We know we were supposed to stop at 64 teams, but we just couldn’t help ourselves. When we were preparing for our final Conference Championship in Chicago, we were amazed to find so many new players banging on the door to join in on what has been an incredible and momentous 2005 season. Perhaps it was because people were realizing this would be the last open-invite event of the year, or perhaps it was due to MLG’s drastic spike in popularity over the past few months. Whatever the reason, uncapping the registration for MLG Chicago caused all hell to break loose, and when the dust settled, just about every record lay shattered on the floor. 135 total Halo 2 teams — 115 for the LCQ alone. Combined with our massive Smash turnout and the people who signed up just to compete in the Halo 2 LCQ FFA, we had over 700 total players at the event. To put it simply, we were astonished. Dwarfing MLG Philly 2005′s Halo 2 attendance record of 98 teams, our Central Conference Championship inherited the title as the single largest Halo tournament of all-time, as well as the largest tournament turnout for a single videogame at a single event ever.

The Magnificent Eleven

The monumental weekend kicked off Friday night with the Halo 2 LCQ FFA. With a massively sprawling bracket including over 550 participants, the road to qualify for the Conference Championship FFA the next day would prove long and arduous indeed. Not only was the venue flooded with people, but it was bursting with enthusiasm and excitement as we began the first of many rounds that would decide who would prove worthy of an invite to be counted among the truly elite.

As the FFA began, I wandered around the venue watching various games, and was impressed to see how competitive even the first rounds of the event were, which really made me come to realize how much the art of playing Halo 2 has developed over the season. I thought about how differently the game was played even a few months ago, and how widely spread the knowledge of the game’s inner workings, tricks and exploits had become in such a short time due to these tournaments, VoD, and Xbox Live. Walking around, I saw a number of players whose names I had never come across using professional strategies and maneuvers, and doing quite well for themselves against some stiff competition from all over the continent. While a select few players and teams dominate the upper ranks of the game, the pool of people who could potentially become contenders has widened considerably, which is a sure sign that the sport of professional console gaming is truly coming into its own. That potential that these players had to elevate their game to a professional level was exactly what brought them out to our event, and everyone in that room knew that they were part of something big something that was growing. Having this kind of unprecedented turnout in the post-season clued us in to the fact that we’re all in for a wild ride next season.

Poison was unintimidated by the masses of people at the event, taking first place in a 550 man LCQ FFA.

After hours of exhausting FFA competition, we finally arrived at the final few rounds, and if you were to walk in right at that moment, you never would have known that it was even an LCQ FFA competition going on. The tail end of the bracket was populated almost exclusively with big names in the Halo 2 world, including members of several of the most successful teams of the MLG season. Since the regular season qualifying events in the Central division were packed with world-class talent and only the Top 8 players at each one was invited, a lot of great and established players were left fighting for their spot in the CC FFA alongside all the up-and-comers. In most cases, those established players were able to push through to the final rounds, only to be pit against each other in a fight for the precious few available invites to the CC — eleven of them, to be exact.

Since we had 21 invited players for the CC FFA in attendance, the top 11 players from the LCQ FFA were to receive invites to round out the competition to 32 players. The players who made it to the Final 8 all moved on to the CC FFA automatically, but three spots remained unfilled. To determine the final three players who would advance, we took the eight players who were eliminated in the Top 16 and placed them into one last game together, with the top three advancing.

What we ended up with in these rounds was a real A-list of talent, but a few players rose above the rest to both surprise and amaze us with their performances. Chief among these players were the members of VS, who despite being tossed in among 550 other players, managed to get three of their members into the Final 8. In fact, those three VS members all finished in the Top 4 of that final round — a feat that is nothing short of phenomenal. Confirming many peoples’ belief that he is one of the best individual players out there, VS Poison took first place in the entire LCQ FFA competition, trailed ever-slightly by his nephew, VS Lil Poison, in second place. VS Boo rounded out the stellar team representation, nailing down a fourth place finish. While the team had a lot of hype following it throughout the rounds, perhaps more people were watching 7-year-old phenom Lil Poison than anyone else.

Lil Poison showed the world that there’s more than just hype behind his reputation, winning second place in the largest FFA of all-time.

Being that young and finishing second in the largest Halo FFA of all-time is completely unimaginable, and the people who amassed to watch and spur him on to victory knew they were witnessing something both amazing and unique. At MLG Chicago, Lil Poison proved what the hardcore MLG community already knew — that there is no gimmick behind his play. He’s not “good for a 7-year-old.” He’s great, period. The fact that he’s half the age of other players who are considered very young merely adds to the “wow” factor of watching him destroy the competition. Watching the faces of the crowd that followed him from round to round, you could actually see the misconceptions about his skill melting away, as they realized that he was not only extremely dexterous and knowledgeable about how the game worked, but he actually understood and implemented the underlying strategy that is involved with the game. I’ve been watching Lil Poison play since MLG Halo Nationals in 2004 (when he was only five), and to be honest, he amazes me more and more each time I see him. With so much experience so early in life, there is literally no limit to how good Lil Poison could get, and everyone on the MLG staff has absolutely loved watching him grow up and is looking forward to his blindingly bright future in competitive gaming.

