The Halo world featured several intriguing story lines heading into the 2008 National Championships. Could the top-seeded squad, Str8 Rippin, live up to the hype? Would Triggers Down, winners of the final tourney coming into Las Vegas, repeat their success? Could Final Boss and their retooled lineup finally gel and produce a result worthy of their potential? Would a lower-seeded team spring any major upsets on the top squads? The weekend answered each question emphatically and set the stage for an interesting 2009 season.
Str8 Rippin slipped a bit in Dallas, losing to Triggers Down in the finals, but many thought they were the top team coming to Las Vegas. After an opening-round sweep over eighth-seeded Legendz, Str8 met Instinct and found a much tougher series. The top seed won 3-2, but few expected the meeting to be as close, which prompted the question about Str8′s ability to go the distance. If the fourth seed could give them problems, how would they fare against the other big names?
The expected match in the Winners Bracket Finals for Str8 was either Triggers Down or Final Boss. Carbon, however, wrecked the party and met Str8 instead. Theoretically, the seventh seed should be a relatively easy win for the top-rated team, but Carbon gave Str8 as much as they could handle. In fact, Carbon led the series 2-1 before Str8 rallied to snag a spot in the Championship Match. Though they were undefeated, they would only be up one game if they played either Carbon or Instinct. Str8 faced some interesting problems, as well. They were winning, so ultimately they were ok, but at times their objective games looked shaky. Despite immense slaying power, often behind awe-inducing performances from Snipedown, they sometimes seemed distracted when it came to running the flag or occupying the hill. If Snipedown could combine his raw talent with the savvy nature of his captain, Tsquared, Elamite, or Legit, they would be nearly unstoppable.
The two big surprises of the tournament were the play of Carbon and Instinct. Carbon were seeded seventh and pegged to lose in the first round to Triggers Down by many in the Halo punditry. They certainly were not slated to defeat Final Boss after a theoretical first-round victory. But Carbon played like it was 2006 or 2007 in Las Vegas and went on a tear. They knocked out Triggers Down 3-2 in the first round and parlayed that momentum to a big 3-1 victory over Final Boss in the Winners Bracket Semifinals. Many thought their hot streak might dissipate as Saturday morphed into Sunday, but their match against Str8 showed that they were not merely hot, but true contenders.
Instinct, the fourth seed, not only gave Str8 a tough match in the Winners Bracket Semifinals, but they decisively defeated Final Boss 3-1 in the Losers Bracket, sending the third seed home. Though the victory must have been sweet for Walshy, once a crucial member of Final Boss, the team wanted more. It was only fitting that the two big stories of the event, Carbon and Instinct, would meet in the Losers Bracket Finals for a chance to meet Str8 Rippin for the title. The series was stunning, as players for both teams played extremely well. One player stood out on both teams during the tourney and both played well in the Losers Bracket Finals. Shockwave played better than he had all season for Carbon, but Naded continually produced amazing kills and sequences. Likewise, Roy drove Instinct with his spectacular play, several times single-handedly producing outcomes. Instinct really shined when Roy was joined by huge play from Soviet, Walshy, or his brother, Lunchbox. The series between the teams featured some of the closest and best games of the weekend, but ultimately Instinct emerged 3-1.
While Carbon and Instinct played well, two teams underwhelmed. Triggers Down, ranked second going into the tourney and the winners of the previous Pro Circuit title, appeared flat all weekend. Hysteria never really took over a series, while Karma, SK, and FearItself never really became anything better than solid. They had to be disappointed with losses to Carbon and Instinct, finishing out of the Top 4. Final Boss looked like they might finally click after addition of Neighbor, but their potential never really appeared. The team sometimes seemed completely unmotivated. Communication never really happened at a high level. Strongside and Neighbor produced lukewarm tournaments, while the Ogres were sometimes Ogre-like, but never dominant. Whatever the reason, Final Boss never looked like a serious threat. They struggled all weekend at objective games and teamwork seemed to lack. Both teams leave Las Vegas disappointed, with four months to mull their problems.
When the weekend finally sorted itself out, Instinct and Str8 Rippin found themselves the team with a chance to win the title. Str8 held a 3-2 lead thanks to their win during the Winners Bracket and many thought that lead would be enough to propel to the title. Instinct rode a wave of momentum, however, and took Game 1 to even the series. At that point, with the hot play of Roy and Soviet, clutch sniping from Lunchbox, and the always-clutch moments from Walshy, Instinct looked to be a serious threat to Str8. Unfortunately for Instinct, a win was not in the cards. Str8 excelled during the Team Slayer game, where Legit produced his best performance of the tourney. The following two objective games were close and Instinct had chances to win both, but Str8 ultimately came through in the endgame. The ability to excel in the latter parts of games was the determining factor to Str8′s championship run. They did not dominate the tourney like Final Boss did in 2007, but they were clearly the best prepared for the event and executed the best when it counted. Those factors all added up to the fact that they were the best team in Las Vegas.
The weekend witnessed great teams and great individual performances. The best part about the tournament was that the story of the event sets up an extremely intriguing off-season and 2009 Pro Circuit. Can Str8 Rippin repeat? Will Carbon and Instinct retain the momentum they found in Las Vegas? Will the underwhelming teams stay together or look to shake up their rosters? All these questions emerge thanks to the National Championships. One thing is for sure: Str8 Rippin leave with $100,000 and their name etched in MLG history.