By Stalking Elmo

The sun has now set on the 2011 Halo: Reach Season, and we’re left with the memory of six incredible events. Let’s take stock of the Season as a whole and recap exactly what happened at each stop on this year’s Pro Circuit.

Dallas, April 1-3

The first stop of the 2011 Pro Circuit was in Dallas. This was the first pro Event for the new game, Halo: Reach. As always, a new title brought a shakeup in the rosters. While the top two Halo 3 teams (Final Boss and Status Quo) kept the same lineups, every other pro team shuffled their members in an effort to adapt to the new game's idiosyncrasies. There were also a number of promising up-and-comers who had spent the last few months getting a head start on Reach while the pro teams finished the 2010 Season of Halo 3.

Coming into Dallas, the biggest question was how the number one team, Final Boss, would perform in the new game. They had just won the final three Halo 3 Events (and never placed below Top 2 since forming this roster of Ogre 2, Pistola, Victory X, and FearItself). Things seemed promising, as Ogre 2 and Pistola were already showing signs of brilliance in the new game. But the atmosphere of an MLG Event is always different from practice, be it online or on LAN. How would the reigning champions fare come tournament time?

Upsets were not long in coming once the competition was underway. 9th-seeded THO Impact, which was comprised of rising stars Lethul, Amish Acorns, Adrenaline, and league veteran Neighbor, surprised Final Boss, Classic, and Carbon with 3-0 sweeps in Pool Play. Impact won their pool and would eventually march to an impressive 2nd Place finish, cementing the young players' standings as imposing forces in the new game.

Once the dust settled in Pool Play, Impact, Instinct, Believe the Hype, and Status Quo were left standing in the Winners Bracket. On the other side, in the Losers Bracket, things weren't going well for some of the Halo 3 heavyweights. After winning their pool in a three-way tie with Warriors and Gimme My Money, Instinct never won another series and finished 6th, the lowest placing possible for a pool winner, being knocked into the Losers Bracket by Status Quo and then eliminated by Warriors.

Defending champs Final Boss fared even worse, losing to Warriors in an extremely close series in Losers Round 6, finally being eliminated in a 50-49 loss on Zealot Team Slayer. FB finished in a distant 10th Place, while Warriors went on to finish 4th after winning their next two match ups against Swagger Like Us and Instinct before succumbing to Believe the Hype in the Losers Semifinals.

But the big story of Dallas was Status Quo. After sticking together throughout the entire 2010 Season, they had been steadily improving, using their time-tested team chemistry to defeat flashier teams. After making it to the Finals for the first time at the 2010 Dallas National Championships, they had tasted success and wanted more. After a rough start losing to Invictus (which featured Ninja, Watch, Calm, and Swift Kill) 3-0 in their first Pool Play match up, they never looked back, winning their pool and plowing straight through the Winners Bracket from there on their way to a 1st Place finish. Enable was the Dallas MVP, going positive 101 while the rest of the team combined to go negative 55. He was on fire in the Finals against Impact, going +45 with a 1.38 kill/death ratio in that crucial 8-game series. It was the first Event win for all four SQ members as all their practice and dedication had finally paid off.

Columbus, June 3-5

Following the upheaval of Dallas, every team except reigning champions Status Quo changed rosters. After being released from Instinct, Tsquared reformed Str8 Rippin with his 2008 National Championship teammate, Legit, along with Naded and RyaNoob. This was nearly the same Str8 roster as that of the 2007 opener in Charlotte, except now with the young star RyaNoob in place of Foulacy, and also the first reunion since that time of one of the most notorious duos in the league's history, Legit and Naded, who had been an explosive force together in Halo 2.

The talk of the community, though, was all about Instinct. After Instinct and Final Boss, the only two teams to win Events in 2010, had failed to meet expectations in Dallas, the twins Roy and Lunchbox poached Ogre 2 and Pistola to form what was immediately dubbed the God Squad. From day one, this new Instinct lineup promised to be a dominant force in the league. After successful Xbox Live scrimmages, fans wondered how their skill would transfer to a LAN setting and then to an MLG Event. Time would tell.

Elsewhere in the Halo scene, after some internal issues, Impact had replaced Neighbor with APG, but couldn't replicate their success from Dallas, dropping like a rock from 2nd Place all the way down to 11th. Status Quo, Warriors, and Believe the Hype all had similar plummets, falling from 1st to 7th, 4th to 12th, and 3rd to 13th, respectively.