LCQ FFA Finals Results:
(all players in this round advanced to the CC FFA)
1) VS Poison :: 50
2) VS LiL Poison :: 48
3) EG SadPanda :: 46
4) VS BoO :: 43
5) CampinMonkey :: 43
6) MelloZ :: 40
7) SoulRebelz :: 38
8) Capt. Anarchy :: 38

LCQ FFA Secondary Finals:
(Only the top three players from this round advanced to the CC FFA, because they were the players who did not originally qualify for the Top 8 from the Round of 16)

1) ElamiteWarrior :: 50
2) TuLegit :: 49
3) Toxin :: 48

4) Albino Zebra :: 46
5) Ogre 3 :: 45
6) Silverson :: 45
7) GDT Chobo :: 37
8) Tupac :: 36


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Alone in the Spotlight: The Conference Championship FFA

The 11 who moved on from the LCQ FFA had all accomplished something great, but they had only just reached the competition that they were gunning for — the Conference Championship FFA. Since this tournament was so well-attended, almost every single top player was present, making this CC FFA undoubtedly the toughest the Halo 2 world had ever witnessed. The 32 invited players entered into a marathon series of 8-man Round Robin FFAs to sort out which eight of these talented players would face off in the 1v1 bracket for the prize purse. Just take a look at the list of qualified players below; “grueling” doesn’t even begin to describe the competition.

Rankings for Top 32 CC FFA after Round Robin

(Players in bold advanced to 1v1 bracket)
1. Fonzi
2. StrongSide
3. Ogre 2
4. Capt. Anarchy
5. Walshy
6. Karma
7. Ogre 1
8. Acidian

9. Killer N
10. Tu Legit
11. Tsquared
12. Shockwav3
13. CampinMonkey
14. Lil Poison
15. Vash
16. Havok
17. SadPanda
18. ElamiteWarrior
19. Boo
20. Poison
21. Foulacy
22. Gandhi
23. Samurai650
24. Mack
25. Saiyan
26. Melloz
27. SoulRebelz
28. BlackJak
29. Toxin
30. K1ng
31. Nistic
32. Nataku

Once the Top 8 CC FFA players had fought their way to the 1v1 rounds, they prepared to face off against each other on Sunday morning of the event. As many of you know, the Eastern and Western Conference Championship 1v1s were dominated heavily by the same two players: Karma and Ogre 2. These two players have made up both of the 1v1 Finals matches so far this season, and alternated winning the event. This time however, some of the other top players carved themselves out spots at the top of the list, adding a new layer to the already fierce competition and stamping out the possibility in anyone’s mind who thought the 1v1s were a two-man game.

Due to the way the seeding worked out after the Round Robin, fans were treated to a rematch of the LA and Atlanta Finals early on, as Karma and Ogre 2 were paired up in the very first round. After seeing them square-off so many times before, it has become clear that they are a ridiculously even match for each other in the 1v1 arena, but after a long and cautiously paced game, Karma edged out Ogre 2 with a score of 8-7 as the final seconds ticked off the game clock.

StrongSide and Fonzi. Two of the greatest players in the game right now — one emerging and one established — faceed off in our CC 1v1 Finals in Chicago.

Meanwhile StrongSide, who placed in the Top 4 of both of the other CC 1v1s, continued on the warpath that earned him the second seed during the 8-man rounds. He defeated Ogre 1, which bought him another tough match against Karma, who had just ousted his biggest rival and was ready to go. In what could be considered an upset, StrongSide then bested Karma, and found himself in the Winners’ Finals against none other than Fonzi. Perhaps more than any of the other long-established elites, Fonzi seemed to have made the biggest leap in skill since the last event, turning an already deadly player into a complete master of the game. Earning the first seed throughout the CC FFA and actually taking first or second place in most of his games, Fonzi was absolutely on fire at MLG Chicago, and anyone who watched him play that day would have chosen him as a favorite to win his match against StrongSide.

Fonzi made it look easy in the first several minutes, starting the game with a Killing Spree and totally shutting out StrongSide. His great use of cover and strafing made him a hard target, and it wasn’t until an expertly placed grenade trap that StrongSide was able to get on the board. Undaunted, Fonzi retaliated with a great kill from a disadvantageous ground position while StrongSide patrolled the top center of the map. StrongSide, far from giving up, closed the gap with startling speed with a series of well-timed attacks and a great sticky grenade. The score stood at 6-5 in favor of Fonzi, but StrongSide had gained control of the map and the active camo, which allowed him a Killing Spree of his own that gave him the lead 7-6 over Fonzi with only 3:45 left on the clock.

The game took on a very contemplative tone at that point, with each player being very careful about the situation they were in before attacking. There were several instances of stalking, where one player could openly see the other without their knowing, but chose not to make a move due to the low probability of being able to land a sure kill. This ended up working to StrongSide’s advantage, because when there was only 2:30 left in the game, he chose to hide at one of the flag bases to force Fonzi to search for him in hopes of tying up the score. Fonzi grabbed the next camo and began to scour the map, but as it always seems to go, StrongSide was in the last place he looked. Fonzi knew he was out of time and had to make a move, but he also knew that if he were to lose the next battle the game would be out of reach for him. Keeping that in mind, Fonzi chose to flush StrongSide out from a distance with grenades rather than risk a close-range battle.

