Knowing that we would have an unusually large crowd, we rented out an extra-gigantic ballroom for MLG Las Vegas. There was plenty of room for everyone, sure, but what we didn’t account for was the sheer amount of insanity that we were gathering in one spot. It may have been a weekend of bruised elbows and hoarse throats, but Vegas turned out to be almost more fun than we could handle. The vibe throughout the room given off by the 1,500-plus competitors on Saturday and Sunday was simply electrifying. And they all had good reason to be excited, because there were amazing matches being played in over 10 different games all at the same time.

Since EVO only takes place once a year, the stakes for all of its games are enormous, and the crowds gather around a match until all you can see is a beehive of people’s heads packed densely around a station. Most of the world’s greatest 2D and 3D fighting champions were in attendance, as they knew that EVO was the official proving-grounds on which to establish who is truly the best. Again, since these players have traveled from all over the world and have waited nearly a year for the event, the EVO attendees dominated the floor space and swallowed up even the hoards of MLG players.

Amidst all of the fighting game action, Halo actually became the odd-man out for once at an MLG event, but Las Vegas also brought us our largest West Coast Halo attendance ever, raking in 52 Halo 2 teams including many of the best players. While Team 3D was notably absent, reigning MLG Champions Trademark Gamers were on hand to defend their title against longtime rivals iGameSpot. This match-up produced some memorable drama, and helped to further establish TmG’s new lineup as a world-class powerhouse in the Halo world.

It’s interesting that the players on TmG have long been considered to be primarily objective-based players (with the possible exception of Tsquared), but as soon as they won the Philly Team Slayer tournament everyone claimed that it was because they were “only good at TS” and they wouldn’t fare well in an objective-heavy tournament. It is ridiculous how conveniently short peoples’ memories can be, and it’s even more ridiculous that after winning an MLG Major against the undefeated Team 3D, TmG still needed to prove themselves to a significant portion of the community. Well, injustice or no, TmG made it a point to erase any doubt in anyone’s mind that they are a fantastically versatile and well-assembled team with their unstoppable presence at MLG Las Vegas.

Putting the Doubters to Rest

When TmG and IGS had each earned their appearances in the Winners’ Bracket finals, it was already decided that one of these two teams was guaranteed a spot in the Championship match. However, barring some huge upset, most people knew at that point that they were really settling in to watch the beginning of the final match-up, because no two teams at MLG Vegas were looking better than these two. No matter which team won this series, the other would almost assuredly fight back to continue the grudge match a few rounds later.

And what a grudge match it was. Historically, there has been very little love loss between some of the members of these two teams. Although socially they all seem to get along–at least on the surface–there’s no doubt that there has been a lot of back and forth trash talking between Gandhi and Shockwav3 of IGS and Fonzi and Foulacy of TmG. Most of this has centered on IGS’ perception of Fonzi and Foulacy as both “Halo 1 noobs” and “Matchmaking noobs” and also Tsquared as a “bad team player.” IGS has spoken candidly in interviews of the pride they take in the fact that they have ranked above Str8 Rippin in most recent tournaments, and it has become apparent over time that the majority of IGS’ members simply don’t respect this incarnation of TmG for the talent its members truly possess. Much to IGS’ surprise and dismay, TmG was about to give them a free nine-game lecture in the ways of respect and dominance…

The series started off on an exciting note with CTF Elongation. TmG came out strong as the aggressor and made it clear that they had no intentions of mimicking the slow and calculated style they used against 3D in the Philly finals. It was a decidedly wise move on their part too, because the high-pressure and hyper-offensive style of IGS would have been difficult to combat otherwise, especially with the sheer slaying power of this IGS team led by the always-impressive Shockwav3.

IGS was first to nail down a successful cap, but it would be the last one they’d see that game. It seemed that TmG felt the key to the game was controlling the plasma pistols and setting up a relay system of flag-runners down the hall, and after some initial struggling for control of weapons and space, they were able to do just that. Of course, it wasn’t as easy as all that, and TmG’s attempts were foiled on several occasions. In one instance, Gandhi was able to kill Zyos and return his team’s flag mere feet from the flag stand, yelling out, “How good am I?” Although his team’s spirits were dampened a bit by the near miss at a score, Foulacy kept his teammates into the game, reassuring them that “That won’t happen again.”

Foulacy’s lead continued as he closely monitored his teammates’ positions to be sure that their strategies were implemented to their fullest. “You’re camping too close to their base! They have to spawn at their own base!” he cautioned his friends as they muscled their way down the narrow passageways of Elongation toward the enemy flag. With the score tied at one capture each, Tsquared made a massive cap after fighting hard all the way down the hall and swinging the momentum into TmG’s favor in a big way. From there it wasn’t long before Zyos was able to secure the third flag and bag a 1 – 0 lead in what would turn out to be the Championship Finals.

