10 Years. 51 Tournaments. 18 Teams. 52 Teammates. 6 Finals. 0 Trophies.
One of the most recognized and prolific players in Halo esports history still has an empty trophy case after a decade of competition. Brett “Naded” Leonard has been playing professional Halo for more than some esports fans have been alive and is still searching for his first career tournament victory.
Naded’s professional Halo career started back in 2006 at the beginning of the MLG Pro Circuit, MLG New York, with a roster known as Storm Ventures. Naded piloted the team to a second place finish at MLG Chicago three months later, his best result and only podium finish in 2006. After a disappointing finish at the MLG Championships in Las Vegas, Storm Ventures decided to disperse.
Naded found himself starting 2007 on a Str8 Rippin squad with Peter “Foulacy” Dietrich, Bryan “Legit” Rizzo and Tom “Tsquared” Taylor. That roster didn’t last long; it played together for MLG Charlotte, the first circuit stop of the year, before making changes. The next two years were fairly turbulent for Naded, playing on seven teams.
He spent the majority of 2007 with The Agency — a team that was responsible for launching the careers of other well known pros like Kyle “ElamiteWarrior” Elam and Cameron “Victory X” Thorlakson. Victory X eventually went on to join the dynasty that was Final Boss during the Halo 3 era. Naded had four fairly successful tournaments with The Agency, including two third place finishes: one at MLG Toronto and the other in his return to Chicago. The Agency had a much better showing than Storm Ventures the previous year and took fourth place at the circuit championships in Las Vegas, to the tune of $28,000. Still, Naded ended 2007 without a tournament victory.
Naded spent the majority of his time in Halo 3 under the Carbon brand. Finishing out the 2008 season with the best Halo 3 tournament he had played to date, Naded helped his team to a third place finish — much better than anyone had predicted as it came into the tournament with the seventh seed. Carbon opened up the tournament with wins over Triggers Down and Final Boss, the second and third seeds respectively. It looked like Carbon’s tournament to lose. Prior to the Las Vegas event, Str8 Rippin had LANed with Carbon — a common practice for top teams coming into MLG events — and Eric “Snipedown” Wrona mentioned “they were the toughest team we played, for sure.”
After two of the closest Team Slayer and King of the Hill games in Halo 3 history, Carbon was just one game away from the grand final on MLG Championship Sunday. The best-of-five series ended rather anticlimactically, as Str8 dominated the final two maps on Guardian Oddball 250-148 and Construct Team Slayer 50-32. The persistence of Snipedown and the veterans on Str8 proved too much for the Carbon squad to handle, as they dropped to the losers bracket finals. After Str8 made the run back it seemed to demoralize Carbon, which lost the losers bracket final to an Instinct team that was on fire coming out of the losers bracket. Naded still did not have his trophy.
After a brief detour at the start of 2009, Naded found his way back to his home on Carbon alongside Brandon “Defy” Jenkins, Chris “ShockWav3” Smith and David “Walshy” Walsh. This proved to be the most successful roster iteration yet as Carbon finished out the year with three straight podium placings. It placed above it’s seeding in every event but unfortunately didn’t have the ability to close out a tournament.
The closest attempt came in Dallas where Carbon dominated the entire tournament until the winners bracket final, where it lost 3-2 to Triggers Down only to crush Instinct and have a second shot at taking on TD. MLG used extended series rules meaning that if the teams had met previously in the tournament they would play best-of-11, with each team carrying over its previous wins. Triggers Down took the first two maps of the grand final and looked poised to run over the Carbon team. Carbon fought back in the objective game types to make the series respectable before ultimately losing 6-4. With the eighth seed coming into Dallas, Carbon wanted everyone to know it was ready to play in 2009.
The Dark Years
The remainder of Halo 3 did not treat Naded kindly. After ShockWav3 retired to join the casting world, the rest of Carbon had a tough time searching for replacements. Naded found himself outside the playoff picture once the MLG Championships in Dallas rolled around. Ninth, sixth, 13th and ninth were not good enough placings for Naded to be picked up by a team heading into the championship.
