Microsoft has gone all-in with Halo eSports, after severing ties with Activision’s Call of Duty last year. Microsoft has been active in the eSports scene for years, and the company continues to offer new offerings through the recently announced Xbox One APIs that allow developers to build eSports functionality into their games.

Halo is Microsoft’s most successful brand, and its biggest eSports game. The company opened up its $1 million championship prize pool to crowdfunding last year. And now the top Halo teams are competing for a record $2.5 million. This entire tournament is just the beginning of Halo eSports. Che Chou, franchise media director and eSports lead at 343 Industries, explains the lessons learned and how Halo eSports will evolve with stadium events and even more global competition in this exclusive interview.

Why did you choose Hollywood for the finals?

With the Halo World Championship, our focus was on creating a world-class broadcast for the majority of viewers watching at home while still allowing for a limited studio audience for local fans. We chose to host the tournament at Raleigh Studios because it is a fantastic production stage that allows us to do both.

How many people can watch live in the venue?

Again, our focus was on creating a world-class broadcast for the majority of viewers watching at home, but we understand a live audience adds excitement and tension to the event and we’re pleased to host a limited studio audience for Halo eSports fans. As our first world championship program, we wanted to make sure and nail production quality and broadcast first. As Halo eSports continues to grow and evolve, we will definitely work with our tournament organizer partners on big arena events.

What type of livestreaming numbers has this tournament garnered thus far? 

I’m not sure of the exact figure, but I can say the response has been awesome from fans around the world. The weekend is really the culmination of months of build-up, and we look forward to bringing fans a world-class broadcast with all the action from Hollywood.

How are you working with sponsor Mega Bloks at the championship?

Mega Bloks has been a close partner with Halo and 343 Industries for years. Besides being a great construction sandbox, Mega Bloks has always been in-tuned to the Halo community and their involvement in the HaloWC has been really authentic. Besides a sponsorship, they also built a Halo 5 battle rifle as an MVP trophy for the HaloWC.

How are you integrating sponsor Legendary Pictures’ Warcraft into the championship?

Legendary Pictures saw an opportunity with the Halo World Championship to reach some very like-minded fans and I’m glad they’re involved with the sponsorship.

What’s the learning curve been like for this new World Championship format?

We’ve definitely learned a lot the past few months and I would say continue to be humble students of eSports. I wanted to work with the best tournament organizers in the world – so we hooked up with ESL, MLG, and Gfinity, each of which are the best at what they do. But working with multiple TO partners also presented unique challenges as different TOs bring different styles, formats and best practices.

How have you seen the competition level in other territories compare to the U.S.?

North America is definitely where the majority of the best Halo players are today. That said, the Halo World Championship 2016 was a great way to identify top teams from around the world, a few of which came out of nowhere and were very competitive. I think as the Halo 5 eSports meta evolves, we will start to see European and Latin America teams come into their own and pose a real challenge to North America’s dominance.

What are your thoughts on the crowdfunding support the community has put behind the prize pool?

It really is exciting to think about how the community is directly contributing to the growth of Halo eSports. We’re at $2.5 million for the total prize pool, with the winning team taking home $1 million.  That’s the biggest individual prize pool in console eSports history. Having run Halo eSports for a few years now, the scope and stakes of this tournament actually kind of blows my mind. It’s the biggest thing we’ve ever done, and so far, I’d say it’s also the most important thing we’ve ever done for Halo eSports.

What role do you see crowdfunding playing for Halo eSports moving forward?

With the success we’ve seen with the Halo World Championship prize pool, it’s certainly a concept we’ll continue to explore in the future, though we have nothing new to share at this time.

How soon will you gear up for a new tour?

We will have more to share this weekend during the Halo World Championship finals. Be sure to tune in.