Sure enough, StrongSide was forced to leave his hiding spot, and Fonzi gave chase frantically. A quick glance at the clock revealed that there were only about :30 left at that point, and StrongSide proved to be a very wily foe, literally running away from every confrontation, completely unwilling to engage in one last fight that could cause a tiebreaking game. Somehow keeping a wall between he and Fonzi at all times, StrongSide was able to evade every incoming assault like a rabbit being chased by a dog. While his ability to avoid harm was indeed impressive, it was a rather anticlimactic finish when StrongSide won the game due to the time limit after hiding and running for the last several minutes. Nevertheless, Fonzi was forced to appear in the Losers’ Bracket Finals and await whoever would make it there to challenge him.

In the Losers’ Bracket, we were shown some very interesting matches leading up to the Finals. After Ogre 1 lost out to StrongSide in the Winners’ Bracket, he was matched up against his twin brother, Ogre 2, for the first time in an MLG Halo 2 1v1. Historically, when the twins are pitted against each other, the matches have been wildly exciting and great displays of mastery, as perhaps no two players are more revered and respected in the Halo world than these two. Add to that the fact that they both know each others’ style and tactics so well from the years of playing together, and you’ve always got a fascinating game on your hands. Ogre 2 established dominance early on by taking control of the first camo, mowing his brother down with a shotgun in the center ring and then going on to take the lead 5-0 with a variety of kills including a fantastic eight-shot cross-map carbine kill.

Not long after, Ogre 1 made his mark on the scoreboard, surprising his brother at one of the portals with a shotgun. From there, Ogre 1 went on to tie the game at 6-6, not falling for the portal swapping tricks Ogre 2 used to try to escape a battle when he was in a jam. Ogre 2, who had controlled nearly every camo during the game, went back and forth with Ogre 1 until the score was tied at 9-9. Picking up a BR on his next spawn, Ogre 2 became unstoppable as he nailed kill after kill from across the map, and it seemed that the hands he had complained about being cold before the game started had finally warmed up. There was little for Ogre 1 to do to counteract the onslaught, and Ogre 2 finally won the game 15-9 with a total of 10 headshots. A camera crew was on-hand to record the match, and as he landed the final kill, Ogre 2 tossed out a playful, “It’s because I’m better, Dan. Don’t worry about it,” as they smiled and got up to shake hands.

“While Fonzi displayed a level of trickery not often seen in any player, StrongSide contested through sheer accuracy, nailing a number of kills from tight angles with a minimal number of shots fired.”

By the end of the game, Ogre 2 was looking poised to make another Finals appearance, but was stopped when he matched up against another of his Team 3D teammates in the next round: Walshy, who then lost out to Karma in the Losers’ Semis. This left only three players in the 1v1 competition, and Karma and Fonzi would play to see who would move on to the Finals against StrongSide. Once again exemplifying that he was a force to be reckoned with by any player on the circuit, Fonzi bested Karma to get a second shot at taking out StrongSide for the Central Conference 1v1 Title.

While their last meeting was made up of alternating streaks of control, this game was metered closely between the players, and every kill seemed to change the entire situation of the match. While Fonzi displayed a level of trickery not often seen in any player, StrongSide contested through sheer accuracy, nailing a number of kills from tight angles with a minimal number of shots fired. While StrongSide’s style made him appear a bit unorganized, Fonzi had a carefully timed system where he was almost always standing on the camo the moment it spawned. Finding himself with less kills, Fonzi was once again forced to be the aggressor in the game, but this time he knew what to do, making a great drop-down kill followed by a spectacular spawn kill.

As Fonzi circled the top center area, StrongSide threw grenade after grenade off of the ceiling in an attempt to kill him or force him off. His efforts proved to be successful, and with 2:45 left on the clock, StrongSide once again found himself up 7-6 over Fonzi. Understanding that he had a good amount of time still, Fonzi refused to expose himself too much, once again perching up in the center area, just waiting for StrongSide to make a wrong move. Unfortunately for him, StrongSide trapped him with grenades yet again from the bottom, extending his lead. Seeing an open opportunity, StrongSide grabbed the next camo while Fonzi spawned. Although Fonzi was able to land one more kill, StrongSide made a clutch plasma grenade kill to put the match out of reach 9-7 as the time expired.

While Fonzi put up an excellent and memorable fight, StrongSide proved to be the better man that day, due to his combination of great shooting, slippery evasion, and all-around smart playing. Having only showed up on the MLG scene a few months ago, StrongSide is proof positive that there is still room in the upper ranks for new talent — especially when you have as much of it as StrongSide does. Both Fonzi and StrongSide were on the cusp of a major breakthrough in the 1v1s, as their performances at the last two clearly showed, and at MLG Chicago, they finally got the recognition for their individual talents that they deserved all along.

Check back soon for MLG’s continued post-event coverage of our Central Conference Championships.