Historically, Chicago has been the host of huge upsets and surprises deep into Halo 2’s bracket. In 2005, relative Pro Circuit newcomers XiT Woundz logged a career-best finish by taking home second place in the Central Conference Championships. Last year, a pair of simultaneous Winners Bracket Round 3 upsets turned the bracket on its head. Late Saturday night on the outer stations, Storm Ventures topped Carbon and Shook On3 Gaming knocked Str8 Rippin to the Losers Bracket in a photo finish.

The unlikely pair of results pitted then second-seeded Str8 Rippin and third-seeded Carbon against each other in a battle for the Top 6. While Carbon survived the clash, they were later eliminated in dramatic fashion by Storm Ventures in the Losers Bracket Finals. Storm Ventures went on to challenge Final Boss in the finals, pushing the Championship Match to an impressive ten games.

Will a new team take home second place this year in Chicago?

This weekend, a whole field of competitors will look to add their names to the list of historic Chicago performers. Any team hoping to reach the Championship Match as XiT Woundz and Storm Ventures did in previous years will likely need to pass through either Carbon or Final Boss.

Having both appeared in each of the last six Pro Circuit Championship Matches, Carbon and Final Boss have indisputably established themselves as the cream of the crop.

The early season meetings between these two juggernauts have established a prevailing trend: Final Boss’ overwhelming strength in Slayer gametypes and Carbon’s mastery of objective play. For example, in the last 22 tournament games played between these two squads, Carbon have managed to take only one Slayer game. In Dallas, Final Boss’ disappointing 2 – 6 Championship tally can be attributed almost entirely to their 0 – 5 objective record.

Carbon looked unstoppable in Dallas.

Both teams looked to improve upon their relative weaknesses through pre-tournament LAN sessions. Carbon paired with Legendz once more and reportedly displayed marked improvement. Defy recently stated, “At the LAN the biggest change that I saw [in Carbon] was an improvement in their Team Slayer games. Before Dallas I could tell that they were weaker at Team Slayer than objective. That is not the case anymore. The entire team has been playing amazing.” Coming off a commanding 6 – 2 championship victory, Carbon look to be in good shape approaching Chicago. The most deciding factor in Carbon’s performance will be their own mentality.

Final Boss prepared for Chicago with a boot camp alongside tactically sound XiT Woundz and objective-oriented 5K. Final Boss have taken Carbon’s pre-Dallas approach to tournament preparation, training with two lower-seeded teams. While neither squad has matched up against Final Boss as evenly as The Agency did before Dallas (beating 5K 67 of 99 games and winning about 75 percent of their games against XiT Woundz), such a LAN allows a team to focus less on winning individual games and more on going back to the drawing board and improving their quality of play.

Although 5K are colloquially referred to as “Mini Boss,” their objective focus more closely resembles the traits of Final Boss’ rivals, Carbon. 5K are known for their ability to work effectively at objectives even when being out-slayed or lacking map control. That quality makes them an ideal sparring partner for Final Boss, who look to turn their unsurpassed slaying prowess into objective victories.

What new schemes will Walshy devise to take on Carbon?

Chicago presents a particularly enticing challenge for 5K, who look to capitalize on the strength of their long-standing roster and accompanying teamwork. Just a few short weeks separated Dallas from Chicago and the teams who many believe to be 5K’s closest competitors (The Agency, Perfect Storm and Str8 Rippin) each made roster changes during the interval. After days of useful training with Final Boss, 5K look to Chicago as a prime opportunity to move into the Top 3.

Their first bracket hurdle in doing so comes in Winners Bracket Round 3, where 5K will likely take on the new-look Perfect Storm. While Perfect Storm may appear to be a relatively random patchwork of players, new addition Fonzi appears optimistic.

In a recent blog post, Fonzi stated, “Our current lineup is an interesting one. As many of you probably know, Ramby has an eye for new Halo talent when he sees it. Back in the day when our group first started playing with Naded and Legit, we didn’t think they were any good. Granted, they’ve improved tremendously since we first played with them, but Ramby definitely knows how to pick star players out of the relatively unknown. Soviet is no exception. After watching his VOD against Legendz in Dallas and playing a few nights with him, it was clear that this lineup had a solid basis to start with. Our team-shot seems to always be on and we work well as a team. Our only weakness is our ability to maintain map control. I think most of it has to do with us stupidly abandoning position a lot of the time, so I think we should be able to iron that out before Chicago.”

