Counter Logic Gaming added another page to their growing book of accolades last weekend when the team defeated Enigma 6 to take home the title of Summer Season Champions. Paul "Snakebite" Duarte, captain of what many consider to be the best Halo team in the world, has drunk deeply from the cup of success since the addition of TJ "Lethul" Campbell to the roster in January of this year. Yet, Snakebite's career hasn't always featured headlines and star-studded rosters.
"Honestly, it really has been a crazy experience," Snakebite said. "I think that over the years I have just matured into a much better teammate. My individual skill was always decently high, but it is a team game and I don't believe I fully understood that until 2011."
His first event came at the ripe age of 11, in the Free For All portion of what at the time was the flagship game for Major League Gaming: Halo 2. He placed in the top 64 and did not try his hand at the 4v4 format until the next year at MLG Meadowlands 2007. He failed to make it out of the open bracket and was eliminated in the second round of the FFA tournament. His growth and maturity since then has paid dividends in the form of multiple tournament titles, including a world championship title.
"If I could go back, I would tell myself to try and enjoy myself more and remember how lucky I really am," Snakebite said. "You can get so caught up in winning it becomes easy to forget you are a very lucky individual who gets to do something most people my age would only dream of."
Behind the scenes at CLG
Counter Logic Gaming sent ripples throughout the Halo community in January when it decided to replace Tom "Ogre 2" Ryan, the player whom many consider to be the greatest Halo player of all time, with Lethul. The move was unprecedented and looked potentially regrettable after the squad's first tournament together at the X Games in Aspen, where CLG took second place behind Evil Geniuses.
CLG bounced back and has been unstoppable since, winning the North American Regionals and the Halo World Championship, maintaining a staggering 13-1 record throughout the HCS Pro League Summer Season and positioning itself as the clear favorite and No. 1 seed heading into the Summer Finals. CLG's tournament had a rocky start as they lost two games against Cloud9 in the first round of the winner's bracket, but roared back to win the series and the rest of the tournament without dropping a single map.
"Honestly, we feel like the key to success for us is consistency," Snakebite said. "A lot of these teams are so talented and always have the potential to take over a series, but it is the team that is consistent that will always take over. Our work ethic also plays a huge role into this. It is easy to be consistent when every play we are making just feels routine."
CLG's dominance at the Summer Finals was particularly impressive because of its performance on The Rig Strongholds. Known as the squad's weakest game type, CLG struggled through The Rig Strongholds throughout the season, and the game type was a point of focus for CLG as it entered the season finale.
"Leading into the event, Strongholds in general was just not going as well as we wanted. [However,] our team is really good at turning a weak game type into a strong one. Once we realized that we had some things to work on for The Rig Strongholds, it really just came down to us playing almost every night and breaking down that game type specifically when we were done playing.
"We were giving up Strongholds very easily compared to other teams. Granted, [the difficulty of communicating] online can play a factor into this since we aren't all 100 percent on the same page at all times, but it became obvious to us that we kind of forgot what we were good at, which is getting kills and fighting for the objective."
The CLG roster has talent in spades, and the coaching role is no different. Halo veteran Wes "Clutch" Price has coached the team through multiple events now, which made his absence at the Summer Finals particularly evident. Chris "Royal 1" Fiorante, brother of Snakebite's teammate Matthew "Royal 2" Fiorante, fulfilled the duties of coaching while Clutch was away.
"Clutch actually is in the sheriff's academy and we found out a week before the event that they wouldn't give him the time off he needed," Snakebite said. "Luckily Royal 1 was able to get time off of work on very short notice, and he actually coached us before in [Halo 2 Anniversary] so we knew he had the experience we needed. This allowed us to go into the event not really second guessing who was going to be coaching us."
The secret to success
Snakebite expressed confidence in his roster, from the coaching staff to the players around him. His confidence does not come from tournament winnings, consecutive series won or championship trophies. Instead, it comes from what the CLG roster does when it's not beneath the lights.
"This is the hardest-working team I have ever been a part of," Snakebite said. "Even with the success we have seen, I can honestly say our attitudes and the work we put in never change. [Compared] with past rosters I have been a part of, I think this is the biggest difference; when [they saw] success it [was] easy to take a step back and relax a bit."
That kind of confidence can, and often does, lead to arrogance, apathy and complacency. CLG's stranglehold on the competitive Halo scene is so tight, the community often discusses which lineup of players would be the perfect mix to try to dethrone them. The topic is especially poignant during the offseason, when many rosters dismantle in light of anything short of a first-place finish. All of the attention does not distract the top of Halo's food chain.
"We do our best to use it as motivation," Snakebite said. "At this point, with our team after a win, we have about 24 hours to relax before we are predicted to fall off again to a new roster being formed. We just try to remind ourselves how hard we work and remain confident when playing against all of these new lineups."
How would a Halo team go about becoming the new top dog? Snakebite suggested that the key might not entirely be about a team's individual ingredients, but more about the connections between them and the work they put in together: "I think chemistry and being on the same page is underrated.
"People talk about the talent we have, but no one talks about how well we get along outside of game as well as inside of game, how well we communicate and just the work ethic we have to make a bad game type a strong game type. If you can form a super team and have all of those traitsb by all means go for it, but you will not win with just trying to outskill a team."
Looking to the past and future
Snakebite has witnessed firsthand the rollercoaster saga of the Halo franchise throughout the years. From the glory days of Halo 2 and Halo 3, to the steady decline of Halo: Reach, through the muck and mire of Halo 4, the rebirth of Halo with Halo 2: Anniversary and, now, the rapid ascent back to prominence with Halo 5: Guardians. Snakebite understands what can make Halo esports thrive and what can stifle growth. When asked what his thoughts were on how to bring Halo back under the lights of the esports stage, he placed the onus not only on tournament organizers and developers, but on his peers as well.
"Continued developer support which has been awesome, be more open with the public about details of the events and prize pools," he said. "More open LAN events, and I think pros need to make more of an effort to push out content."
Snakebite and CLG understand the legacy the team is building and how it has the potential to shape the future of Halo esports for generations to come. The present roster has been compared to arguably the most dominant roster in the history of Halo esports: Halo 2's iteration of Final Boss. When this comparison was mentioned, Snakebite responded as humbly as would be expected, but left the door open for discussion further down the road.
"Although it is cool to read into the comparisons, I am not sure if anyone will ever reach that level of dominance, especially with how few events it seems we will be able to attend since majority of things are done online now," he said. "The only thing we can really do is continue to put in the work and maybe see where we compare when it is all over."
Whether Snakebite's goal is to sit among the greats of Halo esports is irrelevant. His -- and CLG's -- growing resume thus far not only asks for a seat at the table, it demands one.