Because he didn’t qualify for the championships, Naded decided to play in the Halo: Reach exhibition that was taking place simultaneously. Another disappointing finish was only the start of his struggles in that title.
Playing a single tournament with Str8 Rippin got Naded his only placing above sixth in three years of competition. That team, with his original Str8 teammates Legit and Tsquared, also included some new blood in Ryan “Ryanoob” Geddes. It placed second at MLG Columbus 2011.
After finishing out the remainder of Halo: Reach with little success, Naded, like many other pros took a hiatus during Halo 4 and returned to the series with the release of Master Chief Collection and Halo 2: Anniversary.
The Pax Prime Showdown in September 2014 was intended to be an exhibition for the game and invited some of the top names in Halo over the last five years to team up and play each other in the first Halo title to be played on Xbox One. Naded and his teammates Faisal “Goofy” Khan, Austin “Mikwen” McCleary and Legit placed second, and it looked like Naded had returned to the form he found with Carbon in 2009.
Outside of the 2006-2008 Final Boss dynasty and 2015 Evil Geniuses team, however, no roster seems to last forever. With the full launch of the Halo Championship Series, Naded found himself playing with many familiar faces as he played out Season 1 with a reborn Str8 Rippin squad. They had moderate success online finishing near the top in three separate online cups, but their strength on LAN couldn’t match that of the online accomplishment. UGC St. Louis arrived at the peak of their online success, reaching the winners bracket semifinal Str8 was matched up against No. 1 seed Counter Logic Gaming.
Warlord Capture The Flag was up first. It was uncommon to see low scoring games in Warlord CTF because of the small distance between flags, but both teams came to play on the final morning. The first 12 minutes of regulation time went by without a flag capture when Str8 put in the first flag. It was quickly answered with just over a minute left in regulation as CLG killed all four enemies and ran the flag home for the tie. Sudden Death overtime began and Naded’s teammate Tsquared managed to bring the flag within inches of a win before being offered to the frag grenade gods.
No one on Str8 Rippin was in position to capture the final flag, and CLG was able to slay its way across the map for the return. Just minutes later CLG was able to secure a crucial Active Camouflage that allowed the Str8 Rippin base to be infiltrated easily for the final flag capture.
The second map was Lockdown Team Slayer. The map played out slower than the Warlord game prior, the teams split the map in half and refused to push each other for several tense minutes. Str8 was up seven kills and allowed CLG to climb back into the game. With under 40 seconds left CLG was down by a single kill and needed to make a push into enemy territory. With six seconds left on the clock CLG secured its 35th kill and won the game 35-34.
Map three returned to Lockdown, this time in favor of King of The Hill. CLG was able to control the spawns at the start of the game and jumped out to a 110-second lead. Not to be outdone again, Naded singlehandedly brought the game back within 20 seconds, scoring nearly 75 seconds of consecutive hill time. As the final listen-in was heard from Str8 Rippin, you could hear the defeated sound of their voices. You could hear the despair.
”That was such a close series.”
Str8 knew it could have been theirs on a different day. (There was only one closer series in terms of score differential in Halo 2 Anniversary, it also happened to be the craziest series of Halo ever played).
After the disheartening loss to CLG, Str8 Rippin ended the tournament with a 3-0 loss to Evil Geniuses.
The loss to CLG seemed to knock the entire will to play out of the Str8 Rippin lineup. Ezekiel “Prototype” Martinez left the roster and with him went any previous momentum Str8 had built up. Following the HCS Season 1 Finals Tom “Tsquared” Taylor retired and took the brand he had built from the ground, Str8 Rippin, into retirement with him.
Naded would once again need a new team
For the first time in his nine year career, Naded found himself on the No. 1-ranked team in the world heading into the first LAN event of the season. Winterfox — a team consisting of Naded, Ryanoob, Dillon “Randa” Randa and Cody “ContrA” Szczodrowski — was predicted by many to dominate the opener in Season 2 after massive success in preseason online play. Out of nine online cups in Season 2, Winterfox placed top three in six of them, winning twice.