Ramby and Xtremist

The winner of the meeting between 5K an Perfect Storm will be well on their way to a Top 4 finish, while the loser will likely settle for, at best, a 5th/6th finish, falling to The Agency late in the Losers Bracket.

The Agency’s bracket looks nearly identical to their Dallas tournament, facing Legendz in Winners Bracket Round 2 and Nice Like Rice in Round 3, followed by a potential match against Carbon. Unconventionally, FBI The Agency have opted to LAN with Nice Like Rice, despite their likely meeting early in the bracket. Early reports from the boot camp indicate that The Agency hold the upper hand in the match up, as Nice Like Rice have struggled to hit their groove.

Should Nice Like Rice lose their match against The Agency, they will likely face Str8 Rippin for Top 6, pitting former teammates Foulacy and Tsquared against each other. The main question that has surrounded Str8 Rippin’s roster is their ability to find cohesion and teamwork in such a short period. In Chicago, Str8 Rippin will field its fifth roster in as many tournaments, having replaced two of its team members after each of the last four competitions. While many consider the most recent move to be a step up skill-wise (picking up Legit and Elamite Warrior in the absence of Mimic and Havok), they are unlikely to face many teams with significantly more experience in Chicago’s bracket. The winner of the match between Str8 Rippin and Nice Like Rice will likely face 5K for Top 4.

How will the acquisition of Legit affect Str8 Rippin’s performance?

On the other side of the bracket, a Winners Bracket Round 2 meeting between FBI Icon and XiT Woundz will probably determine which squad reaches Chicago’s prize pool. While their disappointing 16th-place Dallas finish will likely loom on their minds, FBI Icon enter Chicago with a new roster composed of Slim, Timeliest Brute, Havok and Mimic. XiT Woundz, by contrast, are currently a team on the rise after earning their first Top 8 finish of the season in Dallas. Despite entering the match with the lower seed, XiT Woundz are largely considered favorites to top FBI Icon.

As always, a slue of lower-seeded teams are eager to make headlines in Chicago. Type Z have fallen just one round short of the prize pool in each of the season’s three competitions and look to play the spoiler for either Perfect Storm of Nice Like Rice. Pain X have often finished on the wrong side of the bubble and look to change their fortunes this weekend. Time to Prove, who earned a prize check in the season opener, will also hope to bank in Chicago.

Chicago holds particular importance in the season-long points race. Seeing as team point totals following Orlando’s tournament will determine which teams receive automatic invitations to MLG’s Playoff and National Championship events, Chicago performances are of utmost significance. While all players will be chomping at the bit to compete in what may be Halo 2’s final National Championships, only seven teams will earn an automatic entry, with the eighth and final spot up for grabs in the playoff event.

A strong Chicago performance can keep a bubble team’s post-season dreams alive, or dramatically improve a player’s chances to get picked up by a potentially playoff bound squad. Few if any teams will be eager to pick up a player with relatively few 2007 season points, particularly if it jeopardizes their playoff prospects. Conversely, a player with an abundance of points could stand as a highly-sought free agent.

Catch all the action live this weekend from Chicago!

All seven teams invited to the final bracket of playoff competition will automatically earn a slice of the Playoff’s bountiful prize pool. FBI Icon, with 5800 points, currently hold the seventh-highest season point total, but are closely followed by Perfect Storm (5525), XiT Woundz (5400), and Pain X (5150). While outside shots, even teams such as Time to Prove and Type Z could quickly enter the tightly contested points race with solid showings in Chicago. All in all, the points race has added further incentive to put forth a strong tournament this weekend.

Over the weekend, we will report live from the floor in Chicago as each of these stories unfolds. With a live Video on Demand stream on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, round-by-round updates, post tournament analysis and interviews with Chicago’s biggest movers and shakers, you won’t want to miss a second of this weekends action here on mlgpro.com!