This past weekend (16 January to be exact), the top eight Halo 5 teams in South Africa faced off to bag a slot in the EMEA finals of the Halo World Championship.
For many South African eSports fans, this event may have gone a little unnoticed, but when Vinco Gaming took their win in the final they also booked themselves a flight to Europe to face off against 11 other teams from the EMEA (Europe, Middle-East and Africa). From there, placing in the top four will see them head to the United States to participate in the Halo World Championship grand final – and for their share of over $2 million.
The action from Saturday’s matches was streamed live by ESL with well-known Halo shoutcaster Richard Simms on duty, so the scene was set for the South African teams to put themselves on show. When I chatted to some of the teams in the lead up to the SA finals, it was clear that Vinco Gaming were favourites to take the qualifier, and it also appeared that they had a fan in Richard Simms, so all eyes were on the team in yellow.
Vinco Gaming lived up to their Halo pedigree, by taking their quarter final 2-0 against Red-Eyed Jedi, their semi-final 3-0 over Banter Boyz (which included a map where Vinco had to play with only three players) and a 3-0 win in the final over Ghosts of Onyx. Their victory sees them prepare to face some of the top British and European Halo teams including Epsilon, Dignitas, Infused, Millenium, ABC, Vitality, Supremecy, FABE and Penta with two more teams qualifying this coming weekend.
The team features players that have won their fair share of tournaments. In 2013 Jean-Claude Carreno took the Halo 4 free-for-all tournament hosted by Xbox South Africa, while he and Danny Bechus along with two other teammates were the winners of the team portion of the tournament.
And in Danny Bechus they have one of the few South African players to have played in a major international tournament for two different titles – he headed to Los Angeles in 2014 to participate in the Call of Duty Championship, and is now playing his preferred game again in Halo with similar results.
I fired off a few questions to Danny about the team’s win and how they are planning and preparing for Europe, and he was kind enough to fire some answers right back at me.
Congratulations on winning the spot in Europe. Did you guys feel confident going into the tournament on Saturday?
Thank you, we hope you enjoyed watching the stream! We did indeed feel confident. We practiced together beforehand for about 4/5 hours every day as well as scrimmed top tier European teams and spent a good few hours discussing different strategies so we definitely felt like we deserved it. A big issue we were worried about was disconnecting which did prove to be a threat on the day but luckily we were able to clutch a game with 3 players and get Sharp up and running at our trusty manager's house. We love you CS! Besides feeling confident we still treated every opponent the same and I'm glad that everybody played fair and got involved for the big day.
If I'm correct, this marks the first time a South African Halo team is off to compete overseas - do you feel a fair weight of expectation on your shoulders?
This is indeed the first time a South African Halo team has been given a chance. To be honest I'm not too fazed about other people's expectations or worried that I won't perform and I don't think my teammates are either. We're all just focused on working hard in various ways and getting excited about spending time in Germany. We just want to enjoy ourselves there and play hard when the time comes.
Who will be the players representing Vinco in Europe?
Daniel "Pupsky" Bechus (myself), my duo Jean-Claude "Sharp" Carreno, my apprentice Nicolas "Radical" Van Ysendyk and the beast Michael "Plain Filth" De Carvalho! Definitely loving this team and I feel we mesh very well.
Which teams are you looking forward to competing against?
I definitely would love to play the European champions Epsilon to play against our unofficial coach and good friend "Jimbo". Myself and Sharp have been good friends with him for a good few years and they're the clear-cut best team at the moment so I think that would be exciting. Other than that I think we're excited to play against all the teams. They're the best teams throughout Europe and we're all excited to see how we perform against them on LAN, I think it will be very exciting.
The change to LAN in Europe may be something that the team needs to adapt to? How will the team be preparing for their matches against the other 11 teams in Europe?
[For those not aware, Halo 5 does not come with an offline LAN – or system link – mode that previous Halos had. It is via dedicated servers, so the event will be online but all the teams will be in the same venue on a high speed connection – and most probably on a server a few meters away. The team will need to play without taking lag into account which can be a tough adjustment considering most of our games require the reverse. – ZD]
Indeed it will and the only downside is that we won't get to practice playing the game on LAN since Halo 5 only runs on dedicated servers (unless we play campaign, lol). So the goal for now is to keep scrimming the European teams on our connection and just work on building our chemistry, communication and getting more used to each other. Once we arrive in Europe we will definitely take advantage of playing together with good connection just to get that "LAN" feel as much as we can. We will also warm up on the day just to get the feel of the connection even more.
What sort of target (in terms of placing) do you have in mind - a spot in the United States grand finals maybe?
Our ultimate goal is definitely to make top 4 and to qualify for the World Championship finals. We've been given a great opportunity and it would be huge for us to do that so we'll definitely be aiming to go all the way. Regardless of where we place we'll be happy if we play our best and that should end us up with a good placing.
Hopefully you are all set with regards to passports and that, and we would like to thank you for your time and wish you all the best. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for the good questions and for all the support! We also just want to thank everybody that supported us before and during our qualifiers. We also want to thank the local Halo players for getting involved, showing good sportsmanship and for being a nice bunch in general that have helped us to grow our community. We hope that we can grow from here onwards and make everybody proud of our performance in the rest of the tournament!
The team leaves for Europe on 3 February and I – as I’m sure everyone reading this – would like to see them make the top four. You can see how they fair by watching the action unfold on the ESL Halo Twitch channel. You can also show them you’re there for them by following the team from South Africa on Twitter and Facebook and wearing yellow on 6 February.
You can see the 'duo' of Pupsky and Sharp in action in this video from their Halo 4 days.
Cover image credit: #PWND
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