By Jason Waddell
“People may think they're the neighborhood heroes, think they can hang with me… you won't be able to.” Tsquared, 2006
The game has changed. A generation of neighborhood heroes have grown up, and the old guard of Major League Gaming is on the brink of extinction. The number of players remaining from the Halo 1 era can be counted on one hand, and most are currently facing an uphill battle. Walshy's squad, Turning Point, can't seem to crack Top 8, and Tsquared's Str8 Rippin franchise are in a state of disarray after dismantling their formidable Columbus roster earlier this Season. Ogre 1 flirts with a Jordanesque return to the Pro Circuit, and as exciting as it would be to see old stars back in the action, Australian side Immunity would even have slimmer title hopes than Jordan's Wizards.
Zyos walked into the Texas sunset in 2006, Saiyan's illustrious career ended in 2007, and the memory of greats like Darkman, Strangepurple and Shizz is carried on by a dwindling group of die-hard fans who witnessed MLG’s grassroots beginnings. Even most of the Halo 2 elites have hung up their sticks.
With age and an exponentially growing player base, many of the early innovators have been forced out of the game. The success of teams like Final Boss inspired a generation of gamers to take up their controllers and play for top honors. Years of inspiration have come to fruition with an increasingly competitive tournament scene that leaves less room for error with each passing Season. Younger and more agile players are now standing on the shoulders of giants. Where Walshy, the Ogres and other top pros were discovering and developing the fundamentals of weapon timing, team shooting and communicating, the new stars grew up with those skills already ingrained into their play and grew from there.
Take a look at the rosters of the Top 4 finishers from Orlando. It's a new cast of characters ruling the roost. Today's top players are from a new generation.
Which leaves Ogre 2.
The history of Ogre 2 is the history of MLG, and of the Pro Circuit. For eight Seasons running, Ogre 2 has been in perennial title contention. He has won Championships in five Pro Circuit titles, and in a way, the success of Ogre 2 and his teams have greatly contributed to pushing Major League Gaming to where it is today. The Final Boss dynasty brought a sense of legitimacy to the realm of console shooters. Their gold medal monopoly elevated MLG's early years beyond a mere clash of teenage joystick jockeys. The members of Final Boss were role models for an industry, showing that intelligence and teamwork were the keys to success in a burgeoning field of eSports. Their success spurred thousands of gamers to join the scene.
And so the League grew. One True Life episode, one USA Network show, one Championship Sunday at a time. Hordes of players flocked to custom games, matchmaking and MLG Open Brackets, all determined to usurp the throne. New titles released, tournament formats changed, and each year the skills required to put together a top caliber team have changed. Yet year after year, Ogre 2 finds his way to the top.
There have been eight Seasons of MLG competition. Ogre 2's eSports run is fast growing comparable in length to professional sports careers. In a world where video gamers' reigns at the top of the competition have startlingly short half-lives, Ogre 2 singlehandedly presses the question of how long a gamer can compete in his field. And not just compete; Season after Season, Ogre 2 manages to be the man lifting oversized checks in front of flashing bulbs on Sunday evening.
Somehow, Ogre 2 continues to not only compete at the highest level, but also to attract world-class talent to play alongside him. In a League of endless roster musical chairs, solid and stable squads don't happen by accident. In Columbus, it looked as if Ogre 2 had found his way onto a team that could rival the greatness of his old dynasties. For two events, Instinct were untouchable. All the pre-Raleigh chatter surrounded whether Instinct could throw together a 63 – 1 record.
A second perfect tournament however, was not in the cards. First Instinct dropped a game in Pool Play to Str8 Rippin. Then another to Dynasty in the bracket. Two games dropped against Believe the Hype in the Winners Bracket Finals revealed further cracks. Then the flood walls burst in the Grand Finals against Infamous, as the God Squad fell 6–4 against their 13th seeded opponents. Instinct's troubles carried over to Orlando, where they took 5th in an uninspired performance.
Instinct appear to have their backs against the wall, but this situation is all but routine for Ogre 2. The greatest Season closer in the history of the game has made a career out of clutching victory from the jaws of defeat. His teams introduced the notion of a Championship slump, but they always manage to peak at the perfect time. In title after title, the narrative of Ogre 2's performance has remained unchanged: initial dominance, a drop in performance, and ultimate victory.
The trend started in 2004, when the twins from Ohio led Shoot to Kill to victories at their debut tournaments in Philadelphia and Dallas. In what would eventually become a characteristic slump, Ogre 2's team lost their following two Events, only to take their next event and the National Championships with a revamped roster. For good measure, Ogre 2 won the 4v4 and 1v1 portions of MLG's Halo 1 sendoff LAN in Philadelphia 2005.
Halo 2 was host to the most terrifyingly dynastic reign that console shooters have ever witnessed. For the entirety of 2005 and the first half of 2006, the conversation didn't revolve around who would win the tournament, but who had a shot at taking second.
Final Boss' victories were treated as foregone conclusions. And then the wheels fell off. Between Orlando 2006 and Orlando 2007, Final Boss lost five of eight events, including two of the final three leading into final Halo 2 Pro Circuit tournament. With their Halo 2 legacy on the line, Final Boss emerged from their slump by taking the Las Vegas finals without dropping a game.
Ogre 2 even did his best to fit the dominance-fall-and-rise arc into a three-Event 2007 Shadowrun Season. His Shadowrun squad won the opener, fell off to 5th in the following Event, then fell just short of the National Championship title, all while his focus was on another game.
Halo 3 took the Ogre rise-fall-rise narrative to its extremes. Final Boss won the debut Halo 3 Event, but fell sharply afterward. Two years would pass without Ogre 2 seeing a Championship match. The tournament results showed Ogre 2's team placing 5th, 7th, even as low as 9th. Even the moniker “Final Boss” began to seem ridiculous. No longer was the team the gatekeeper to an MLG title. As the poor tournament performances streamed in, fans began to wonder how much juice was left in Ogre 2's tank. The previous years saw Saiyan, Walshy and even his twin brother Ogre 1 leave the roster. Ogre 2 simply didn't look cut out for Halo 3 and the rigors of the modern Pro Circuit.
Then he reinvented himself, assembling a new roster and finishing off his Halo 3 campaign with three consecutive tournament victories.
Which brings us to the present. Instinct's performances in Columbus and Anaheim were as dominant and convincing as any of Ogre 2's historic lineups. The current slump is fittingly familiar. The question is, will they rebound?
Moreover, is this an end of an era? Ogre 2 has closed out every Halo title with a victory, regardless of how well his team was doing in the buildup to the National Championship. Halo Anniversary has hit shelves, the newest patch is live, and all signs point to Providence being the final Reach tournament with bloom. This weekend's tournament represents more than the massive $100,000 1st Place bounty. It's the ultimate test of a year's worth of Reach practice and preparation. Instinct may have looked invincible in Columbus and Anaheim, but without the National Championship title, their efforts will amount to little more than a footnote, a missed opportunity.
Time and again, Ogre 2 has risen to the occasion when history is on the line. He's won four of MLG's seven National Championship Halo titles. When the dust settles after Providence, will he have made it five out of eight?