could coach and I was like ‘yeah sure, I’m already out of the event’,” explained Hoaxer. “They weren’t doing too well and then we just turned the tournament around for them on Saturday afternoon. Then they were like ‘holy crap, can you coach for us again for Sunday?”
With Hoaxer coaching the team, Unlimited was able to eliminate teams like Nfinite and Sentinels to make it to the grand finals of the event. There Unlimited was eliminated by Team Mantra, who would later dissolve into three different organizations during Halo Infinite.
“It was a good experience for the guys to have a coach and see how much of an influence and impact that it made for them at that event,” said Hoaxer. “I think that was a key moment for me in terms of going into Halo Infinite and approaching teams.”
Sifting through the noise to find Cloud9
When it came down to building a team, Eco was the one who set the precedent for Hoaxer joining the team as coach. Eco had been on Team Unlimited which was the team that Hoaxer had coached at a previous event. No matter which organization picked the team up, in the end, Eco wanted to be led by the man who got his team to the grand finals at DreamHack Anaheim.
“Eco gave me a phone call and was like ‘I don’t care what team I have, I want you coaching it’ and obviously that was like the ultimate compliment,” explained Hoaxer. “I was like ‘of course, I’m down for it’ and when we formed the team.”
The choice to sign with Cloud9 wasn’t Hoaxer’s first instinct. He had been talking to almost every organization in the scene earlier in 2020. The goal was to play. When the team reached out to see if Cloud9 was interested in picking them up, it was a mutual agreement. This was well before Halo Infinite’s release date almost a year later but Cloud9 was still on board with their newest addition.
“I sent them [Cloud9] an email and told them ‘I think our home is with C9’ and they responded back immediately,” said Hoaxer. “Then we were in talks the next day and sure enough they were all on board with it.”
On the road to Raleigh
Cloud9 is one of the top teams headed into the Halo Championship Series Kickoff Major this weekend. Hoaxer has been dying to play in-person again for years.
After placing second at back-to-back the tournament and then finishing fifth at the qualifier for Raleigh, Cloud9 are ready to show what they can do at a LAN. Not only will the games be more level in terms of playing field, but they will also be able to all play from the same space and bring back the level of energy that got Unlimited to the grand finals of Anaheim.
“The fact that we have lost these last few online tournaments, these are learning opportunities and we need to take every moment and learn from it,” said Hoaxer. “Going into Raleigh, we need to dominate. That’s it, that’s the objective. I won’t say good luck to the other teams, that’s not exactly what I do, but there is always a ‘GG’ at the end of it.”