While Nashville was host to the same kind of highly professional and competitive tournament that gamers have come to expect from MLG, it was also rather unique in that it served as a showcase for a lot of the underappreciated talent in the Halo 2 world. The absence of Team 3D, all of TmG except for Zyos, and all of IGS except for Gandhi made a lot of room for the players who have worked hard all season at perfecting their game to step into the spotlight and show that while they may not get the same level of recognition as the Halo superstars, they sure deserve a lot of credit for their enviable talents.

The mish-mash lineup of Zyos, Gandhi, Vash and Defy as IGS Monglers were heavily favored as the top team at MLG Nashville. Featuring players from Trademark Gamers, iGameSpot and Monglers Legendz, the team was a bit of an oddity to be sure, but the combination of veteran experience and raw skill made them a force to be reckoned with. This, of course, is not to say that they would go unchallenged at the tournament, as a number of underrated and unexpected teams would stake their claim on the prize purse.

Although IGS Monglers did at long last win the tournament, the brilliantly named half-Canadian Team US Eh (G-Spot, Sand Panda Eh, Blackjak, Mr. Ownage) was out in full force and steamrolled over just about every team they came across, snagging the second place spot after a hard-fought nine game series against Zyos and company. This tournament marked a return to the MLG scene for Panda and Blackjak, who made appearances with various incarnations of Str8 Rippin early in the season, helping their team place third each time. Despite their inactivity in the tournament scene over the past several months, anyone who doubted their relevance and skill was quickly set straight after watching Team US Eh’s outstanding showing in Nashville. The two long-time Str8 Rippin cohorts combined with the highly overlooked and constantly improving G-Spot and the skillful Mr. Ownage to result in a team so full of potential it’s ridiculous.

The Longest Journey

Amidst a wealth of well-organized and talented teams, perhaps the team that surprised people the most at MLG Nashville was Team H2K. The H2K squad, comprised of GaMe, Lightking, Vegetto and Melloz, made an amazing (and baffling) third place showing at the tournament, which was only their second MLG event to date. While the team made a solid finish at MLG Philly, it becomes clear why I say their Nashville performance was baffling if you examine their seeding versus their third place finish. The case with H2K seems to be that their FFA skills come nowhere close to matching the strength of their team play and coordination, so they have to play through the tournament as an excellent team with a bad ranking (which makes their road through the brackets tougher). Being the 24th seeded team after FFA meant that H2K would have to play through the double-elimination Pool Play Bracket just to claim a spot in the Championship Bracket. In fact, their poor team seeding set them off on a very rough course through the brackets indeed, making the fact that they finished third all the more impressive.

Take a look at what they had to go through: Once they worked through Pool Play to earn a spot in the Championship Bracket, they were “rewarded” with a first-round match against the ninth seeded TDT (no, not that TDT). From there they pushed past 16th seed So iLL only to find themselves at an early meeting with top ranked IGS Monglers–again due to their FFA seeding. H2K put up a good fight, but was ultimately sent to the Losers’ Bracket with an extremely long line of tough teams ahead of them. Undaunted, H2K charged through the Losers’ Bracket, single-handedly eliminating the third, fourth and fifth seeded teams (rSports, Strafe n Run and Shovel Face Pro, respectively) from the tournament.

Having accomplished a series of awe-inspiring feats, the members of H2K found themselves face-to-face with second ranked Team US Eh in the Losers’ Bracket Finals. As they did against IGS Monglers, H2K put up a respectable fight, including a rather strategic and cerebral nail-biter on Backwash TS, but in the end Team US Eh emerged victorious in a 3 – 0 series. While Team US Eh went on to face IGS Monglers in the Championship Finals instead, the guys on H2K couldn’t have been too disappointed. After all, they got third place out of 53 teams after plowing down one of the most difficult paths through the tournament and having almost all of the odds against them. Here’s hoping that we see Team H2K at another MLG event very soon. A little spit and polish–and a whole lot of FFA practice–could really take this team to the next level.

Final Fight 1 and 2

As their seeding suggested, IGS Monglers and Team US Eh were indeed the two best teams at MLG Nashville. With each squad marauding through the Winners’ Bracket, it was inevitable that they would have to face each other in the Winners’ Finals–and nobody quite knew what to expect. While IGS Monglers had to be considered the favorites based on previous tournament placements of its members, neither team has ever made an appearance before with the exact lineups they brought to Nashville, so the teamwork factor left quite a bit of uncertainty as to how the teams would match up.

