If Major League Gaming were in charge of designating nick-names for major cities, The Windy City of Chicago would likely be renamed Upset City. With so many teams focused, practicing daily and studying videos of important matches, it has become clear that the gap in skill between teams on the circuit is rapidly narrowing. This meant that not only would MLG Chicago see a series of intensely close matches and breathtaking finishes, but there would be shake-ups in the point standings that will affect the rest of the 2006 season. This fourth stop of the year was so full of upsets, close calls and amazing moments that it is nearly impossible to capture all of it in one place.

The first major match fans of Halo 2 were looking forward to in Chicago was the highly anticipated rematch between Xit Woundz and their long-time rivals eX. eX brought a new line-up to Chicago that many believed would be their strongest ever. Ghostayame, who was unable to attend the previous event, returned to the team for Chicago. The fifth seeded team also dropped Melloz to pick up Mimic, who was supposed to bring an extra level of intensity to their game. They hoped this new lineup would carry them not only past XiT, but on to a Top 3 finish. Their opponents had already made their big move before the previous event by picking up Samurai, and had spent several weeks together LAN’ing as a team to make sure their teamwork was perfect.

Very few would have predicted that when these teams met in the third round of the Winners Bracket, XiT would come away with such a convincing victory. In Game 1 of the series they plied their excellent teamwork into a 5-1 victory on CTF Warlock, keeping tight control of their opponents’ spawns. Lockout Team Slayer would be the next gametype of the series, and it proved to be a real nail-biter. As result of some clutch slaying from KillerN, the teams found themselves tied at 49 before XiT scored the final kill. eX was stunned, but their hopes were still high as they moved into Game 3 for an Oddball game on what is widely-known to be their favorite map, Midship. The momentum that XiT brought into that third game proved to be too much for eX to handle, as they got control of the map and forced eX to chase their ball carrier for much of the game. With a score of 4:47 to 3:42 as the clock expired, XiT won the game and the series. XiT explained after the match that teamwork made all the difference. Anyone near the XiT side of the match could clearly see and hear how organized their team was for every situation. They constantly called out their opponents’ positions to teammates, slaying as a unit in almost every situation and rarely advancing position on the map without supporting fire. With a big win under their belts against the new eX lineup, expect XiT to head towards Orlando next month full of confidence. eX, meanwhile, will have to head back to the drawing board and look for a plan to defeat their rivals.

Later we saw two juggernauts of the Pro Circuit suffer loses that will have MLG fans rushing to VoD when the archived matches are released. Both the 2nd ranked Str8 Rippin and the 3rd ranked Carbon were sent to the Losers Bracket after their third round matches, in what can only be described as a shocking turn of events. Carbon barely lost against 6th seed Storm Ventures in a full five-game series that was hotly contested all the way down to the end. In the tie-breaking 5th game of TS Midship, Storm Ventures landed the final blow to win the game 50-49 along with the series. Str8 Rippin was sent to the Losers side after their match with 7th seeded Shook on3 Gaming. Str8 squandered a 2-0 lead in the series after winning CTF Warlock and TS Lockout. They went on to drop Oddball Midship and CTF Sanctuary in back-to-back games, which drew the series even at two games apiece. The final game of the match did not seem to show the Str8 Rippin team that MLG fans know, as they fell 50-38 in a game where they looked disorganized and unable to finish weak opponents. Lightking went 16-6 in that game to lead his team past Str8 and into the next round of the Winners Bracket. That loss meant that Sunday morning Str8 Rippin and Carbon would have to face one another in the Losers Bracket. One of the top three teams on the circuit would be going home with no better than 7th place.

To end Saturday evening, we were treated to another frighteningly close five-game series between PowerTripBev.com and Triggers Down. Both of these teams had made an impression last month in Anaheim by placing in the Top 8. Their match in the Losers Bracket in Chicago would determine who went on to get Top 8 and who went home with nothing more than some modest ranking points. After splitting the first two games, Triggers Down managed to take Game 3, which was Oddball Lockout–which PowerTrip had called their best gametype before the series began. Things did not look positive for PowerTrip in the fourth game either, as their opponents jumped out to a 2-0 lead in CTF Sanctuary and had them on the ropes. Just one more cap would have meant the end of the tournament for PowerTrip. FoSsiK had other plans however, as he grabbed the sniper and sword on Triggers Down’s side of the base near the rocks and went on a slaying spree that allowed his team to catch some momentum. With only seven minutes to go, the members of PowerTrip rallied to cap three times and win the match. The final match was Team Slayer on Beaver Creek, where despite a late rush from Triggers Down, PowerTripBev.com was able to set up and control the stage to win 50-46.

After a night’s rest for the players to think over their matches, Sunday held as much intensity and intrigue as the day before. To kick off the day, Final Boss and Storm Ventures set up a later Finals series between the two of them by sending XiT Woundz and Shook on3 Gaming to the Losers side. When they met in the last round of the Winners Bracket, Final Boss won the series 3-1, but not without dropping Oddball Lockout and struggling during their 3-2 win on CTF Sanctuary in overtime. This match would turn out to be the first installment of the Championship match, although few had expected it before the event–or recognized it as they watched it happen at the time.