Filling the vacancy in the Top 4 was a new team, Capital Punishment, which featured a number of promising new faces: Crimsix, Twin Savior, Dersky, and Twylight. They defeated a fresh Final Boss roster (which now featured Ninja and Totz in lieu of Ogre 2 and Pistola) 3-1 to secure a 4th Place finish.

Before Columbus, Dynasty dropped Ghostayame for Heinz, who joined Destin, Tizoxic, and Snipedown. The change paid off as they improved their placing from 8th all the way to 3rd. Many fans wondered, however, if they were better than their 3rd Place finish suggested, as they looked to be the only team who had any chance of competing with the new juggernaut Instinct, being the only team all weekend to take a game from the "God Squad," and keeping several other games surprisingly close, including a 5-4 loss on Countdown CTF that would prove to be one of the most exciting games of the Season.

The new Str8 Rippin lineup looked very promising in Columbus as well. Tsquared had a good tournament and looked like he had kicked his famous work ethic into high gear between Dallas and Columbus. The reunion of T2 and Legit, who had won the 2008 National Championship together, had ignited both players' intensity (Roy named Legit the most improved player from Dallas to Columbus), and RyaNoob's playstyle and smart objective work was a great fit for the team. Even though Naded wasn't quite playing up to his full, Naded-esque potential at times, Str8 still was dominating virtually every team except Instinct. After finishing 2nd in their pool behind Instinct, they battled through the Losers Bracket, eliminating defending champs Status Quo (3-1), Soul (3-0), a hot Capital Punishment team (3-1), and the powerhouse Dynasty (3-0) on their way to the Finals, where Instinct was waiting.

Instinct had surpassed all expectations so far in Columbus, having dropped only a single game the entire weekend, a 1-0 loss to Dynasty on Sanctuary Bomb, and had set a new record for the longest winning streak in a tournament at 17-0. While Str8 Rippin had torn through the other teams without much trouble, they couldn't find a way to counter the God Squad's skill and teamwork, getting swept 6-0 in the Finals. With this win, Ogre 2 became the only player to take 1st Place in five different MLG games (Halo: CE, Halo 2, Shadowrun, Halo 3, and Halo: Reach).

Anaheim, July 29-31

Instinct looked unstoppable after their 21-1 record in Columbus, and the rest of the league was scrambling to catch up, which could only mean one thing: roster changes.

After a disappointing 12th Place finish, Warriors swapped Robbie B and Elamite for Dersky and Twylight, who had both come off an impressive 4th Place finish on Capital Punishment. The other half of Capital Punishment (Crimsix and Twin Savior) joined forces with Lethul and APG, who were still reeling from their fall to 11th Place after finishing 2nd in the opener, to form THO Evil. This was a young, aggressive team with plenty of individual firepower.

One of the most talked about lineups coming into Anaheim was Turning Point, which was made up of Ninja and Mikwen, two young players with plenty of raw talent, as well as league veterans Walshy and Best Man. Despite not having a pro seed, TP got off to a solid start by storming all the way through the Open Bracket en route to a respectable 7th Place finish. Although TP was swept by Warriors when playing for Top 6, Ninja at least had the satisfaction of out-placing Final Boss, the team who had kicked him off after Columbus.

By far the most controversial team change coming into Anaheim was Str8 Rippin. While they had made short work of every other team in Columbus, Str8 had been unable to win a single game against Instinct. Not content with a commanding 2nd Place finish, and with former teammates Neighbor and Elamite back on the market, Tsquared took a big risk and released RyaNoob and Naded from the roster in order to recreate the Str8 Rippin team that had won two Events in 2007 and 2008. But that was over three years ago, and Halo 2 and 3 were different games. Would the chemistry still be there after all this time? Would the lineup who took an Event from the legendary 2007 Final Boss be able to find the Achilles heel of the 2011 Instinct? How would the roster translate to Reach (after all, 3/4 of the team had Top 2 finishes under their belts in the new game so far)? Should they have tried to work out the kinks with Naded and RyaNoob instead? These were all questions on the fans' minds coming into Anaheim.