Team Slayer on Lockout served as the setting for the second game, as it saw both teams playing a fast paced, almost rambunctious style of loose wolf-packing that made for a very exciting and even match. The way TmG was playing their games against IGS was so drastically different from how they played versus 3D in Philly that you are only left to conclude that they tailored a specific strategy for each team. While Philly was like a chess match, Vegas was quickly turning out to be a football game, complete with constant collisions and sudden possession changes.

IGS had been winning the match all the way until it was tied at 47, and at some points in the match they were up by more than 10 kills. However, TmG mounted a significant comeback in the latter portion of the game, led by Tsquared’s clutch sniping from the top of the BR Tower to gradually pick off unsuspecting victims. Once the lead was gained, TmG was smart and waited for the inevitable invasion by IGS, which was put down efficiently to give TmG the win 50 – 47.

Game three couldn’t have been a worse gametype for IGS: Oddball Warlock. It’s widely-known that IGS is generally insecure with any gametype on Warlock, and they’ve often admitted to “not knowing what to do” against a good team on it. TmG was eager to show IGS why they should practice more on this map, as they handily defeated them 5:00 – 1:14 to send them into the Losers’ Bracket. Tsquared had another excellent game of slaying, with his 41 kills and 29 deaths, and Zyos gave us one more example to draw upon when proclaiming that he’s one of the best objective players ever with his high kill count and 1:35 of carrying time.

This 3 – 0 series sweep in the Winners’ Finals did a lot to silence the speculation and downright disbelief about how well this TmG lineup would fare in an objective tournament. And more than anything, it went miles toward humbling an overly-confident IGS that seemed that they were counting on pushing past TmG without much difficulty. Now, IGS would have to wrestle back out of the Losers’ Bracket only to return to the Championship series with a three-game hole to dig out of–a far cry from Gandhi’s public prediction on the MLG forums that IGS would defeat TmG in a worst-case scenario of 6 – 2.

After Mongler’s Legendz defeated the Utah Noobs in an entertaining but one-sided 3 – 0 series in the Losers’ Semis, they became the only remaining team for IGS to face in order to earn their way back into the Finals match. In much the same way the Utah Noobs were defeated, Mongler’s Legends fell to IGS in a straight 3 – 0 series, despite some very invigorating gameplay from both sides. It looked like that match-up was just what the IGS boys needed to get some of their swagger back, as they ended up proving to be much more dangerous after they met back up with TmG to finish the Halo Championship series. Unfortunately for IGS, we wouldn’t see any of that bloodlust until they were already down 4 – 0 in the series, after which point it was simply too late.

We found that two seemingly very different competitive cultures in fact had a lot in common and coexisted quite nicely despite a few hiccups from ignorant people in both camps.

TmG welcomed IGS back to the Finals with a grand 5 – 0 jolly-stomping on CTF Midship. Foulacy scored almost as soon as humanly possible after the start of the game, and his team made sure to keep the pressure on to follow it up. Some very efficient and tactical triangulation of the map enabled TmG to travel relatively freely throughout the game, keeping IGS on the spawn and out of position to really launch a solid attack. The entire game was over in about 10 minutes, and TmG was looking like an impenetrable force careening toward the first place prize.

But just as you could start to hear the engraving of IGS’ tombstones throughout the audience, they made their frantic effort to mount a comeback. Right away, Shockwav3 took control of things on Team Slayer Ivory Tower, capitalizing on Fonzi’s failed attempt to make the high-jump out of the rocket spawn area with his newly acquired power-weapon. While Fonzi made up for his slip-up shortly after with a disgusting no-scope snipe, Shockwav3 was already way out of control, racking up 16 kills relatively early in the match. IGS was clearly in control of the proceedings, holding the top of the map with rockets and sniper. McGavin was working his typical blend of “how’d he do that” mayhem, and Sergio was fulfilling his role as the always consistent and dependable team player. The score stood literally at 41 – 19 before TmG got any sort of footing in the match.

While Fonzi followed up his brilliant no-scope early in the match with several key plays of similar magnitude, and Zyos, Foulacy and Tsquared all worked hard at chipping away IGS’ lead, but it proved to be an insurmountable goal as IGS buried the game 50 – 38 and took their first game in the series.

IGS really started rolling after that game, and powered right through a game of KOTH Lockout. Sergio had an absolutely impeccable game, racking up over two minutes of hill time to go with his 43 kills. The ever-impressive Shockwav3 nailed down 41 kills to ensure that IGS out-slayed TmG by a considerable margin and bagged the win to boot. They then went on to take a rousing game of TS Sanctuary, led by Shockwav3′s 17 kills. Zyos’ masterful attention to angles and details netted him 15 kills, but it wasn’t enough to stall the momentum IGS had built up by that point. After this IGS victory, the series stood at 4 – 3 in TmG’s favor, and things had suddenly become a lot more interesting.

