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If you’ve frequented Reddit or various parts of Twitter over the past four years, chances are you’ve probably come across this picture of one of the spectator areas at the 2017 Halo World Championship Finals.

Whether or not you’re familiar with competitive Halo, it’s hard to argue against the legendary franchise’s impact on esports history and culture over the years. Even in 2017, to say that this was a sad sight for new and old Halo fans alike would’ve been an understatement. As OpTic Gaming’s Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez explained in a vlog at the time, there were more attendees watching at the event’s main stage, but it didn’t make the lack of attendance any less disappointing.

In 2021, Halo Infinite aims to breathe life into a once-vibrant scene full of passionate fans and world-class talents, and it’s working. In the face of a global pandemic, people showed up in droves to a sold-out Raleigh Convention Center for the first major Halo LAN event in two years: the Halo Championship Series Kickoff Major Raleigh 2021.

A new era of Halo fandom at HCS Kickoff Major Raleigh 2021

The HCS Kickoff Major Raleigh 2021 didn’t smash the Halo franchise’s all-time viewership record on the first day by accident. Halo fans, players and even organizations have been waiting for this day for years, and when it came, they were ready.

Antimatter Gaming co-founder Steven “Brokenarrow” Costello, 31, is somewhat of a veteran in Halo; he remembers the old Major League Gaming days and the infamous aforementioned scene at the Halo World Championship. He drove seven hours from Pennsylvania to Raleigh, North Carolina on Dec. 16 to support his team; he didn’t arrive in the city until 6 a.m. EST on the first day of the event.

“It’s good to see as many teams show up, as many people show up,” Costello said. “It’s good to see enough orgs and sponsors and everything else get behind it. It does feel like it’s back. We’re not full into it yet, but we’re starting those steps to become the next best greatest thing again.”

Antimatter Gaming went on to defeat Team Reality Check 2-0 on Dec. 17 in the open bracket stage of the HCS Kickoff Major Raleigh. When asked about the game’s future prospects and the current hype around Halo’s resurgence, Costello was confident that the numbers speak for themselves.

I mean, 272 teams registered, 4v4; that’s massive,” Costello said. “Halo hasn’t had that in 10, five years. Since Halo 3 days it just hasn’t existed. Even Halo 5 and Halo Reach; they didn’t hit those numbers.”

Robert “Pops” Walker, 47,  and Prince Walker, 23, are a father and son streaming duo that got into playing Halo 5 together after the latter graduated from college. When Prince Walker found out that Halo Infinite was having its first Major, the duo booked tickets right away. The pair arrived in Raleigh after a 12.5-hour drive from Chicago, and it’s their first time attending a live Halo event of any kind.

“We’re gonna be at probably every event from now on,” said Walker. “I’m just excited to be around the Halo community. That was my big thing: I wanted to meet everybody and see how it is. In terms of streaming, connections would be great, but we’re just here to have fun.”

His father chimed in with a similar level of enthusiasm.

“We love that things like this can connect the world,” Pops said. “It seems like one of those things that’s just a game, but look at all the different faces and different places to come out. Especially after the last two years. People are here; it’s what’s needed to heal the world I think.”

Becoming the “next big thing” again

Halo may have had one of the most bustling and energetic scenes in esports back in the early 2000s, but the esports landscape has changed drastically since then.

In a world full of AAA titles like League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and VALORANT, that are constantly breaking records, selling out stadiums and pushing boundaries, Halo Infinite has its work cut out for it. These games have redefined what it means to be a successful esport over the years.

After a single day, Halo Infinite has already shattered a record of its own. Who knows how long the hype will last, but according to host and commentator Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez, Halo’s climb to success will take time and patience.

“Halo was always the big cheese at the MLG events, you know,” said Goldenboy on an episode of Upcomer’s Untold Tales. “You’d show up, and everyone was practically there for Halo… This is going to be a very long process, but I’m very bullish on the future of HCS with Infinite.”

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