As the MLG Halo 2 season has progressed, we have seen a number of players and teams emerge from the masses to earn accolades from the community and be recognized among the best in the game. Following continual improvement over the course of several tournaments and a striking second place finish at MLG Seattle, the Storm Ventures lineup of Samurai, Murfman, Ramby and Strongside have proven that they deserve a spot alongside these players.

The core of Storm Ventures consists of Ramby, SiR Samurai 650 and Murfman; three friends hailing from different parts of the San Francisco Bay Area. While only about 15 minutes separates any two of them, Samurai and Murfman never met Ramby before they all attended a local qualifier tournament for VGL. At the tournament, the three decided that they wanted to form a team with the express purpose of becoming a more serious team than any of them had been on in the past and performing well at MLG events — and that’s exactly what they did. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here…

Murfman and Samurai, like countless others out there, got their start in Halo after becoming hopelessly addicted to Halo: CE. They cut their teeth playing with Fonzi and Foulacy and several other Bay Area players. Although they went to a few local tournaments and enjoyed the competition, the prospect of playing Halo competitively became much more visible to them after the release of Halo 2.

“We got the French version of Halo 2 like three weeks before it came out, and we pretty much fiended that for three straight weeks,” said Samurai. That’s when we thought up the name ‘Str8 into Rippin,’ which is what the ‘SiR’ stands for in SiR Samurai. We pretty much started Str8 Rippin (referring to himself, Murfman, Fonzi and Foulacy) and made it a big clan of really good players. That’s what we’re pretty much known for.”

Samurai can recall what it was like dominating in the early days after the game’s release, until a fateful meeting opened their eyes to a whole other level of competition. “We were known as the best clan on Xbox Live for the first couple weeks after Halo 2 came out. Then we finally got matched up against StK and we were like, ‘Jesus!’ They were so good compared to us. We had not played any team that was that good in any game. Then we started playing custom games against them, and that got us a lot better.”

Ramby may have been virtually unknown in Halo 1 and followed a lower-profile path through Halo 2, but he has nonetheless developed into an extremely skillful player — made all the more amazing by the fact that he is only 16 years-old. All throughout his Halo 2 days, he had been looking for an opportunity to team up with some other strong players and take a serious shot at the MLG tournament circuit. As it would turn out, his chance would come at the qualifying event for a different tournament company all together.

“It was pretty cool, because later I got to meet Fonzi and Foulacy and all them, and we ended up just LAN’ing all the time,” Ramby said of his chance meeting with Samurai and Murfman. Having formed a solid core team, all the three needed was a sponsor to allow them the opportunity to make the cross-country trips to the MLG events. As luck would have it, Ramby rustled up a sponsor in an unlikely place; his family tree.

Storm Ventures is not just the name of the team’s sponsor, but it’s also Ramby’s father’s private business. According to Ramby, the company is composed of venture capitalists whose business is to invest in up-and-coming businesses that they predict would do well with some financial backing, thus benefiting from any success the companies may come into. Ramby’s father’s business revolves around seeing potential and investing in it, and so it is only fitting that they back up this team, as they have been making good on more and more of that potential with each passing tournament.

While Ramby is clearly grateful that his father is enabling them to travel the country and compete at something they love, it stretches far beyond just appreciation, as none of it would have even been possible if not for the sponsorship. “It really opened the door up for us,” said Samurai, commenting about how none of them really have the money to be traveling so much and so far.

To show their appreciation to their sponsor, the team has made it their mission to work hard on their game and place better at each tournament they go to, and Samurai pinpoints Ramby’s hard work ethic and drive as a main source of inspiration. “He takes this game more seriously than any of us. He motivates us to do really well, and we don’t want to disappoint his dad by getting 9-12 or anything. We want to do a lot better.”

After a relatively rough first appearance as Storm Ventures at MLG Philly taking 9-12 place, the team has certainly improved with each tournament attended. “We were really upset,” recalled Ramby. “We should’ve got Top 8. I don’t even wanna talk about it,” he added with a laugh. With some hard work and elbow grease, MLG Las Vegas brought them a 5/6 finish that was totally eclipsed by their next showing. Pulling off what many would consider to be an upset victory against Best TmG on Campus (Foulacy, Tsquared, Mack and Detach), Storm Ventures went on to take second place at MLG Seattle, falling only to the first-rate IGS lineup of Shockwav3, Gandhi, Karma and Defy. Not too shabby by any standard, to be sure.

