A former Halo-pro-gone-Call of Duty competitor, Benno is one of the few Australian players that has succeeded across more than one game. Originally playing on the internationally renowned Team Immunity Halo squad, Benno was no stranger to the competitive scene when he made his transition to Call of Duty. Excelling in leaps and bounds, Benno represented Avant Garde’s Ghosts division before recently announcing his departure in order to focus on the resurgence on Halo as a competitive title.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me Benno. First off, let’s talk about how your competitive journey began. How were you introduced to eSports? Where did you begin?
My competitive venture began at a local tournament on the Sunshine Coast held at a Gametraders store for Halo 1. Codestar and I both competed and I loved every minute. I placed 2nd out of the 15 people competing and immediately was hooked on the idea of competing against people other than my friends. I still remember how the final game played out and how it felt to come so close, only to lose.
However, I never really entered the Australian “eSports” scene as such until the middle of Halo 2. I remember matching with a guy called “Phatshot” who introduced me to other Australian players and eventually into the competitive scene.
On the topic of your Halo days, your claim to fame was when you joined the Team Immunity squad. How did your acquisition by the team come about?
When Halo 3 first came out, I played for a couple of months and didn’t really enjoy the game. I left the team I was in and took a six month break from Halo, deciding to just enjoy myself playing other games. I still maintained my friendship with Codestar throughout my break, which in turn led to him asking me to join a new team he was forming for Halo 3.
We formed Team Evolution, better known as TE, with the line-up consisting of Codestar, Omen, Fearless and myself. We all got along really well and it was a tonne of fun overall. We lived in BBR’s shadow (the #1 team in Australia at the time), constantly placing 2nd to them and enduring some of the most intense LAN series’ I’ve played to date.
Brisbane 2009 rolled around and this was the first tournament that was run by Vanzr. There was a lot of hype leading into this event and people were practicing harder than they had before. There was a lot on the line.
We continued throughout the tournament until we finally managed to complete a task we had been working towards for years. We beat BBR and knocked them out of the tournament. We were over the moon and it was one of the best feelings to knock them out in an epic game 5 series. We then went onto the grand finals against a new team known as In Control. They were the new kids on the block and came out nowhere. We took the series to Game 11 and narrowly lost to them in Team Slayer on The Pit by roughly 5 kills. A lot of things could of gone either way in the final game and I still believed that our team could beat them at the next tournament.
Despite my success in my current team, the determining factor for me to join the Team Immunity squad was when they mentioned they would be travelling to MLG and wanted me to play for them. It was an offer I couldn’t turn down. It’s everyone’s dream to compete at an MLG event.
Under the Immunity organisation, you were one of the first Australian console players to ever compete overseas. At MLG Anaheim, your team dominated the open bracket, losing one map throughout the entire day. Qualifying for the Pro Bracket, your team played off against the likes of Dynasty, Warriors, Severance and Classic before being knocked out. How was your team expecting to place going into the event?
Although we were obviously aiming for first, we would be content on placing top 16, which would be a slight improvement on our 17th placing for Halo 3 at MLG Columbus in 2010. However this wasn’t the case, we placed Top 24 and it felt terrible. Looking back on the placing now I am still disappointed with it. We didn’t put in as much effort into Halo: Reach as we did with Halo 3, simply because we didn’t enjoy the game. Slayer didn’t play the game for an extremely long time after release due to disliking it so much, so we were forced to change our 4th player multiple times during Halo: Reach. Slayer eventually decided to rejoin the team and we competed at Anaheim with the same lineup as we did at MLG Columbus.
We also were lucky enough to attend the Redbull Pre-LAN, which Immunity kindly hooked us up with. This pre-LAN was a massive learning curve for us, as we had to adapt and change our play-style completely to be able to compete with the American scene. We were able to adapt during the 2nd day of the pre-LAN and we went into the competition expecting to place well. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to pull out a victory when it mattered which is always heartbreaking, especially being a foreign team and not knowing how long until you can attend your next major LAN.
What was the MLG experience like for you? Was facing off against the big names in Halo and playing on the main-stage everything you imagined it to be?
Playing on the MLG main-stage was always a dream of mine when I was growing up. I used to stay up all night to watch MLG live-streamed events; I never thought it would actually happen though. The atmosphere at the MLG events is indescribable. It was surreal walking through the doors and witnessing firsthand how massive the event was. Bearing in mind this was when Halo was booming and we had a sold out bracket at MLG Columbus for Halo 3, which held 256 teams. Not to mention the competitors for other games, spectators, production, booths etc. It was definitely something I won’t forget.
Attending MLG Dallas for the pre-release Halo 4 tournament was extremely fun, yet had a much different vibe from the previous two events we competed in. Halo was pushed into the corner and spectators were forced to sit on the floor to watch. With that being said we still enjoyed Dallas as it was our highest placing, where we came in at 9th.
