It could be argued that Karma was the most successful professional gamer on the MLG Pro Circuit over the course of 2006. Not only did he win every FFA tournament this year, but he also helped Carbon become the 4v4 National Champions of Halo 2. By winning the season’s point race as well, Karma earned what could be called MLG’s triple-crown. Karma took home $39,000 from Las Vegas and left fans eager to learn more about the 18-year-old who has quickly become a pro-gaming hero to many of them. MLG had a chance to sit down with Karma this week to discuss his training routines, his legendary confidence and his unprecedented domination of the 2006 tour.
MLG: When Halo 2 first came out, everyone said it was too random for anyone to ever really dominate the FFA scene. Obviously after winning every event of the 2006 season, you proved them wrong. But did you ever see it the same way? Did you ever think it was too random?
Karma: I don’t think so because from the beginning somehow I was good. When there was only Matchmaking, when rumble pit was the only FFA you could really compete in, I was first on the leader boards. And then when head-to-head came out I was on top of that too. So I never really thought FFA was too random. I did think however, that Halo 2 was a little random and that anyone could get good really fast if they worked hard.
MLG: Has your opinion changed now that you’ve been playing on the MLG circuit for two years and we all know more about the game?
Karma: Well, I’ve seen some weird things like GI Factor dominating the Open FFA by 14 kills at the playoffs. And I don’t win every FFA so… I guess the goal is just to stay consistent and get top 8 at the end. That’s the goal because the 1v1s are what really matter.
Having taken the National Championships in both the 4v4 and the 1v1, it could be argued that Karma was the single most successful Halo 2 player of the 2006 Season.
MLG: What kind of skill does it take to stay consistent and be one of the best at the FFA?
Karma: Mental Talent! You have to not get down on yourself, even if you’re in last place. And if you’re getting owned by bad spawns and nonsense like that you have to just stay confident and get ready for the next kill. With that you could get top 8.
MLG: You blogged recently about how you were a nobody back in the Halo:CE days. How do you go from being nobody to being one of the best in the world at Halo 2?
Karma: Well, I wasn’t a noob! I just didn’t have the right people around to beat me bad enough to help me get better. I was only as good as everyone else in SoCal. When MLG came along I saw the skill I really wanted to get and I worked to get it. I love the challenge to get better. Don’t get me wrong though! I love winning. I just love losing even more because it pushes you to get that much better.
MLG: Does that mean you’re going to get bored with the FFA events if you keep winning? Or is keeping your winning streak the challenge now?
Karma: That’s definitely a great challenge. I love how people play the FFAs and 1v1s to beat me. It’s kind of like I’m their last test to see if their practice paid off.
MLG: So you’re the “final boss?”
Karma: Haha! So to speak. It’s just like when I’m in the finals I love to test my opponents a bit. If I have the lead I’ll do stupid things like rush straight at them without shooting to show them what they need to improve on and how not to get nervous against me. If you get to the finals and lose the will to win, you never will.
MLG: Isn’t that a big risk? Is making the challenge harder worth the fun of testing yourself and your opponents that way?
Karma: Well, even though Strongside has been with me in the finals for the last three tournaments, I still love playing Walsh! In Anaheim when it was 15-14 against Walshy, it was the most fun I’ve had in a while and honestly it hasn’t been as fun since then.
MLG: After winning the FFA and the 1v1 titles this year, you’re the most successful pro gamer on the MLG pro circuit. But it wasn’t always that way. You said in that same blog post that you felt like you really didn’t start to get good at 4v4s until the 05 Champs. What changed? How did you improve?
Karma: I changed mentally. I started thinking, “I suck and I want to get better.” I needed to stop getting angry in-game. I also saw how Walshy used to get like 30 assists per game and I was thinking “I want that.” So I watched his games, watched how he played and shifted my playing style towards that. Not to mention that Shockwave helped me out a lot. He taught me tricks here and there and how to setup and play like a support player.
MLG: Well, in 2006 you dominated FFA and you beat Walshy’s team for the $100,000 championship prize. Do you think you’ve surpassed him now? Is there anything else left to learn from him?
Karma: I don’t believe I’ve passed him. I think by now he’s definitely a lot better mentally since he lost three times in a row. Right now he’s thinking to himself that something is wrong. It’s guaranteed he’s going to fix it. Although, I do believe I reached what my goal was. My goal was to win the 2005 and the 2006 FFA championships. To win all the ones in between was what I wanted to do, but my goal was the championships. And more than anything I wanted to dethrone Final Boss. Once we beat them once we just kept going. So I reached all my goals.
MLG: Are you more proud of being the single best FFA/1v1 player in the world or being on the number one team in the world?