The Carbon/Str8 Rippin match turned out to be every bit as exciting and intense as everyone expected. In fact, the rivalry between these two teams was only amplified by the fact that instead of playing for 3rd place, this time around they were playing for the right to move on past 7/8th place in the event. The team that won this Losers Bracket match would have a chance to redeem themselves and still place as high as these players are accustomed to, while the losers would be forced to settle for 7th place at best. Behind some brilliant play from Ghandi and StrongSide, Carbon was able to win the CTF Beaver Creek match in Game 1 by the score 2-1. In Game 2, Carbon suffered their second 50-49 Team Slayer Midship loss of the event, as Str8 tied the series at 1. Game 3 was a classic battle for control of the BR Tower and the sniper in Oddball Lockout, with the teams taking turns controlling the stage with the ball in Library. Carbon came away with the victory and rolled with their momentum into Game 4. The series ended there with a Carbon victory of 4-3 on CTF Warlock, but considering the flying trash-talk and the close matches, you can be sure the end of the rivalry is nowhere in sight.

Carbon moved on to defeat XiT Woundz 3-0 in their next round, but the overall score of the series belies the intensity of the match-up. Carbon won CTF Warlock 5-4 and the following TS Lockout game 50-49. Even the third game of Oddball Midship was close, with Carbon winning by less than 40 seconds. So while XiT fell into a 5th place finish, their match against Carbon was far closer than many expected or what a casual glance at the brackets might suggest. After that series, Carbon defeated Shook on3 Gaming in the 4th place match, and headed for a second chance to defeat Storm Ventures.

The series that followed will certainly remain a favorite of VoD subscribers for months to come. With the expanded series starting where the first left off, Carbon was down 2-3 and forced to play from behind in an effort to get back to the Championship Game. They tied the series at three games apiece by winning CTF Midship 5-4. Storm Ventures grabbed the lead back by winning another close match 50-48 on TS Warlock. The 8th game of the series was a lopsided victory for Carbon as Shockwav3 wowed the crowd with double kills holding the ball and led his team to a 5:00 – 2:18 victory on Oddball Lockout. Storm Ventures returned the favor by absolutely dominating CTF Beaver Creek 3-0.

The final two games of the series had every person at MLG Chicago glued to the main stage and stunned by the display these Pro players put on. On Team Slayer Beaver Creek, Carbon was facing a bleak outlook, finding themselves down 34-45. Just when the crowd assumed the game might be over, Shockwav3 grabbed fresh rockets while Karma got Overshield, giving their team control of the Red Base and the entire open center of the map. Storm Ventures was backed into Blue Base and unable to stick their heads out without taking fire. Carbon clawed their way back one kill at a time and pressed in to finish off their opponents in the nick of time with the score of 50-49. Finally one of those close slayer matches had gone in Carbon’s favor and given them some momentum for the 11th and final game. With high hopes on both sides, Carbon and SV headed to TS Sanctuary to determine the winner of the series.

Once again, Carbon was unable to get control for most of the match as Storm Ventures manned the second level of the center ring and ‘naded it perfectly every time Carbon attempted to clear them out and set up control. In almost exactly the same position as the match before, Carbon turned on the heat and managed to come up clutch during crucial fire-fights to draw nearly even. Trouble came near the end, however, due to the fact that the members of Carbon had been alive for so long. While typically a good situation to be in, on a stage with nearly no re-spawning Battle Rifle ammo and in a place where you cannot grab any safely, their long lives had left them with no ammo. Suddenly, their control of ring-two turned into a trap from which they couldn’t escape. They grabbed alternative weapons momentarily but were unable to stop the onslaught of their opponents. With players weak on the both sides, Storm Ventures landed the final kill and advanced to the Championship match for the first time in their MLG careers.

Not only did Storm Ventures defeat Carbon twice in the tournament and outlast higher ranked teams such as Str8 Rippin and XiT Woundz, but they went on to give the best showing of any team that has been in the Finals against Final Boss for the entire season. The closest anyone had gotten up to this point was two-games-to-six. SV however, managed to build off their single win in the WB Finals and gather up another three wins in the Championship series. Final Boss had not been taken past the eighth game in any series since they faced Carbon at the 2005 National Championships. Storm Ventures were able to take them all the way to the 10th game, winning two CTF games on Warlock and Beaver Creek and the Team Slayer on Lockout before FB closed it out with a victory on TS Sanctuary.

While Final Boss again came out on top of the massive field of players eager for their throne, the repercussions of all the other aspects of MLG Chicago will certainly affect the rest of the 2006 Season. It is becoming more and more clear to MLG’s Halo 2 fans that the teams near the top have taken advantage of the short list of gametypes to master each of them and make most games in the Championship Bracket far closer than they ever have before–and the trend of close finishes is likely to continue. The overall rankings, too, will suffer a serious shake-up that will have consequences heading into the end of the season and the playoffs this October in New York. Considering all that’s happened, we can only speculate what teams might make changes and how Chicago has altered the face of the Circuit. What we do know is that after this weekend, all the Pro teams will be scrambling to take their game up to the next level for Orlando.