Having accomplished a series of awe-inspiring feats, the members of H2K found themselves face-to-face with second ranked Team US Eh in the Losers’ Bracket Finals.

We got our first taste of how the teams compared on King of the Hill Lockout, and found that they were surprisingly similar in skill. While IGS Monglers got off to a massive lead early on–at one point sporting a 1:44 – :25 scoreboard–Team US Eh eventually found their footing and mounted a phenomenal comeback. Whittling away their opponents lead bit by bit, and gaining such map control as to get almost all of the time from two hills in a row, Team US Eh found themselves with a lead for the first time all game at 4:15 – 4:14, eventually widening that gap to more than 30 seconds at 4:51 – 4:20.

Needing only nine seconds to win the game, Team US Eh fell apart as the hill spawned in the top center of the level. IGS Monglers laid the pressure on thick with a nasty perimeter defense and some excellent BR marksmanship and was able to steal away a massive chunk of time. Vash’s clutch double kill ensured that IGS Monglers would garner the final seconds and snatch the victory out of US Eh’s hands. G-Spot’s 39 – 26 game and his team’s general out-slaying of the enemy was simply not enough to seize the win, and IGS Monglers took the lead in the series 1 – 0.

Following their disappointing loss, Team US Eh pulled themselves together for Sanctuary TS Snipers. The game moved at a rather swift pace, with each team spreading itself out across one side of the map to prevent enemies from spawning behind them. From there they engaged in a series of tight angled battles, poking out just enough to see scan the horizon for a helmet to make a hole in. G-Spot was unstoppable during this game, wowing the crowd with his masterful control over his 10 sensitivity settings. His ability to look around with absurd quickness yet still make even the slightest adjustments to his aim is something that most people cannot even fathom. His 19 – 12 game lead US Eh to a rousing 50 – 36 victory, tying the series at 1 – 1.

Not to be outdone, IGS Monglers pushed back hard on CTF Warlock, with Gandhi and Vash each capping within the first five minutes. What could have easily been a shutout by the looks of the first several minutes became a tight match as US Eh scored three unanswered flags to take the lead 3 – 2 with just over 20 minutes on the clock. Both teams were employing a relay method where they tossed flags up to waiting teammates as they neared their base, but in the end IGS Monglers proved to be more efficient with their methods. In fact, efficiency and opportunity are precisely what this match came down to, as the slaying was almost identical between the two teams. However, IGS Monglers put their experience to work for them, ending the game with a 5 – 3 win.

On the brink of being sent to the Losers’ Bracket, US Eh gathered all of their strength to battle it out on the next game; Neutral Bomb Midship. A notoriously tough gametype, neither team was able to score for an extremely long time. Zyos was eventually able to score first, heavily defended by his teammates, and was almost able to score again right in a row due to the off-beat spawning of US Eh. G-Spot was able to prevent the second score, but even though his team was doing an excellent job of slaying, US Eh seemed out of rhythm and was unable to capitalize on the several occasions when they killed every member of IGS Monglers simultaneously. Their slaying was so thorough however, that US Eh was finally able to arm two bombs to take the lead thanks to key plays by Mr. Ownage on both occasions.

With only a few minutes left in the game, IGS Monglers were panicking, frantically charging with the bomb to try to equalize. With a harrowing :15 left, Vash made an insanely difficult bomb plant to tie the game and crumble what seemed to be a guaranteed US Eh victory for the second time in the series. The Neutral Bomb tie was resolved with a game of TS Midship. While the game remained extremely close throughout, Defy led IGS Monglers to a 50 – 47 victory with his 18 – 11 game. As a result, the series score stood at 3 – 1 and Team US Eh would have to battle back out of the Losers’ Bracket if they wished to continue their series with IGS Monglers.

Hungry for another shot at the title, US Eh took out H2K in the Losers’ Finals to make their way into the Championship match. While they must have been pleased to be appearing in the tournament finals, they couldn’t have been very content with their two-game deficit–especially considering that two of the games were unbelievably close, yet somehow didn’t go their way in the end.