Storm Ventures’ series with Best TmG on Campus in the Losers’ Finals was an extremely intense five-game battle, but it could potentially have been a routing if not for one major slip-up by SV. “We almost 3 – 0′d them,” Ramby said. “We were up 2 – 0 in the series, and then we played Sanctuary CTF, and we each had the flag. We ended up all dying, and we forgot about the flag and all charged in. Then it just returned.” Because of SV forgetting to contest the flag, it returned and Best TmG on Campus was able to get the cap only moments later, which resulted in the win due to the overtime rule. The team felt strongly that they would have eventually won the match if not for that foul-up, because they were playing much more offensively and were getting closer to returning the flag with each attempt. Instead of the 3 – 0 shut out they had hoped for, they had to fight hard to pull off a 3 – 2 win; but a win is a win and SV was satisfied with their accomplishment.

After that taste of top shelf success and the realization that the amount of teams with viable shots at the top spots is increasing all the time, Ramby is looking forward to taking the team even further. “Now we’re taking it really seriously, because we know we can stay up at the top,” he said. “We just really have to focus. Just seeing 3D being so dominant early in the season was crazy, and seeing now that they can be beaten, anything is possible.”

It seems that watching the competition get tighter between the top teams throughout the MLG season has been a big inspiration to all of the SV players, especially considering that they are friends with Fonzi and Foulacy, and have access to practice against some of the top players, which Murfman reports has improved his skills “ten-fold.” While the guys were originally daunted by the unprecedented success of Team 3D early in the season, they feel like the things that made them unstoppable have been co-opted by competitors gradually, and as result enabled more people to compete at a high level. “I think people have realized the kind of teamwork that they (3D) used, and nobody really understood that before,” Samurai mused. “Now they have a concept of that, and they started to apply it, so it’s really possible for anyone to play that well.”

Following their victory over Best TmG on Campus, SV had guaranteed themselves at least second place and had only IGS remaining to face in the Finals. Coming into the second phase of the Finals already down three games, Storm Ventures did not have a very optimistic outlook on the series, especially considering their competition. Those in attendance and those watching on VoD could see that when the two teams met back up in the Championship Finals, they had clearly lost their heart and barely gave more than a passable effort in the finals — in some cases visibly giving up all together. The only question is, “Why would you just give up like that after coming so far?”

“We all feel really stupid now that it’s over,” Ramby admitted. “We were happy enough to get second, and we just wanted to get it over with. We beat all the teams we knew we could beat. Then it came to IGS, and we weren’t ready for it.” Echoing the sentiment, Samurai commented on how scary he feels it is to play against Shockwav3 and Karma. “They’re freaks; they’re ridiculous,” added Murfman.

Although things didn’t exactly turn up roses for Storm Ventures in the Finals, falling 6 – 0 to IGS, they crossed a huge barrier in competitive Halo and proved that they can hang with most of the teams out there. The team intends to cement that concept at the MLG Conference Championships, but only one problem remains: They don’t have a permanent fourth player, which the team feels is vital to consistent success.

The fourth player in the SV lineup has been a rotating position throughout the team’s history, featuring Poon for Philly and Vegas and Strongside for Seattle. The team may have had their greatest success with Strongside, but he has since parted ways with the team. Everyone on the team respects Strongside’s skills, but they feel that he got a little carried away with the team’s placement in Seattle and became eager for “bigger and better” prospects. “The crowd really liked him, and he was in the spotlight a bit, and it sort of went to his head,” Murfman said of his former teammate’s leaving the lineup.

Despite the somewhat thorny departure of Srongside, the team is focused on the future, not the past, and has big plans for the rest of the season. “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t get Top 8 at the Conference Championships,” Samurai asserted. “When we have Ramby on our team there’s no stopping us. Ramby is a beast. He’s definitely the best player on our team; no question in my mind.”

“Most likely better than that I’m thinking,” Ramby interjected optimistically. “And for the Nationals we can still stick with Top 8, I think.” It’s easy to see the determination in this team, as they claw their way further into the upper echelon of Halo players, but they remain very true to their origins and grateful to those who have helped them along the way.

Samurai feels deeply indebted to Fonzi and Foulacy for teaching him and taking them under their wings. “They pretty much taught me everything they know.” Recently, he tried to return some of the favors by helping (along with Ramby) Fonzi and Zyos train for the WCG Nationals, practicing every day leading up to the event on 2v2 LAN for up to eight hours in a single sitting. This element of friendship and helping each other to be more successful is a big part of why so many players from the Bay Area have risen so far in the Halo 2 world, and while some of the more high-profile players such as Fonzi and Foulacy were the first from the area to earn their spot in the pantheon, they won’t likely be the last.