Karma: Teams. Although technically we’re still ranked by points as #2. I’m more proud of all of us. Me, Shock, Gandhi, Ghost… we achieved it. I mean, the 1v1s are something I love to do. I have fun with them because it’s all mind games and such. But the teams are where it’s at in my opinion.
MLG: Let’s talk a little about your legendary confidence. You hardly have any emotion on your face during competition, winning or losing in a match. How did you develop such a cool head?
Karma: That’s something I give credit to my dad for. He indirectly taught me my whole life that there are other ways of dealing with things than getting angry or fighting. So growing up I wasn’t an angry kid and staying confident even when I’m down comes easy to me. I try to tell other people not to get angry at things and at first it was hard to understand why some people couldn’t, but I guess I’m just different.
MLG: You’re just wired differently because of how you grew up?
Karma: Everyone, even my dad can be hypocritical at times. That’s why a few people have actually seen me get angry. There are only a few things that I let get to me like my family and friends getting hurt or real racism. Not racism online though. That’s just stupid.
MLG: Are there other things that gamers out there can learn to do to be calmer during their matches?
Karma: I’ve tried to help people with it but I don’t know how really. I mean, I can say, “Don’t get angry,” but they have to mentally be able to do it.
MLG: So in the end they just have to decide to do it and just do it? There’s no magic trick?
Karma: Pretty much. I guess there are people that can still be good when they’re angry, like T2 or Shockwave. Haha! Shockwave’s a trip. He gets angry and just plays better. I don’t understand how he does it. I guess some people are just different.
MLG: I know you’ve talked about it a little before, but how do you train for the FFAs and 1v1 battles?
Karma: I don’t really train for FFA. I just stay confident that I’ll do well and play a few here and there before the event. But the 1v1s, I practice with Gandhi. He is able to shift his playing style to be like a bunch of different people so I’ll be ready for anyone. So he can play aggressive or passive, so on and so forth.
MLG: Can he beat you in a 1v1 during training?
Karma: Haha, of course! He just can’t make it to the 1v1s in tournaments because he hates FFA. It would be fun though if we got into the finals someday against each other. I think we’d do some weird agreement like no camo, controllers behind the back! We’d make it fun.
MLG: Wouldn’t you like the challenge of playing your trainer in the finals as hard as you both possibly could? You said earlier you love challenges.
Karma: You have no idea how much I would love it. I would have so much fun, win or lose.
MLG: OK, I know you have some secrets you’ll never reveal, but seriously, we saw some crazy spawn-trapping from both you and from StrongSide at the Championships. How do you do that?
Karma has logged a success story this year that few if any can match. We can only guess at what he has in store for us next season.
Karma: Shhhh!!! Haha, actually I revealed my hidden spawn point that I never used before in Vegas. It’s so good I wanted to save it until nationals. Mike (StrongSide) always used his and I knew what to expect from him. But he had no idea about mine. StrongSide successfully used his trap against Walshy several times but what’s wrong with his is that there’s a small percent chance that they will get a spawn on the flag. If they get that spawn then StrongSide’s dead and he knows it. That’s his spawn-point’s only flaw.
With my spawn point I forced him directly underneath me and he didn’t see it coming. So I rebounded a nade down to him and killed him. Although my spawn doesn’t work 100% it does work a lot. And if he gets a flag spawn against me it doesn’t matter, because I won’t get gunned down so easily since I’m not out in the open.
MLG: Now that some of those tricks have been revealed, do you expect to see more spawn-traps in the 2007 season?
Karma: Yeah, definitely. But Mike and I have been doing them for a long time, so we have a bit more experience and we know what to do if we get spawn-trapped. So hopefully it won’t work against us.
MLG: Is there anyone in Halo that you still fear? Anyone you think has the potential to knock you off the top of the FFA rankings in 07?
Karma: I don’t fear anyone. But, I don’t underestimate anyone either. I guess that’s one of the main reasons why I haven’t been knocked out yet.
MLG: You were the most successful player on the tour this year, but you did it for a serious reason. You’re paying your bills winning Halo tournaments. This is how you make your living, right?
Karma: Yes. This is how I make my living and how I help my family also. There was a time that I wasted a lot of winnings because I was greedy and I wanted a lot of stuff, like a nice computer and things like that, but now that I don’t live with my dad anymore I know what I need to do.
MLG: Is it a little scary that shooting your battle-rifle is paying your rent and helping to take care of the people you love? Does that motivate you to play better?
Karma: Subconsciously I think so. I won’t lie and say its something that’s on my mind while I’m playing. I guess I just try to have fun.
MLG: Well you certainly achieved your goals for this year! You dethroned Final Boss.
You won the last two FFA titles and you’re making your living as a professional gamer. Congratulations Karma! You deserve it.