The MLG offices have been abuzz with activity lately in preparation for what will surely be the biggest and most important pair of events yet in our history. I would even venture to guess that later on we will look back at these events as some of the defining moments in the uprising of the pro console gaming movement. I am, of course, talking about the 2005 National Championships and the announcement of the 2006 MLG Season (coming soon!). If you’ve taken a minute to scope out the details on the Championships, you already know that you’re in for an incredible ride, as the most elite players from a year-long nationwide tour will be squaring off for two days of phenomenally high-level competition to stake their claim on the season title and a boatload of cash. I hope you’re as excited as we are for this event, and with just a little over a week to go, we don’t have long to wait at all. As for the ’06 season announcements, we have been hard at work making sure that we blow away all expectations, and you certainly won’t be disappointed when we start rolling out the details in the very near future.

Amidst all of the insanity and preparation, we’ve barely even had time lately for some of our favorite office activities, such as placing ridiculous bets on after-hours Halo matches that nobody ever makes good on and dreaming up new ways to torment Raymond, our up-and-coming publicity whiz (there’s surely a spot reserved for me somewhere in hell). Although somehow Sundance still managed to find a minute to send around yet another email of his favorite picture–a miniature monkey in a cowboy costume riding a dog rodeo-style. You would think it would get old after the fifth time, but it doesn’t. Trust me.

This is what it’s all about, right here. These are the people who are pushing what they love to the forefront of the public consciousness.

Although these exciting things in our near future are the culmination of all of the momentum that was built up over the past year, it really feels like they sprung up overnight and out of nowhere. With that in mind, I wanted to take a look back at some of the landmarks of the 2005 MLG Season that all add up to the fantastic year that we just witnessed.

It all starts and ends with the community. I think the greatest thing about the past season has been the huge enthusiasm and participation of the players themselves. Pro gaming is obviously driven by those who play and aspire to competitive greatness, and I don’t think any of the staff members could have predicted the awesome influx of tournament attendees that began with the very first event and only got crazier as the season went on. With a little over 60 teams for Halo 2 and over 100 Smashers at our very first event in D.C., we were ecstatic with the community’s zeal right from the get-go. By the time we rolled out Halo Nationals 2 in Philadelphia, we had trounced the previous console-only tournament attendance record (set not-surprisingly by Halo Nationals 1, only a year earlier). Then MLG’s partnership with EVO 2005 in Las Vegas blew the doors off, with an astounding 750+ participants over the weekend. Just when the season was supposed to be narrowing its scope with the invite-only Conference Championships, and just when we thought we had seen the biggest turnouts of the year, something even wilder happened…

MLG Chicago shattered all preconceptions of how crazy a single event could get, with a whopping 136 four-man teams in attendance for Halo 2 — setting a new bar for the largest single-game, single-tournament attendance for any console game to date. What’s even more amazing is that most of these teams were there just for the Last Chance Qualifier, and knew that they would be battling against stiff competition for one of only four invites to the Conference Championship to take place later in the weekend — yet they didn’t think twice about showing up. They were there for the love of the game and the experience of an MLG tournament, which they would use to hone their skills for their next appearance. So where did all these people come from, and how did everything get so out of control in such a short time?

Well, like with any grassroots movement, by word of mouth, mostly; through the simple act of people sharing their excitement with their friends. To me, this is the most beautiful and awe-inspiring aspect of the pro-gaming revolution. It has been built almost entirely on the will of the people who love it, and want to see it get the recognition it deserves. Unlike a lot of grassroots communities that want to keep to their niche and exclude those who are not privy to the inner-workings, the pro gaming community wants the sport they love to be as big as possible. They want to see their peers get international recognition for their talents, and be seen in the same light as other great athletes and celebrities (not to mention all the money that comes with it). It is this inclusive and ambitious attitude that has laid the foundation of pro gaming, and has enabled the next phenomenon in MLG’s growth: media exposure.

Over time, media outlets caught wind of the community buzz around MLG and pro-console gaming, and have grown increasingly more enthralled throughout the season. It started off with local newspapers and news crews in the cities that our tour stopped at, but it wasn’t long before the national media saw the potential of what was going on and wanted a piece of the action. At MLG Orlando, CNBC was on hand to document the event and do a profile of Tsquared, one of the most successful and colorful pro gamers out there. Zyos was invited as a celebrity guest to appear in the official unveiling of the Xbox 360 on MTV, where he was featured prominently in a very early Perfect Dark Zero televised tournament. MTV returned with an idea to do a True Life episode on pro gamers, featuring MLG’s own Tsquared and KillaOR (also filming Xena for a special online “Overdrive” feature). Red Bull followed us on tour and filmed a promotional video. Lil Poison, the world’s youngest pro gamer, even made it onto an episode of the hugely popular network TV show 60 Minutes (not to mention his previous G4TV spot). All the while, MLG co-founders Mike Sepso and Sundance DiGiovanni made a number of high-profile television appearances (CNBC, ESPN, G4) where they have discussed everything from the future of pro gaming to violence in video games to hot new trends and titles in the industry, establishing themselves as some of the preeminent gaming culture authorities. To think that all of this went down in a roughly six month span completely blows my mind.

We are seeing our pro players attain ever-increasing levels of popularity and presence in mainstream culture. More people than ever know the names of the top pros, and the red carpet treatment is gradually extending over into their realm – particularly in the gaming industry. Corporations are coming to realize the vitality and viability of the pro gaming scene, and are looking to get involved in just about any way possible, from partnerships to full-on sponsorships of pro teams, which is a huge step in turning a sport into a nationally recognized entity. It is now easier than ever to snag a sponsor to an event, which in turn enables even more pro-hopefuls to come out and show off their skills.

Sundance must’ve done something right, because now everybody wants his opinion when they’re talking about video games.

Of course, all of this media exposure and corporate attention brings even more people to the community, who quickly become active and vital members, upping the ante on competition and fueling the fire of what is easily one of the fastest-growing sports around. With each passing tournament, the average level of skill of the players is greatly increased, proving that those who love to compete are working hard to perfect their craft and make their bid for the spotlight.

Through the help and dedication of the MLG community, we have been able to prove more and more with each event that pro gaming is the next big sports phenomenon to hit the United States, and it is ultimately drawing the kind of attention that will allow us to thank our supporters by turning their passion into a real avenue to widespread success and recognition. We’re almost there. The National Championships and the upcoming announcement of the 2006 MLG Season will just be the beginning of the next phase in what will be an incredible year for pro gaming going forward.