Halo will make its debut at this year's Aspen X Games, a first for the franchise that will turn 15 this November. Microsoft and 343 Industries' "Halo 5" has been viewed as a real competitive return to the series for many longtime Halo players who were not pleased overall with the reign of "Halo: Reach" and "Halo 4." The X Games Aspen Invitational will serve as a pivotal event to kick off this year's Halo World Championship Tour, another first for the esports side of the game, which now features more than $2 million in prize money.
The league set all team rosters to be locked last Sunday, which sent a tidal wave of free-agency moves right before time expired. The most notable move was made by Counter Logic Gaming, who released a player many people consider the greatest Halo player of all time, Tom "OGRE2" Ryan, and picked up Evil Geniuses' Tony "Lethul" Campbell Jr. Campbell and the EG squad were previously on a roll through all of 2015 as the team to beat in "Halo 2: Anniversary," and that continued into "Halo 5," leaving many forecasting a potential EG vs. CLG finals matchup. Meanwhile, Ryan signed to EnvyUs and will no longer be attending the X Games.
Evil Geniuses has brought on Hamza "Commonly" Abbaali, a California-based up-and-coming player, instead of one of the game's many seasoned free agents. Optic Gaming lost Braedon "StelluR" Boettcher to Leftovers, a team acquired by the Renegades organization, which places Boettcher alongside veterans Cameron "Victory X" Thorlakson and Tyler "Spartan" Ganza.
ESPN asked three questions to the players competing and broadcasters calling the event on how everything will go down.
What are your team's expectations heading into X Games? How will the recent team changes shake things up?
Evil Geniuses' Justin "Roy" Brown: I feel very confident in my team's ability to win at X Games. We will be the most experienced roster in terms of the amount of tournaments we have all competed in, so I feel we will all be very comfortable on this stage.
Liquid's Aaron "ACE" Elam: The goal is definitely all about the gold medal. We have had a slow start to practice and had some obstacles recently, but we are going be ready to play!
Counter Logic Gaming's Tony "Lethul" Campbell Jr.: I'd say we have a high chance. Allegiance, Renegades and EG all look pretty good, but my teammates and I all feel good about this team already, and hopefully we can show that in the tourney and get a good boost before regionals and the world championship. We just played the first online qualifier with all the new rosters, and we performed really well in all non-breakout game types and it felt great. We beat EG and Allegiance, who I think were the two biggest threats, and it felt good to beat EG and avoid the verbal abuse.
Epsilon's Alex "BUK 20" Buck: Coming into the event, we really aren't sure what to expect. It could be an event where we get completely dominated or we could pull off an upset and take out some of the top NA teams. We're just going to give it 100 percent and learn as much as we can from this to help us in the future HWC tournaments and hopefully the world finals.
Allegiance's Brett "Naded" Leonard: I honestly feel like our chances are great to take the gold. We have all put in countless hours of hard practice, and we hope all the hard work will pay off in Aspen as well as the rest of the season. I couldn't care less about the team changes -- all we have to worry about is ourselves and we will be fine.
Renegades' Tyler "Ninja" Blevins: Being one of the favorites going into X Games this weekend is definitely a great feeling, and having the fans on our side is also great. I think our chances of succeeding are very high. We have been performing very well in scrims over the last couple of days and have been constantly improving. It is very exciting to be a part of this process. I do believe that all of these crazy team changes have shaken things up, and to put it simply, there are going to be some very intense matches and rivalries that will play out this weekend.
Broadcaster Dave "Walshy" Walsh: I think the top three teams are (in no order): Allegiance, Counter-Logic Gaming (CLG), and Evil Geniuses (EG). It would be a huge upset if any other squad were to walk away with the gold medal at the X Games.
What team and player are you most worried about?
Brown: Without a doubt, we all want to play CLG. Lethul recently left our team to join them, so we are all looking forward to the opportunity to prove that he made the wrong decision. After Lethul left, we picked up a young, up-and-coming player named Commonly. We only have about a week of practice under our belts with him, but things couldn't possibly be going any better and we are very confident and happy with our decision.
Elam: You could say we have a little rivalry with Renegades and Ninja, because he was a member of Liquid and a teammate of mine through the majority of "Halo 5."
Campbell: I'm looking out for Stellur and Commonly, because I haven't seen either of them play at tournaments throughout my entire Halo career, so I want to see what they really have to offer. They both look good online so far.
Buck: There has always been a big rivalry between Europe and North America in Halo. Usually NA will come out on top from looking at past Halos, but I really think this could be the one where that changes. This is the strongest team I've been on in Europe during my seven years of competing, and coming in hot off of a UK championship win, I feel we're in a good position. It's going to be a tough group playing against some of the top teams early in the tournament, but we will put in 100 percent and hope we come out on top. We're not scared of the NA teams.
Blevins: We know that our first match is against Liquid, and we cannot overlook any team at the X Games, especially the EU teams. They may not be able to practice against the top NA teams, but it is highly likely that they show up and win some series against top teams if they bring their A-game. As for players specifically, I feel that every player on each team has the ability to go off, so that makes it more important to take no team lightly and give 150 percent every game.
Walsh: Lethul, Commonly, and Naded. Lethul left his former back-to-back HCS championship team EG to join CLG after what he considered to be disappointing online ladder finishes. This event will crown Lethul as the gold medalist who made a bold decision or Lethul may walk away as the fool who left a championship squad. Commonly is so new to the upper echelons of the Halo scene that I don't even know his full name off the top of my head. This is Naded's best chance to win a major team event; his squad, Allegiance, is coming into X Games as the No. 1 seed, and for the first time in Naded's gaming career, he is favored to win the event.
Call of Duty and "Counter-Strike: Global Offensive" have seen success at previous MLG X Games events that have positively affected those games' communities. What does the success of Halo at the event and through the year mean to you?
Brown: Having the opportunity to play on this stage is going to be one of the most memorable moments of my life. I have been competing in tournaments with my brother since 2007 when the MLG pro circuit was aired on G4TV, and to see how far things have come, leading to a partnership with ESPN, feels like a dream.
Elam: This is the chance Halo needs. It has been on the lower side of viewership since the big boom in esports, while in my opinion it is the best esport to watch. I can't wait to see if it catches more attention and people start to enjoy watching and joining our community.
Campbell: I follow both CoD and "CS: GO," so I think it's amazing that Halo is going to be where they were and get some more attention. It isn't the biggest game right now, but this should help show people that it's still exciting and has a lot to offer.
Buck: This is definitely a step in the right direction for Halo, and I am looking forward to seeing where this will lead in the future! It reminds me of the old "Halo 3" days when ESPN covered MLG events.
Leonard: Halo at the X Games is a dream come true for me. I hope to see more things like this for Halo in the future.
Blevins: Call of Duty is an amazing esport, and do not even get me started on "CS: GO." I am just happy to now be a part of the elite games that have been showcased at the X Games. It also definitely feels incredible to be back working with MLG again as a Halo pro, just because of all the nostalgia. I think that this is finally the right time for Halo to come back to MLG, as esports has come a long way since the Halo 3 days. I am ready to represent the NA Halo group of pro players and our new organization, Renegades.
Walsh: X Games having Halo is going to be an accomplishment that players will remember for years. Halo's competitive scene has been around for close to 15 years now and I would have never guessed that one day our players would be competing for an X Games gold medal. On top of that, the ESPN coverage will be great to expose our passion to a new audience. I'm looking forward to the competition and can't wait to see what team will take first place and walk away with gold medals around their necks at the first major "Halo 5" event.