Anaheim saw several teams rebound after disappointing placings in Columbus. Warriors found themselves back in 4th Place after getting 12th, Believe the Hype bounced back from 13th up to 5th Place, and a practiced Status Quo once again fought their way into the Finals after losing their opening series in Pool Play for the third Event in a row.

Unfortunately, however, Str8 Rippin's gamble backfired. After a strong 2nd Place showing, this new lineup took a nosedive all the way down to 14th Place after being swept 3-0 by Dynasty for Top 12.

Classic had a great run in Anaheim. The new lineup, which was made up of Chig, Russo, Str8 Sick, and Prototype, came in with the 13th seed and yet won their pool. After a 3-0 loss to Status Quo in Winners Round 1, they clawed their way through a 10-game series against Dynasty, followed by an 11-game series against Warriors to secure a Top 3 finish before finally running out of steam in another 10-game series versus Status Quo.

After slipping from 1st to 7th Place in Columbus, SQ was practiced and hungry for another win, while Instinct was looking even more invincible than they had in Columbus, having not dropped a single game all tournament. But despite their dominating victory in Columbus, they did not get a chance to test their mettle against the Dallas champs, SQ, so when the two teams finally met in Winners Round 2, both had a lot to prove. It was Instinct who would come out on top, however, with a decisive 3-0 sweep. After battling back through a 10-game series against an on-fire Classic in the Losers Finals, SQ still came up short in their rematch with Instinct, falling 6-0, with none of the games being much of a contest.

The 6-0 sweep against SQ completed Instinct's 21-0 run through Anaheim, the first ever, and extended their overall tournament record to an astounding 42-1. They appeared unstoppable.

Raleigh, August 26-28

Following Instinct's performance in Anaheim, teams once again shuffled personnel to try and find a weakness. Most notably, Lethul and APG from Evil joined forces with Blaze and RyaNoob from Believe the Hype to form THO Infamous. As a duo, Blaze and Lethul had yet to lose a tournament together, going back to the 2010 D.C. Combine and Dallas Reach Exhibition Events. This was an extremely aggressive team that was showing promise in scrimmages leading into Raleigh.

After their disappointing 14th Place finish in Anaheim, Str8 Rippin continued their slide by going 0-4 in Pool Play, although they bizarrely took their first game against the now-legendary Instinct squad 5-0 on Countdown CTF (only to be subsequently steamrolled in the next three games once Instinct started trying). Str8 even lost to the open team, Fire Breathing Franks, who had changed rosters only days before the Event after InSaiyan's flight was cancelled due to Hurricane Irene. They eventually finished in 20th Place, 18 places below their finish before the roster change, making this one of the worst team change decisions in league history, along with Triggers Down dropping Pistola for Totz in 2010, which led to a three-peating Final Boss, and Instinct dropping Snipedown in early 2008, which led to a National Championship-winning Str8 Rippin.

Meanwhile, Tsquared and Neighbor's former teammates, RyaNoob and Lethul, were on a tear. After taking 2nd in their pool behind Dynasty (who swept them), Infamous fought through a stacked Losers Bracket, dismantling powerhouse teams such as Evil (3-1), SQ (3-1), Dynasty (6-4, or 6-1 not counting the 3-0 deficit from the previous day), and Believe the Hype (3-0) on their way to meet Instinct in the Finals.

Instinct was looking more vulnerable than the previous two tournaments. In addition to their odd 5-0 loss to a struggling Str8 Rippin, they had also lost a game to Dynasty in Winners Round 1 and two games to Believe the Hype in Winners Round 2.

This Finals would prove to be one of the best series all Season. Infamous came out swinging, building a 2-0 series lead while making the God Squad appear more human. Instinct then won the next two games to tie the series at 2-2 and putting them on the brink of a three-peat with just one more win. The next game, Sanctuary TS, was as close as they come, with the lead changing hands with nearly every kill. With Lethul's Killing Spree near the end of the game, however, Infamous was able to build a tiny lead and hold onto it for the rest of the game, sending both teams into an extended 11-game series.

The remaining games were neck and neck, with both teams playing very aggressively. The biggest win was a 50-46 game on Zealot Team Slayer–all other games were decided by three points or less. In the end, though, Infamous edged out the two-time champions Instinct in Game 10 on Android Team Slayer (Instinct's least-favorite game type). Infamous certainly earned their check, having played for nine hours straight and defeating six teams along the way.