TmG knew that the next game would prove crucial to the result of the whole tournament. If they won this game, victory would be well within their grasp, and if they lost, they would have squandered the lead they worked so hard to earn earlier. Knowing what was at stake, TmG did what all great teams do: they rose to the task. The atmosphere in the room had become tension-filled both by the series’ turn of events and the fact that the EVO crowd had gotten so loud that the players literally had to scream to hear each other communicate.

While IGS scored the first cap on CTF Warlock, Fonzi equalized the score within 30 seconds. With their team back to playing the game how they know they can, TmG gradually began to control the angles of the map and penetrate IGS’ defense. Tsquared came up huge with three flag caps, and Fonzi led the team in kills with 24 to take the CTF game 5 – 1.

Needing only one more win to secure victory, TmG was surely pumped full of adrenaline going into Oddball Midship, which would prove to be the final game of the tournament. IGS fought a hard match, but TmG was incredibly well-organized, with two people shooting at virtually every target, and when the teamwork was absent, TmG’s individual skill really shone through to help them out of almost any pinch. Tsquared was making excellent use of the shotgun and plasma grenades, wooing the crowd with his startling brand of killing. Foulacy nailed down one of the nastiest double-kills of the entire tournament, barely finishing off his first victim only to miss a sword lunge and then still out-BR a second opponent–all while his shields were down. Look to see this madness on VoD when you get a chance–it will surely impress. Throughout all the slaying, TmG kept a great sense of the objective, protecting it from the enemy and keeping possession of it with ruthless cunning to come out on top 5:00 – 3:47.

The conclusion of that game signified the second consecutive MLG first-place finish for the newly-sponsored TmG and cemented their position as one of the truly dominant forces in the Halo world. Despite any tension between the teams earlier in the tournament, the players all shook hands like gentlemen and congratulated each other on series well-played. The crowd was enchanted, the doubters were silenced, and the stage was set for even greater drama in the tournaments to come. Trademark Gamers earned themselves an extended stay in the spotlight of competitive gaming and piled even greater accolades upon their already impressive resume. With Vegas under their belts, I’m sure TmG has turned their mind to another goal: Repeating their victory over Team 3D. And when the fated re-match takes place, it will be something you won’t want to miss.

The Aftermath

When we walked out of the venue on Sunday night it was clear that the MLG/EVO partnership was a smashing success. We found that two seemingly very different competitive cultures in fact had a lot in common and coexisted quite nicely despite a few hiccups from ignorant people in both camps. But while foolishness will always be an issue any time you gather hundreds of people anywhere, I stepped onto the airplane Monday thinking that MLG’s merging of these communities was quite a wise move indeed. Now if only I had stepped onto that airplane at 8:20 a.m. like I was supposed to rather than sleeping through my flight and having to catch another one some six hours later… Maybe I had a little too much fun in Vegas.

Since this was the first time I’d been to Las Vegas since being old enough to fully enjoy all it has to offer, I had a lot of new experiences over the weekend and I thought I’d put together a short list of what I learned from my time spent in Sin City:

1. Always bet on black. This is especially true when you storm into the casino toward the roulette table with your friends at 4:00 a.m. confidently waving a wad of cash so convincingly that half of the EVO staff decides to go all-in with you on your bet as you pass by. Our idiocy was infectious, as there were about 10 people backing me with their cash by the time I reached the roulette table and slapped down an unwise amount of money on black. We spun our heads round and round and watched as the ball gradually settled into its black resting place, thus doubling up our cash. And with that victory behind us, we walked straight away. We were dumb to do it the first time, and hell if we were going to tempt fate again.

2. For 100 different reasons, you must keep an eye on Synide at all times. Lovable and unassuming as he may be, there’s just something dangerous about a man who sees his weekend-long gambling losses as “money I just haven’t won back yet.” Also, we discovered that during moments of triumph he is prone to engage in a real-life Halo 1 pistol hump upon those he just dominated. It is equally awesome and terrifying–you can ask Puckett.

Always bet on black. This is especially true when you storm into the casino toward the roulette table with your friends at 4:00 a.m. confidently waving a wad of cash so convincingly that half of the EVO staff decides to go all-in with you on your bet as you pass by.

3. The Puckett Dance Party is a force to be reckoned with. The lonely white man with stale moves and a silk shirt in the middle of the dance floor may be doing a fine job of humiliating himself, but he hasn’t been truly immortalized in his lameness until Puckett has gone out and busted a move with him. Pictures were taken, rugs were cut, and laughs were had by all. Well, by everyone except the bad dancer who just thought Puckett was feeling the groove too… Check out the gallery for a glimpse of some of the unsuspecting people we openly mocked on camera during the exclusive radio station pool party. Yes, we’re terrible people.

4. The old catchphrase “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” holds true for everything but the hangovers. Those come home with you for sure.