Regina pro gamer Mathew Fiorante suspended from Halo esports

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The scandal has sent shockwaves through the world of esports, made headlines at major gaming websites and has put Regina in the spotlight of the controversy.

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A Regina man who is considered one of the best players in the world at the video game Halo has been suspended from competition after an internal investigation deemed he cheated — whether intentionally or not — in recent online tournaments.

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The scandal has sent shockwaves through the world of esports, made headlines at major gaming websites and has put Regina in the spotlight of the controversy.

Mathew Fiorante, 25, is a two-time world champion at Microsoft’s first-person shooter video game Halo and is signed with the Los Angeles esports organization Sentinels. Fiorante, who goes by the gaming handle Royal 2, has amassed more than $500,000 in tournament winnings over the course of his career. He was recently voted the fifth best Halo player of all time out of 25 competitors, and is the only Canadian who competes in Halo esports.

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On Sunday, the Halo Championship Series, which is the governing body of Halo esports, released the findings of an exhaustive investigation into allegations by other professional Halo players that something was amiss in their matches against Fiorante during an online qualifier tournament that took place from Dec. 1-2. There were also connection issues during the tournament, which led to a more than four-hour delay of matches.

Fiorante’s team went on to win the tournament, and players soon began accusing Fiorante of cheating. On Dec. 3, the HCS launched a formal investigation into the connection issues and allegations. According to the HCS, the investigation determined internet settings had been manipulated which gave Fiorante an unfair advantage. That violated the official HCS Handbook rules for code of conduct governing cheating,  and specifically the sections regarding hacking and network abuse.

The decision quotes from the code of conduct noting, “any form of cheating, whether intentional or not, by any Participant is strictly prohibited.”

On the weekend, Fiorante posted an explanation online , regarding a change in his internet settings and not turning it off prior to the tournament.

“I truly did not realize the impact this decision would have, and for that I am deeply sorry and apologize to my fans and wish my teammates the best of luck in Raleigh,” wrote Fiorante.

As a result of the investigation, Fiorante has been banned from competition until Jan. 28, 2022. This means he will be unable to fly to Raleigh, North Carolina for the first major competition featuring Microsoft’s new Halo game, Halo Infinite. The prize for first place is $100,000 U.S. The tournament is set for this weekend.

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One key part of the scandal is where Fiorante is based out of, leading many gamers who may have never heard of Regina, Saskatchewan to start looking it up on Google Maps.

Eric Wrona, a professional Halo player who also streams his gameplay to an audience of 537,000 followers on the website Twitch.tv, discussed the controversy during a recent broadcast and mentioned Fiorante’s location.

“People were accusing Royal 2 of using a geo filter because he’s from Saskatchewan, Canada,” said Wrona, who goes by the gaming handle Snip3down.

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Players suspect that due to Fiorante’s location in Canada, he may have been experiencing a suboptimal connection when playing Halo, which has servers located in the United States.

Central to the controversy are complex internet networking systems and a technical situation online gamers refer to as ping. Ping is a measurement for the time it takes from data to transfer between computers and servers over the internet. In the world of online gaming, a good ping is essential for a smooth experience and is vital in professional esports. A bad ping can result in a situation known to gamers called “lag.”

By allegedly using geo filtering, all of Fiorante’s matches were played on a certain server, creating a higher ping for all players in the match and giving him an edge.

Following the allegations, Wrona accused Fiorante of deleting archived video of online matches he had broadcast that showed which server he was playing on. On Fiorante’s Twitch page, the latest archived videos are missing. The most recent is from 17 days ago.

The investigation by the HCS involved Microsoft employees reviewing server logs from all matches that Fiorante played in Halo Infinite going back to Nov. 15. It found unusual activity in Fiorante’s matches that did not happen with any other pro players.

Microsoft’s investigation found that from Nov. 26, the day before the North American Open Series, through to the last match of a crucial online qualifier tournament that ran from Dec. 1-2, all United States servers save one server were missing from the server ping list in Fiorante’s games, forcing his matches onto that server and creating an unusually high ping for other players.

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“We have determined that the only plausible explanation for Royal 2’s telemetry data pattern referred to above is that there was a direct modification of files giving Royal 2 an unfair competitive advantage during play,” read the HCS investigation.

The findings set off a firestorm on Twitter, with Fiorante and Regina at the centre of heated discussions among pro players and fans.

Fiorante’s teammates defended him. They debated whether whether he had in fact cheated or if the abnormality was due to his location in Canada and his internet service provider (ISP). Fiorante is sponsored by Access Communications, which supplies him with an internet connection.

In its report, the HCS said Sentinels provided ISP data to support an alternative explanation, but it deemed the evidence was inconsistent with its own findings.

Fiorante posted a statement regarding the HCS ruling on Sunday evening. In it, he admitted he had changed settings to use a west-coast server because he was experiencing high ping, but “failed” to turn it off for the qualifier tournament.

Mathew ‘Royal 2’ Fiorante competing with his team at a Halo tournament.
Mathew ‘Royal 2’ Fiorante competing with his team at a Halo tournament. Photo by Carlton Beener /jpg

The other three players on Fiorante’s team will be allowed to compete, but they have lost their number one seed placement and will have to compete in the open bracket — a major setback. The team has secured a replacement player to fill Fiorante’s spot.

On Dec. 10 the Leader-Post spoke with Fiorante for an interview about the upcoming tournament in Raleigh. Fiorante did not mention the allegations. He said that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, he had been considering moving to Texas where he could have a better internet connection and more easily travel to and from tournaments.

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“Texas just, it’s kind of like central. Maybe better better ping to other areas connection-wise, and then travelling because travelling from Regina is also a little bit of a hassle sometimes,” said Fiorante.

The Leader-Post contacted Fiorante and Sentinels on Monday for further comment, but has not received a response.

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