Orlando, October 14-16

After their dismal showing in Raleigh, Str8 Rippin parted ways. Tsquared, the only remaining member, put together a last-minute squad of Adrenaline, Toxic, and Merkage. While their 13th Place finish was an improvement from 20th, it was still a far cry from where T2 had been just a few Events earlier.

Following an 8th Place finish, Warriors traded StrongSide and Twylight for Clutch and Royal 2, who had just placed 13th with Quantic Fire. The move paid off as Warriors improved to 3rd Place. Quantic Fire, which became Triggers Down, benefitted as well from the move, as they moved from 13th to 6th Place on the addition of Neighbor and Goofy.

Snipedown and Cloud went from Dynasty to Believe the Hype, while Formal and Destin went from Believe the Hype to Dynasty. BtH didn't fare as well in the trade, however, falling from 3rd Place to 12th.

After the once-invincible Instinct suffered their first defeat since forming, the fans wondered if they would find a new motivational spark and come to Orlando looking for payback. Instead, Instinct surprised the Halo world by slipping still further down to 5th Place. After winning their pool 4-0 (after surviving two Game 5s against Final Boss and Classic), they fell to the new Dynasty lineup of Heinz, Tizoxic, Destin, and Formal 3-1 in Winners Round 1. They were then eliminated in the Losers Bracket by Status Quo 3-2.

Having swept their pool 4-0 and then toppled Instinct in Winners Round 1, Dynasty was looking sharp. The defending champs, Infamous, were hot off of a 3-0 sweep of Triggers Down when the two teams met in Winners Round 2. Would Infamous be able to repeat their defeat of Dynasty from the Raleigh Losers Semifinals, or would the new Dynasty team be able to counter Infamous' aggressive playstyle? The addition of Destin and Formal seemed to be the winning recipe for success this time as Dynasty swept Infamous 3-0.

In the Losers Bracket Finals, Infamous had their hands full with an on-fire Warriors. After some very close games, Infamous was down 5-4 in the 11-game series, only one loss away from elimination. They came up huge in the last two games, tying the series at 5-5 and then winning the next game to take the series 6-5, earning them a rematch with Dynasty in the Finals.

The momentum wasn't enough to propel Infamous past Dynasty, however. Although Infamous was able to compete with Dynasty this time, winning two out of five games, it simply wasn't enough. Dynasty's 3-0 lead from the Winners Bracket Finals, combined with their 3-2 record in the Finals, won them the 1st Prize check with a 6-2 series victory. Formal's beastly slaying, including a 1.36 overall kill/death ratio for the Event, and a whooping +46 spread against Infamous, would earn him the MVP award (http://www.majorleaguegaming.com/news/crformal-is-the-halo-reach-orlando-mvp/) for Orlando.

Providence National Championships, November 18-20

Rosters were locked after Orlando, so teams were forced to work through any chemistry issues.

Str8 Rippin fell back down to 20th Place after their brief stay in the Top 16. Meanwhile Infamous, following 1st and 2nd Place finishes, lost their chemistry and fell sharply to 11th Place after losing to Believe the Hype 3-1 in the Winners Bracket and then being knocked out by Warriors in Losers Round 6, going 0-2 for the Event.

Believe the Hype continued their yo-yo-like pattern, bouncing back to 3rd Place from 12th. They powered through the Winners Bracket, knocking out some tough competition in Turning Point, Infamous, and Classic before being sent to the Losers Bracket by Instinct. In the Losers Finals, BtH was overcome by a hot Warriors team who had battled all the way from Losers Round 5. Nearly every game was a nail-biter, but, in the end, Warriors pulled out the win and a trip to the Finals to meet Instinct.

Unfortunately for Warriors, their run came to an end when they came up against an Instinct squad who had returned to top form. Instinct dismantled Warriors in a convincing 3-0 sweep on their way to a 1st Place finish. The win would be the first National Championship for twins Roy and Lunchbox, and the fifth for Ogre 2 (including his 6th appearance in eight years in the National Championship Finals). It was also his second back-to-back National Championship win, and he is the only player to win Nationals in all four Halo games, a truly remarkable feat considering how few players remain from the Halo 2 days, much less Halo:CE.