20-year old Halo player Aaron "ACE" Elam has won $200,000 and the title of Halo 4 Champion in a final match over Justin "iGotUrPistola" Deese at this weekend's Halo 4 Global Championships held by 343 Industries at PAX Prime.
"This means everything to me," Elam said immediately after winning the championship. "I've been playing Halo since I was nine years old, and I have to say, the games against Deese were the most intense games of Halo in my entire life. I just can't believe this. I feel like I'm dreaming."
"I watched the final, like everyone, with my heart in my throat and I basically don't have any fingernails left," 343 Industries Franchise Director for Halo Frank O'Connor told GameSpot. "The Halo 4 Global Championship did something a little bit different, offering every kind of player, from every region of the world, a chance to compete and win a huge individual cash prize. And for the final to come down to a tie break, between two amazingly cool people, and two genuinely excellent players, was a sports fan's dream come true. Congratulations to both players and especially of course, to ACE for taking the prize. I am incredibly excited about the future of Halo in the competitive scene, and we can't wait to do something even cooler in the future.”
The best Halo players in the world were on-hand to play in 343's first worldwide Halo Championships, held at Seattle's Benaroya Hall--the same venue that hosted Valve's Dota 2 $2.8 million International tournament. 343 Industries chose Free For All (FFA) as the game type of choice for the competition, with 1v1 being played in the semifinals and grand finals. Former Major League Gaming pros were invited by 343, while others qualified through events from GamesCom and RTX. Over 100 players began competition on Friday night. 64 players continued on to Saturday evening, and only eight remained by finals day on Sunday to compete for $300,000.
Elam is no stranger to victory, having won championships at MLG's debut Halo: Reach event at the Dallas Championships in 2011, and most recently winning the Arena Gaming League's eighth event in Knoxville, Tennessee for Halo 4. Even with those accomplishments, FFA is a different beast.
"In other Halo games I hadn't been the greatest FFA player, and I believe it was because I hadn't transitioned my playstyle from 4v4 to FFA," Elam tells GameSpot. "I don't know if it was because I hadn't played it enough, but I guess I just didn't know how to play it correctly. I played selfless in 4v4 and I didn't play selfish enough in FFA."
"Before the event, I was learning a lot about how I needed to approach the game in FFA. For example, to not be the initiator in fights, and instead wait for people nearby to start the battle and then come in and try to clean up. I learned that I needed to scan the map as quick as possible looking for weak players. If there weren't any, then you have to immediately worry about people spawning nearby you, and I would try to get first shot or sight on them. If I didn't, I waited until they got distracted by someone else."
Elam's newly practiced FFA skills earned him a place in Sunday's finals, among other players such as Deese, Ian "Enable" Wyatt, Bryan "Legit" Rizzo, and Cory "Str8 Sick" Sloss. A final kill by Elam in the waning moments of the Round of 8 FFA earned him a spot in the semfinals--and a 1v1 format to go with it.
"I actually had never played a 1v1 match until Sunday," Elam remarked about a tough finals day. "My first ever 1v1 in Halo was against Enable in warm-ups 3 hours prior to my semifinals match against Sloss. Coming into the event, I didn't think I could win, honestly."
The 1v1 games were played on the map Skyline, released in the Majestic Map Pack back in February. The map is small and symmetrical with a mixture of high and low spaces, with room for cover. Sloss earned himself a quick 4-1 lead with seven minutes remaining. With the pressure mounting, Elam got the kills he needed to bring it back and go on to win 9-7, advancing himself to the finals.
A win by Deese over Rizzo in the Semifinals set up the Finals match against Elam; one map for $200,000. With the crowd behind both players, the finals didn't disappoint, as Elam and Deese traded kill after kill with tie scores 3-3, 4-4, and 5-5. With one minute remaining, Deese scored a go-ahead kill to make it 6-5 and just a short moment away from victory. For the third time that day, Elam would not back down, tying it up with 25 seconds to go and escaping Deese's last-second aggressive move to send it into overtime.
"My goal was to get the power weapon and control," said Elam. "Getting the concussion rifle is the most important thing. If you don't have that, than I tried to use a variety of needler, boltshot, and assault rifle, and to make sure I put myself in positions to use those weapons effectively."
"While losing the game, I'm thinking 'I need to carefully move around the map and try to see him before he sees me.' That's basically the biggest advantage you could possible get. When I tied the game, I didn't think either of us would go for the win, so we just waited."
Overtime saw both players play both cautiously and aggressively, not wanting to make a mistake while trying to take advantage of any available opportunity. Elam would land a grenade onto Deese and send him running; moments later, Deese returned the favor. Deese piled on the aggression for the kill and the title, but Elam's defensive shots and positioning got him out of trouble, giving him an opportunity to take away all of Deese's shields. Another aggressive push by Deese was his downfall, and the final shots came from Elam, crowning him the Halo 4 Global Champion and making him $200,000 richer.
"No one besides select few friends and my brother thought I had a chance to win this."
"I learned from the previous game that he went straight for the concussion rifle bottom center so in the beginning I went to straight to watch it," said Elam. "I waited for him to make a mistake looking for me, and I caught him top center and he started running. I went back for the concussion rifle and pushed into the base because I knew he didn't know where I was and I wanted to flank him."
"Turns out he ended up top center with positioning on me so when I got weak I ran and the rest was just a battle. He came in flying at me which sort of gives me the advantage because it takes a second to get out of sprint. I jumped back and pulled out my battle rifle, and honestly didn't expect to see him there, I thought he would hide. It really was a sigh of relief at that point, and more of just shock and disbelief that I actually won."
"No one besides select few friends and my brother thought I had a chance to win this. I knew I was talented enough. I like being the underdog though, it motivates me immensely. All the hard work I put into this game finally paid off. I've played halo since I was nine, competitively since 2006. I've struggled so much to study hard in school and balance this game, I took tons of AP classes in high school and worked very hard."
The brother that supported him all the way is none other than Kyle "ElamiteWarrior" Elam, who previously won the Halo 3 National Championship and $50,000 along with it. Kyle Elam won his championship at the same time Aaron has now won his--at the young age of 20.
"I am still in disbelief of the events that corresponded this weekend," Kyle Elam told GameSpot. "I took ACE to his first event in 2005 when he was 12 years old. I always knew he had incredible skill, but just needed a little development. There is nothing better than watching someone that you care about more than yourself succeed. I was a little worried about the qualifiers and making it into the tournament and when I say that I mean for him really and not myself. I was way more confident in him than I was in myself this weekend. He has been playing out of his mind and was easily one of the top four players in the game. Besides being one of the best, you need to come ready to play, the term 'any given Sunday' seems only fitting with the magnitude and scale of this event."
"We talked for hours the night before the finals, strategizing, laughing about how crazy it would be to have the US Champion and the Global Champion in the same family. That's when I started to think and realized that it was five years ago, when I was 20, the same age ACE is now that I took my FFA Championship for $50,000. ACE has been the most underrated player in the game for five years now and I stand by that comment. People love flashy players, but what really wins you games are decision making and consistency, aspects of the game that unfortunately go unnoticed too often."
Although this tournament was a FFA instead of a traditional 4v4, Aaron "ACE" Elam is now considered the best Halo player in the world. Elam is modest about his accomplishments, but understands the gravity of the performance he just displayed.
"Honestly, as of right now, I don't see how you couldn't say that," said Elam. "Obviously all the pros are good and saying you're the 'best' could change any given day or time, it comes down to who played better that day/weekend. So yes I don’t disagree with that statement."
Catch GameSpot’s interview with Frank O'Connor on GameSpot eSports.