Nevertheless, US Eh put the 3 – 1 series score behind them and came out swinging on TS Elongation. Finally, their luck would change as US Eh pulled out a narrow 50 – 47 win, led by Blackjak’s 14 kills. Gandhi’s late killing spree helped to keep IGS Monglers in the game, but it wasn’t enough to prevent US Eh from bringing the series within one game of a tie.

Realizing that they were in danger of losing their lead, Zyos advised his team that the next game of CTF Sanctuary was vital to their winning the tournament. It seemed that both teams understood the importance of this game, as the pace was slow and calculated on both sides. Under Zyos’ leadership, the usually-lighthearted Gandhi was completely serious and focused on the game, and their team reaped the benefits as they were able to help Vash get the first flag capture about seven minutes into the game. Following their score, IGS Monglers began to find it difficult to even leave their own base, as Blackjak caught fire with a sniper rifle and kept them pinned in–at one point getting a quick and clean triple kill. Gandhi had the other sniper, but his shot was way off at the time and was unable to counteract.

US Eh was playing very conservatively, which may have been why they were having so much trouble scoring, and eventually it led to their downfall. While IGS Monglers were cautious, they kept their eyes open for opportunities to push forward, and Zyos created a fantastic opportunity with only four minutes left in the game. Pressing into the center of the map, Zyos helped his team penetrate the tight US Eh defense with his dangerous sniping, enabling Vash to once again enter the base and return with the enemy flag. The game ended on the time limit with the score at 2 – 0, putting IGS Monglers up 4 – 2.

Following was an extremely fast-paced game of TS Warlock. After the slow and mechanical CTF game, both teams seemed to be fighting with reckless abandon–and doing an equally good job of it too. While IGS seemed to have victory in its grasp at 49 – 48, US Eh was able to beat them to it, snagging a quick two kills and winning the game 50 – 49, which once again pulled the series to within one game and made it anyone’s match.

Unfortunately for US Eh, Oddball Warlock was not representative of the close games that the series had been built upon and IGS Monglers dominated the game 5:00 – 2:50. The game largely consisted of nasty ground and portal combat and guerilla tactics as neither team had an easy time locking down a section of the map to fortify a defense around the ball carrier. While the game kept up a solid pace with tons of killing, it was still a resounding victory for IGS, punctuated equally by Defy’s 51 – 29 game and a quote from Gandhi that is sure to be a classic. While racking up time with the Oddball on top of one of the bases, he turned to Zyos and said, “Just call me ‘Ball Master 5000.’” What? No, seriously… What?

With the series sitting at 5 – 3, IGS Monglers needed only to win the next game of CTF Beaver Creek to secure the tournament title. Team US Eh looked like they were hungry to stay in the series, garnering the first capture within two minutes of the game’s start. Gandhi was just a millisecond too slow to prevent the score, but only a minute later he was able to tie up the game by grabbing the Overshield and returning the favor. IGS Monglers were controlling the Overshield, sniper and rockets extremely well, and had set up posts all over the map to intercept attackers and keep US Eh from getting organized. Zyos was able to take his team to a 2 – 1 lead after bringing a three-man escort with him into his own base to be certain that nobody was waiting there to ambush him as he tried to score. Again, the score was tied only minutes later as US Eh made a well-coordinated assault to sweep out the resistance and return unfettered with the flag.

Aided by Gandhi’s crafty maneuvering on the arch with the rocket launcher, Zyos was able to return to his base with the enemy flag across a minefield of grenades and gunfire, and even took a moment to do a 360 degree spin as he made the final capture and yelled, “Huge!” as the game ended.

While IGS Monglers won the tournament in a 6 – 3 series over Team US Eh, there can be no doubt that they were met with heavy resistance. So many of those games were unnervingly close and came down to key plays by members of each team to determine the winners. This victory marked the first time Gandhi, Defy and Vash finished first at an MLG event, and the win must have been especially sweet for Gandhi after he made several appearances in the finals with IGS only to be denied the title. Zyos was as amazing as ever, once again proving that he is among the greatest players in the game bar-none, and Vash and Defy proved that while they’ve hovered within the top 4 teams all season without a victory, there is definitely a reason they always finish near the top. Perhaps this win will be a source of newfound confidence for Gandhi, Vash and Defy, helping their respective teams in the future to come even closer to the top spots than they have been in the past. It’ll be interesting to see what changes result when they all return to their long-standing teams, as well as to see what Team US Eh has in store for us as we near the Conference and National Championships.