The first event of the season was Iron Games Atlanta. While a fourth place finish wasn’t quite what the Winterfox team had in mind, Naded finally got his revenge on LAN, taking out CLG 3-1 in the losers bracket semifinal. At HCS Indianapolis, Winterfox again placed fourth, again meeting CLG at a crucial point in the tournament. A 3-2 loss at the hands of CLG kept Winterfox just off the podium for the second straight time. Naded was once again failing to turn his online play into championships on LAN.
The HCS Finale turned out to be the worst performance Winterfox had put in all season. After finally beating OpTic Gaming — the team that had knocked it out of the winners bracket in both Atlanta and Indianapolis — Winterfox’s hopes of a podium performance were dashed in quick succession by Denial Esports and Cloud 9. Winterfox’s lowest placing of the year came in a tournament that had the least amount of teams.
Another Halo title was retired, but Naded persevered.
With the birth of Halo 5, Team Allegiance was announced including Naded, Goofy, Cory “Str8 SicK” Sloss and Visal “eL TowN” Mohanan. Following an atrocious first online qualifier, Goofy and Str8 SicK left the team and Ayden “Suspector” Hill and Carlos “Cratos” Ayala were brought in to fill the void.
Allegiance found immediate success and won the second online qualifier with the new group. Two weeks later it repeated the success, topping the tables in the fourth qualifier. After the fifth and final qualifier was complete, Allegiance emerged with the No. 1 overall seed thanks to the highest average placing across all five events.
The X Games Aspen invitational was the next stop in Halo 5. After topping his group and attempting to prove that this season his online success was not a mistake, Leonard was once again stopped dead by a strong Evil Geniuses squad led by one of his previous nemeses: Eric “Snipedown” Wrona. Wrona had been keeping Naded out of grand finals for eight years (Vegas 08, Anaheim 09, Columbus 14, St Louis 15, GfG 15), and it was not going to stop now. Allegiance went on to decimate Renegades and take home an X Games bronze medal.
The next test for Allegiance was the Halo World Championship Qualifiers. Allegiance took the bronze medal they won in Aspen and used it as fuel, again topping their group during the offline qualifier. This time the stumbling block came in the form of a wolf. The 11th seed in the tournament, Denial Esports upset Team EnVyUs, Team Liquid and Allegiance. With a minute left on Plaza Team Slayer, Allegiance found itself in full control of the power weapons but down by three kills, 47-44. Allegiance ran out of room to wiggle and lost the final game narrowly, 50-45. A seven game series that went the distance finished with The Wolfpack staring down on Allegiance.
A decade of Halo had all boiled down to the largest tournament in history, the 2016 Halo World Championships. Allegiance opened the tournament with a convincing 3-0 win over Latin American team Chosen Squad. Favorites to come out of the groups in first place again, Allegiance shocked the Halo world losing 3-0 to Team Liquid. Not wanting to be the laughing stock of the Halo world, Allegiance pulled back its performance and dominated European hopeful exceL Esports. Allegiance refused to make things easy for itself at the HWC. It kicked off bracket play down 2-0 to Renegades before completing the reverse sweep to advance to the semifinal.
After a 4-2 win over Elevate in the semi-finals, Allegiance was ready to take on Counter Logic Gaming for the title of “World’s Best Halo Team.” Unfortunately for Naded and the rest of Allegiance, CLG is undisputedly the best team in Halo. A commanding 4-0 victory on Championship Sunday left Allegiance broken. After losing a close first game, Allegiance seemed to fold under the pressure and lost the next three games without much resistance. Naded must continue to walk his lonely road in search of victory.
Naded took home $125,000 for his second place finish, more than 60 percent of his career winnings, and now sits as the 166th all-time earner from esports prize money.
The Green Wall
Late Tuesday night, Naded announced he would be joining legendary console esports organization OpTic Gaming. OpTic has yet to make any further announcements as to who will join him, if they are keeping parts of the roster from the Halo World Championship Qualifier or whether OpTic is looking to start fresh. One thing is for certain: Brett “Naded” Leonard only has one thing left to do before he retires from competitive Halo. No one ever played the game to be second best.
Slingshot attempted to reach Naded multiple times to be a part of the story.