RALEIGH - Every single partnered team at HCS Raleigh is fielding a roster composed of Halo’s stalwart veterans and fresh, new talent raring to get a chunk of the other teams’ hide after two years waiting in the wings. Well, every partnered team except one.
Fnatic has yet to sign a single player. They have a coach and a manager but are taking a unique approach to building out their roster. Fnatic is carefully watching, waiting, scouting the open bracket and other amateur players. They’re open about this strategy: a mini-documentary that aired on the main stream mentions that they believe that there are four players with championship potential out there, out in the tangled cord jungle and expletive-laden Open Bracket.
“I think that [Fnatic] made some mistakes over the last few years in some of our entrances into titles like Apex Legends, for example,” said Colin 'CoJo' Johnson, Fnatic’s Team Director and New Project Lead, who is at Raleigh scouting players. “I think there was a huge gold rush when Apex came out, when the hype was so huge, and everyone was like, oh, you know, let's just go and try and find a team and we have to be in this game.”
Cojo says that the strategy that’s worked for Fnatic in VALORANT will also benefit them in Halo Infinite. The goal isn’t to participate in the gold rush at the beginning of an esport, it’s to find several players from several open bracket teams and find an eclectic combo that fits. Cojo says they have their list narrowed down to 15-16 people and five-six they have “really strong opinions” about. “I don't really care about winning Raleigh, necessarily, like I want to be winning the World Championship, right?”
Fnatic and Cojo have spent the online qualifiers telling players they’re interested in to stream their POVs, a perspective they’ll solidify this weekend at Raleigh.
Fnatic’s strategy feels like something straight out of “Moneyball” – the infamous movie about penny-pinching baseball front office executive Billy Beane, who forged the A’s into winners and helped pioneer a new way to look at baseball analytics.
The secret is that “Moneyball,” the movie, omitted key details: like Beane’s stable of star pitchers he retained. Barry Zito, Tim Hudson, and Mark Mulder are more or less omitted from the movie and played a key role in the A’s success. The story is definitely about the system, one that’s come to define a way for less cash-heavy baseball teams to succeed. But it needs the players in place, you cannot have success in any competitive venture without talent, and finding players around the fringe of the sport works … as a supplement to endemic talent, historically not as a complete replacement. Additionally, Halo isn’t a new esport, the top tier here has been very well defined for a while.
There’s a chance Fnatic’s strategy could completely fall on their face. Even with a heavy war chest to swing around, finding amateur players from a heap of open bracket teams is going to be extremely difficult. Halo’s a top-heavy esport, the top teams have mostly been the top teams for many years. There’s a hope that new, young talent could make waves, and transfers from other esports will prove skillful, but for now, it’s tough to see the diamonds in the rough unless you’re looking with a microscope.
Additionally, scouting players individually is a fundamentally different task than scouting teams, and more difficult to boot. There’s no real way to project how players and personalities will mesh until they’re all in the same room together and have some experience. Cojo is realistic about Fnatic’s chances – overnight success simply isn’t attainable. “It's just about seeing the improvement [over time],” Cojo says.
For now, CoJo is biding his time, waiting, watching – but not for much longer. Fnatic has one month to forge a roster from whoever caught their eye in the open bracket in order to participate at Anaheim. The time to strike is soon.
“I think Anaheim is for sure where we want to make our debut,” Cojo said. “I don't think we want to wait much longer than that.”
Fnatic Halo won’t be at Raleigh, but the roster is coming soon. There’s a chance it completely flops. There’s also a chance it completely succeeds. The percentage you, the reader, assign to success vs. failure is based on your perception of the open bracket. If you think there isn’t any more talent out there, this path seems like insanity. If you think there are diamonds in the rough, it’s a savvy move.