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MLG Toronto: Following the Coverage

Back in April, I posted about how I’d followed a link from the Bungie website and discovered a televised professional video gaming league in the states. I’ve been following the Halo 3 part of the Major League Gaming 2008 Pro Circuit on and off since; I’ve come to know the names of commentators Sundance diGiovanni and Chris Puckett, and I always look forward to the next ESPN/MLG Top 10 (one mistake I made in the last post; MLG isn’t a division of ESPN, it’s a company on it’s own which has a broadcast contract with ESPN). Scarier still, I now know the name Stride Gum about as well as I do that of Powdermilk Biscuits.

I came in at the tail end of the Meadowlands Championship, catching up via the website's online rebroadcasts of the event. Two more events were conducted, one in San Diego in June and another in Orlando in July. A few hours ago, though, the fourth Pro Circuit stop in Toronto came to an end. For the first time I found myself not only following the Halo 3 tournament (there were also Gears of War and Rainbow Six Vegas 2 tourneys) closely across the weekend (when my bloody connection would allow me to load the MLG website and, if I was lucky, stream video) but also barracking for a couple of teams.

You know, it’s interesting that the name of most of these teams don’t sound particularly gamer-ish; I almost expect to find teams named Carbon, Classic, Empire and Legendz in a neighbourhood bowling or indoor soccer comp. But Final Boss, there’s a name that not only sounds unusual to the un-initiated, but screams “Gamer!” to other gamers. I’ve liked these guys ever since they took out Meadowlands; I've since learned that they’ve been The Team To Beat in the MLG leagues since Halo 2 launched.

But then, there’s Instinct. Not only does one of the team have the most fun name of the league (that name, by the way, is Lunchbox), but since Orlando they’ve also had one of the most well-known faces on the MLG circuit. Walshy was captain of Final Boss until the team placed a shock seventh in San Diego and was only able to claw its way back up to fifth in Orlando. It seems the other three team members decided a team change was needed and gave Walshy, who’d been with the team since 2004, the pink slip.

Instinct, though, themselves also in need of a change, pounced on Walshy and up-and-coming player Soviet (yeah, he was born in Russia) to replenish their roster (it’s interesting to note that Walshy went from playing with twins, Ogre 1 and Ogre 2, to playing with another set of twins, Lunchbox and Roy).

Of course, this set the stage for a grudge match, and did Toronto deliver.

MLG organises its Pro Circuit comps along a double-elimination format. In a regular (single elimination) championship format, your team is knocked out of the running as soon as it loses. In double elimination, though, losing once gets you bumped down to what’s called the “losers' bracket”, a second tree giving competitors another shot. Instinct won every match it played until the Winners' Bracket final, where they were beaten by Str8 Rippin and bumped to the Losers' Bracket final – where their opposition turned out to be Final Boss (a double irony, as Walshy’s replacement Neighbor had himself quit Str8 Rippin to fill Walshy’s spot). Now, as I like both of these teams I wasn’t really going for one or the other – but when Instinct pulled a 3-1 win, I couldn’t help but be pleased for Walshy and his team (including Lunchbox).

Still, there’s a certain arrogance to the otherwise-charismatic Walshy (I originally made a backhanded remark here, but the guy can talk to an interviewer without stumbling, and he knows how to work a crowd when on the main finals stage) – when asked his opinion on the FB/Instinct match before the Champ Final, he replied, "It was like taking candy from a baby… but I think the baby would’ve put up a better fight.”

Unfortunately, Instinct couldn’t carry their victory over into a Championship win. In a double elimination tournament, the top team of the Winners’ Bracket meets the top team of the Losers’ Bracket for the championship final. As mentioned before, Str8 Rippin had defeated Instinct 3-1 in the Winners’ Bracket final , which meant Instinct, as Losers' Bracket winners, had to face them again in the Championship Final. Per MLG rules the scores from the WB Final carried over, making the Championship Final a Best-of-11 match and giving Str8 a two-game advantage. The match turned out to be a repeat of the Winners’ Bracket final; although every game was close, with Walshy turning a two-nil score in a game of Capture the Flag on Narrows into a win by bagging three flag captures in a row, Str8 pulled ahead in three games to take the Championship crown.

I’m not fond of Str8 Rippin. I mentioned Walshy’s arrogant streak earlier, but team captain TSquared is just too aggressive for me. After Str8 won the fifth game in the Championship Final in Orlando, he leapt to his feet, yelling “You want to win? This is how you win!” at opponents Triggers Down (thankfully they followed his example, winning the next three games and the Orlando Championship). So I was a bit narked when Str8 beat Instinct at Toronto.

Sometimes, I find myself wishing these wound-up players would concentrate on entertaining through skill than through trash talk. It’s a game tournament; the audience is entertained by displays of skill, not by this crap. But I know they won’t stop trash talking – because bloody hell, it’s just so damn entertaining when someone pulls the drama tag out!

I feel so ashamed for buying into it - and yet I can’t wait for Dallas and the ’08 final…

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