Going into Anaheim, there was a lot of talk about you being the best Australian player at the time, particularly by the commentators. What do you think distinguished you from the rest of Australia?
I think my favourite part of my team I went over with was the fact that we were all interchangeable in gameplay. We meshed together really well and our styles all complimented each other. I wouldn’t have been able to rack up kills and play objective like I did without the teamwork from Heff, Voltage and Slayer. I’ve never felt more comfortable playing with anyone else.
When you play with people for an extended time, you start to understand how they play, how they think and what they’re about to do, even without them saying it. This allowed me to play exactly how I wanted to and let me play janitor and clean up all the kills haha.
Alongside your admirable overseas placings, Team Immunity dominated the Australian scene for years. In your opinion, what led to such a consistent history?
Honestly, it was just the amount of practice and the quality of practice we had in Halo 3. We saw the game differently to any other team in Australia. We played much more constructed in our gameplay than any team before us. We decided to use the matchmaking system and American host to our advantage in practice. We knew we couldn’t out-shoot them on a yellow-bar connection, which forced us to use teamwork and work a lot harder for our kills, rather than just relying on our raw gun-skill.
We always had the frame of mind that the best way to practice is to assume everyone is going to hit perfect shots on you. This way you’ll be more consistent in your gameplay.
Upon the fall of Halo as a competitive title, you took the plunge into Call of Duty, being picked up relatively quickly by Avant Garde. What made you decide to enter Call of Duty? What was the initial transition like?
I played for a couple of months and it was pretty frustrating to try and get a grasp of initially. Instant kill times were too intense for my brain and kind of went against my idea of how to practice. I was lucky enough to get picked up by Avant based purely on my previous success in Halo. Vilesyder literally sent me a document he typed up months prior titled “How to CoD”. I read it and tried to take it all in. It took night after night of practice, but we finally reached the stage where I felt confident enough to make the top two at CoD Champs, which unfortunately didn’t happen.
Following Avant’s Top 2 placing at ACL Sydney and finally breaking the “3rd Place Curse” which has constricted the team for years, you announced you would be leaving the squad to pursue Halo yet again. However, the game isn’t out for months yet. Why now?
Honestly, my heart isn’t in Call of Duty. I don’t enjoy it and it felt like a job. Getting on and practicing night in and night out, with the only motivation being was for CoD Champs and that had already passed. The reason I decided to play for ACL Sydney was because I enjoyed hanging out with the team and got along with them all really well. It wouldn’t be fair to them to not practice and just tag along for the free ride when they still have that fire and motivation to win events.
I would love to compete in Halo again; however that can only happen if the community returns. I’ve been playing Halo 2 and Halo 3 a lot the past couple of weeks and I’ve had a tonne of fun. I hope that the community comes back and we get a great mixture of new and old faces. However, like I said earlier, I am still a competitor and I will compete at whichever game I believe I can succeed at.
ACL recently announced their Halo 3 Throwback Tournament. Will you be competing? If so, who with?
I will definitely be competing in the ACL Throwback Tournament. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s possible that I can compete with my previous teammates. Schedules conflict too much, which is unfortunate. I’m currently plotting how to get them all fired from their night time jobs so we can reunite. However if that plan doesn’t work, I will probably form a team with Hopey and Hughes for the tournament.
Thanks for joining me Benno, any shoutouts or final comments?
Shoutout to the entire Halo community, I hope you all come back. I feel like we could come back stronger than ever with both new and old players. I hope that others get to experience international events for the upcoming titles.
Just wanna say a big thank you to everyone who helped me achieve my dream and be able to travel internationally to compete in a videogame that I loved playing. I’ve made a lot of lifetime friends and I learnt a lot about myself through ACL and gaming, I am extremely grateful for everyone that supports eSports in Australia. To name just a few Vanzr, Damo, Josh and Hoggy. To everyone at Team Immunity, namely Tony, Reg and Lloyd. My homies: Heff, Voltage, Slayer, Dan, Lacy Panties, Riotz, Kyle, ASAP, Hopey, Macka, Khooie, Terry, Hughz, Omen, Fearless, Phatshot, Le Snak, Cody, Tyler, Bundo, Zac and Fasffy. Jayden, Fram, Praties and Berg (you guys will be my practice noobs one day, Grandpa Benno will catch you in a couple months) and of course Michael and James Suddoth.
Honestly there are too many people to list in here; you know you’re all cool. Last but not least, big thanks to you Blake; I’m hoping this interview inspires a few players to come back to the scene, so a big thanks to yourself as well.
Photo credit: ACL and Team Immunity, MLG