MLG’s first Pro Circuit stop north of the border was a smashing success. Paired with the Fan Expo, MLG Toronto saw the best Halo 3 gamers from all over North America battle it out for prize money, respect, and bragging rights. At the end of the weekend, we saw the first multi event winner in Halo 3 history, the first player to win two consecutive events in the 2008 Season, and some of the most anticipated grudge matches in MLG history.

Puckett set the stage for an event filled weekend.

Although this weekend produced more expected results, based on the first three events of the year, this in itself was unexpected. This was the first time in Halo 3 competition that the Top 4 seeded teams all advanced to the Winners Bracket Semi-Finals. Perhaps this can be attributed to the level of preparation by these teams prior to the event, or perhaps it means the game has now evolved to the point at which a more definitive skill gap is beginning to form at the top ranks. It’s also possible that the latest wave of team changes have put the competition in a more stable balance. Certainly the pressure of attaining one of the seven guaranteed National Championship spots forced the best teams to step up their game, as no one wants to be outside looking in at the end of the season.

Coming into the event, Str8 Rippin was filled with fire and intensity. With the departure of Neighbor to long time rival Final Boss, Tsquared, Legit, Elamite, and newcomer Snipedown, were out to inflict their might onto anyone that stood in their way. After barely advancing past the 8th seeded Legendz in the third round however, many began to doubt Str8’s chances as a legitimate contender in Toronto. These concerns were put to rest though, as Str8 bested Final Boss and ex-teammate Neighbor in five games, securing themselves a spot in the Winners Bracket Finals. Here they met up with Instinct, who up until this point had not lost a game.

After dropping the first game of the Winners Bracket Finals, Str8 Rippin was able to keep their focus, winning the next three games of the series to knock Instinct into the Losers Bracket. Now with a guaranteed Top 2 finish, all that was left for Str8 Rippin was to await a challenger in the Finals. As they watched Final Boss and Instinct slug it out on the Main Stage from atop the MLG broadcast tower, Str8 Rippin reveled in the fact that whichever team advanced would be at a disadvantage entering the series. Because Str8 Rippin had already beaten both Instinct and Final Boss in the Winners Bracket, they’d immediately hold a lead in the extended best-of-11 series. As Instinct managed to knock Final Boss from the tournament, Str8 Rippin made their way to the Main Stage, prepared to finish what they had started in their previous match.

Str8 Rippin celebrated their second Halo 3 Championship.

With the Main Stage bleachers filled and $20,000 on the line, Str8 Rippin had come too far to let victory slip from their grasp. Taking hold of their 3-1 series lead, Str8 Rippin proceeded to win three of the next four games, cementing a 6-2 series victory. With the win, Str8 Rippin became the first team to win multiple Halo 3 competitions. Snipedown also became the first player to win back-to-back Halo 3 competitions. With all of the turmoil surrounding the team after the departure of Neighbor, the stark contrast in the attitude of the team was all that remained at the end of a tough fought weekend. No longer feeling as if they were the victims of the team changes, Str8 Rippin left Toronto with their heads held high, looking to continue their reign of dominance at the Dallas Playoffs.

Prior to Toronto, possibly the biggest team change in MLG history occurred. Final Boss, a team that had become synonymous with winning decided to make their first team change in two years. After a set of disappointing finishes, the team decided to release its longtime captain, Walshy. Stunned by the move, Walshy reached out to Soviet, a talented young player lacking a solid team, in hopes of forming a team that could contend for a title immediately. With an open roster spot, Instinct jumped at the opportunity to acquire Walshy, releasing Victory X to make room for his companion Soviet. With a new set of twins and a potent slayer, much could be said about the similarities between Walshy’s new and former squad. Nonetheless, a confident Walshy entered Toronto shooting for first place. With more fandom than ever surrounding them, Walshy and Instinct did not disappoint. After breezing through the first four rounds of the Winners Bracket, Instinct were unable to defeat Str8 Rippin, falling to the Losers Bracket Finals. This set the stage for what was to be considered one of the most anticipated match-ups of all time.

Walshy and Instinct were jovial after besting their new found rival Final Boss.

Final Boss vs. Instinct; a match-up that had occurred several times this year prior to this meeting, but never quite like this. Walshy found himself face to face with the very same players that had decided a few weeks earlier that he wasn’t right for their team. While both teams were fighting for a spot in the Finals against Str8 Rippin, each had ulterior motives behind the match. Final Boss was looking to validate their decision to drop Walshy and acquire Neighbor, while Walshy sought retribution. Riding the wave of energy exuding from Walshy, Instinct rolled over Final Boss in four games, with the final game being an absolute blowout.

It’s hard to imagine how Walshy must have felt that moment. With the fans chanting his name, Walshy threw one fist up into the air, triumphantly celebrating the victory. On the other side of the stage, third place finisher Final Boss was left to ponder where they went wrong, and what can be done to further improve for the final two events of the season.

Coming into the event on a relative cold streak, finishing consistently worse since the team’s second place finish at MLG Meadowlands, Classic was out to prove that they still had what it takes to compete as one of the top Halo 3 teams. With a revamped roster, featuring former Instinct member, Victory X, Classic entered Toronto ready to re-emerge near the top.

