Justin “FearItSelf” Kats has been one of the pioneers for professional Halo since the game’s inception. His professional career began in 2005, and he’s been on multiple teams, including the storied Final Boss squad in 2010.
Slingshot’s Blake Bottrill caught up with him over the weekend at EGLX to talk about changing teams, his career perspective and what his future in the game holds.
Blake Bottrill: Obviously you are here this weekend playing with some friends and not participating in the HCS Pro League Online Qualifier. Did you get any offers to play in this weekend’s online tournament?
Justin “FearItSelf” Kats: I did, the night before I was going to leave for this event I got an offer from Cloud, Tire Iron and Danoxide to play in this weekend’s online cup. I looked at it as time management over “We have a chance.” If you advance in the online qualifier you still have to go and place top four at the offline qualifier to get into the Pro League, and I didn’t feel like a last-minute team was worth that much effort and time. So I came here just with some friends and wanted to compete.
BB: You turned down those offers to come enjoy yourself up here this weekend. Do you have any plans headed into the remaining online qualifiers or are you just going to wait for other offers to come in?
JK: Whatever happens, whatever teams don’t make it to Columbus, I’ll survey the free agent pool and see if any teams are interested and want to play with me. I’m going to be looking to put together the best possible team to get that seventh or eighth spot.
BB: I know you’re teaming with a bunch of guys you’ve known for years from back in Chicago. How did you first meet up with those guys? Did you meet them at a local in Chicago? What’s that story?
JK: It was back in 2008. Joe Fires invited me to their basement LAN. After the 2008 MLG season I went over there and I became good friends with them and their family and all their friends that came over, and Dewey and Bert were two of those friends that had been coming over to their house and playing. So they had been in the local scene for a long time. I’ve been good friends with them for about six years now.
BB: You were playing with OpTic for most of the Halo 5 online qualifiers and didn’t end up qualifying for NA regionals. You ended up getting dumped just in time for the last chance qualifier. How did that all go down?
JK: All the online qualifiers I wasn’t actually with OpTic. It was me putting together random teams of four like a night or two nights before the cups. I started running with OpTic right before the last online tournament and we ended up getting hit offline in like the first round. Then it was the LCQ. At first Flamesword said, “It was me and you and we’ll find two,” and then something transpired to where it was no longer me and Flame and it was him and Maniac. They were just out to find two unknown players that had not been found on the scene yet and put together the best team, and Formal told them to pick up Chaser. They’re going to listen to Formal regardless. That’s what happened.
BB: You had some respectable results with Cloud 9 in H2A, but you haven’t made a final since you won it all in Dallas. Do you still feel like you can still compete at the top level the way you did back in Halo 3?
JK: For sure I could compete, I would not say top three level in this game because CLG has pretty much locked that down, but I’m still good enough compete and compete in the Pro League and compete against top teams. I have no doubt about that. I can still compete, it’s just whether or not I want to put in the time within the position I’m in.
BB: You obviously don’t have the same amount of time you did back in Halo 3 just playing all the time.
JK: Age plays a factor. I’m 27 now. I don’t see myself gaming until I’m 30 years old like Ogre2; I just don’t see it. It is for sure what is best for my future, I know how much time it takes to be at the top and play at that caliber. It takes a lot of effort and dedication to play like that.
BB: I interviewed Victory two weeks ago and asked him the same question: Do you feel like you were playing the best you’ve ever played back with that 2010 Final Boss squad?
JK: That was the best Halo I’ve ever played in my life, yes. That was the pinnacle of my Halo skill — career — for sure. Everything just came together with that team. You can be good, but if you don’t mesh with your team it doesn’t matter. A lot of variables come into play, and you really have to mesh with your team. Back then I considered myself one of the best overall Halo 3 players, for sure in the top three. So yes, 2010 was probably my peak.
BB: Outside of Pro League, 343 announced they would be running a LAN circuit where teams can accumulate points and hope to relegate Pro League teams. If you don’t end up making the cut for Halo Pro League do you think you will compete in that Challenger LAN Circuit at all?
JK: I have no idea what that entails, so I have no idea how much money would be involved, and I would have to look into it.
BB: They are going to run a LAN circuit where teams can accumulate circuit points and relegate the Pro League teams.
JK: Again, it’s going to come down to a money thing. If there is money to be made, I will put in the time. If you’re not on a top four or top five team and you are playing six, seven, eight hours a night, it’s just not worth your time. I’ve been at the top. I know what it takes. It’s not like I’ve never been a pro before; I’ve been a pro for a long time, so that drive is kinda gone. So now it is just a time management thing. If there is money involved, I’ll do it.
BB: Again, same question as Victory, do you feel like you want to play Halo professionally for the rest of your life if you could, or is there ever a point where you thought you would hang up the controller?
JK: No I don’t think so, it’s just a lot of time for not a lot of guaranteed return on your investment. You would practice for six months and look at a team like EG or Cloud 9 going into worlds, they had been practicing since like October or November and they got $25,000, Cloud 9 did and EG got $75,000. There is nothing guaranteed in Halo and that’s kind of the risk you have to play with when you want to be a pro Halo player.
Photos by Carlton Beener/ESL, eslgaming.com.