After falling to Final Boss quite heavily as Saturday night came to an end, the experienced team understood that their tournament was not over. They were able to gather themselves for the next day, setting up for a tremendous run through the Losers Bracket. Taking out Breaking Point, Anti-Gravity, and Triggers Down secured Classic a Top 4 finish, their second this season. In the battle for Top 3, Classic fell just short of coming back from a 0-3 deficit against Final Boss. The series went the full 11 games, but ultimately went to FB, ending Classic’s run in 4th place.

It’s beginning to look like things are finally looking up for Classic.

On the bottom half of the Top 8, Ambush continued to prove that they are not a fluke. Another team coming into the event with a new fourth player, Ambush managed to take Triggers Down to five games during their first meeting of the event in WBR3. Now finding themselves down two games to Status Quo in their battle for Top 8, Ambush mounted a historic comeback, winning the next three games to take the series, shutting down the massive group of fans that cheered on Status Quo.

In the match immediately following, Ambush managed to trump Carbon by a score of 50-49 in Game 5. They had earned themselves a Top 6 finish. Waiting in the wings was Final Boss, hot off of their loss to Str8 Rippin. In yet another Game 5, their fourth five game series of the event, Ambush was unable to pull off another upset, dropping to the fourth seeded team 41-50. Although they had been eliminated from the tournament, they still would need to play a match to decide their exact placing. In this match, they came back from a 3-2 deficit to take fifth place right out from under a demoralized Triggers Down team. For Triggers Down, this would mark the end of a very disappointing tournament.

It can be argued that all of the above teams have, in some way, benefited from the pre-event team changes. This is where we draw the line. After taking Orlando by storm, Triggers Down was hit by the hurricane of team changes and was left to pick up the pieces. In this case, that piece was Mackeo. Possibly coming into the event a little bit cocky, Toronto started off as any other event for TD. Finding themselves in the familiar Winners Bracket Semi-Finals round, TD looked poised to contend for another championship.

Unfortunately for Triggers Down, this is where all hell broke loose. Although they had managed to make it this far without falling into the Losers Bracket, they had hardly been impressive. After falling to Instinct 3-0, Triggers Down headed to the Losers Bracket for what they expected to be an easy march into the Top 4. Classic, on the other hand, had other plans. In four games Classic knocked Triggers Down out of the tournament, netting them their lowest placing of the season. The situation for Triggers Down only got worse from here, as they lost their third consecutive series of the event to Ambush in their 5th/6th Consolation match. Very rarely do you see the first seeded team drop three consecutive series at an event. The team has already discussed their unhappiness and hostility towards one another, and it’s probable we won’t see the same lineup for the Playoffs in Dallas.

This event was one to be forgotten for Triggers Down and their fans.

Taking seventh place was Carbon; the only Top 8 team to not make a team change coming into the event. Carbon chose to stick with their well-practiced squad instead of hurling themselves into the hurricane of team changes that plagued the Top 8. It can be argued that even Carbon was harmed by the team changes, as while a large majority of the teams around them improved, Carbon’s skill set remained the same. Will this Halo 2 powerhouse be able to right the ship in time for the Playoffs and National Championship?

While the rest of the standings have fluctuated quite a bit this season, there is one thing on which fans of the league can always seem to count. A roster that features Severince and Tizoxic will finish in the 8th position. It has happened at every event in Halo 3’s history, and the team is hoping that this continues at Dallas. After finishing eighth in four consecutive tournaments, it’s safe to say that Anti-Gravity is the eighth best team in the league. They’ll have another chance to prove this when the Top 7 teams are sitting out of the first section of the Dallas Playoff Event, meaning that AtG will sport the highest seed in the bracket. This is the place at which it will be extremely important for them to prove that they are indeed the eight best, as doing so will grant them the one remaining spot in the National Championships.

The teams that placed in the Top 7 this event are also the seven teams that have earned themselves automatic bids into the National Championship Event at the end of the season based on their point totals. The last remaining spot is open to whomever emerges from an Open Bracket during the first half of the Dallas Event. Even with perennial eighth place finisher, Anti-Gravity, sporting the top seed, it’s going to be anyone’s game.

While the winner of that bracket will earn a spot in the National Championships, they will also earn an immediate berth into the Dallas Playoff Bracket. This bracket will feature the Top 7 teams in the league, as well as the winner of the Dallas Open Bracket. After the Dallas Event, teams will not be able to make team changes. Rosters lock for the remainder of the season prior to the Dallas Event, so it’s very important that teams are satisfied with their rosters heading into the event.

With only two more events to go in the season, there is still a massive amount of Halo to be played. The Dallas Playoffs are quickly approaching. With their spots secured in the National Championship, the Top 7 teams in the league will be looking to make sure they have the best rosters available to put them in contention for the title. Every other team in the league, whether pro, semi-pro, or amateur will be gunning for that last spot in the Dallas Open Bracket. With the bracket whittling down to one single team, Dallas looks to be one of the most exciting Open Competitions of the season, culminating with the talent filled Playoff Bracket in which the top teams in the league will square off at the last event before the National Championships.