"Start-up" had not yet earned its mainstream lexicon cache, saying "the NFL of video games" incurred raised eyebrows, and if you dared to push further with "esports," the conversation would politely end.
Since 2005 Halo 2 had been the GOAT, but now there was uncertainty. In real time we were watching our community fragment across the slow roll out of Perfect Dark, Gears of War, Rainbow 6, and Call of Duty.

We were operating the circuit on the back of a 3 year old title. The rest of the world had moved onto the Xbox 360 and was awaiting the imminent release of Halo 3.

The next Halo needed to include a very specific set of features for tournaments to continue to be viable. It was an anxiety filled console transition year.
The field of competitors heading into the the Great Recession
There was also a growing list of competitors. MLG was firmly "Competitive Gaming," while on the other side of the ring was the Championship Gaming Series and "Esports." Our circuits were proxies to the larger holy war between consoles and pc's - and both companies made plays across parallels like tv and streaming, Xbox and Playstation. Luckily we had the advantage of an opponent who only had the wrong combinations of games and television time slots.

CGS blew through their warchest and got swept away with everyone else when the economy deteriorated. Their gear would get passed down from one bankruptcy sale to another, and I recall seeing pieces pop up all the way through when Clauf bit the bullet in 2015.
Their demise became the common understanding that esports doesn't work on television. When speculation would occasionally return, as with pieces like "StarCraft is Too Big for TV to Ignore | SixJax Gaming," it would compel words from the survivors.

Marcus' understanding of the TV problem was only matched by his desire to never live through it again, and a large reason investor groups were compelled to give to video game organizers "infinite airtime for free."

Twitch's proliferation in 2011 gave esports the breathing room it needed, but the trauma that inspired dates back to 2007 and beyond.
It was cool to have one of the biggest NBA superstars of the time so engaged with our circuit. I rang in my 20th birthday LANning Halo with him and a few others in Orlando.
MLG built cache by investing into community building with dashes of mainstream culture. One of the big narratives was NBA Pro Gilbert Arenas becoming the "owner" of Final Boss. His financial support allowed the team to have their pick of the litter whenever a roster swap was required. Associated events like his birthday parties became opportunities to built the star power of the team. While FB were very clearly on top, contracts began expanding to more players, a larger group received stipends, and anyone could win a portion of the million dollars in prizing.

Boost Mobile had signed on for a bigger deal and had to be integrated into everything. Everyone pitched in with the circuit wide rebranding campaign and the walls were constantly covered in explorations.

The buying spree continued with GotFrag, which was the jump off point into PC Gaming. Lee Chen (who would go on to do great things at Fastly) and Sir Scoots joined our MLG family through this acquisition, guiding us into the PC real estate neglected by CGS. We focused on WoW, while CGS wrestled with trying to convince the Counter Strike community to switch from 1.6 to Source.
Years later I would try to capture the pace of a Pro Circuit event in the occasional BTS piece. Oz would go on to absolutely crush this genre.
That year the circuit hit Charlotte, Dallas, Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas, Toronto, and "the Meadowlands." A fairly diverse slice urban Americana.

MLG events were a ritualized ~5 day affair full of familiar faces and moments. Our video team would arrive ahead of the public to prepare for a weekend of show production. Depending on the event, we'd help with networking, tournament station set up, recording, broadcast operations, and the challenges several thousand teenagers could create. Occasionally tournaments would be executed in the face of natural disasters.
Halo was definitely the favorite child. Broadcasts for games like Gears and Rainbow would share a "leaner operation" that was set up and broken down by the same people who cast, switched, and mixed it. We walked uphill both ways.

Events were punctuated by family style dinners and hotel room LANs, with more and more people arriving each night. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. A lot of people in the industry got their start building or competing at these shows.
The FFA was a pile of fucking magical chaos.
Each weekend of competition would begin with the 8 man Free-For-All.

First - the rules:

  • Eight players enter, only four leave.
  • If you're top 4 when the 1st player hits 50 kills, you advance to the next round.
  • The more rounds you advance, the more points you earn.
  • The more points you earn, the higher your team's starting seed would be for the next day's 4v4.
  • Do well enough, and you qualify into the 1v1 competition for cash prize
    This was an incredible icebreaker for the thousands of awkward teenagers that would show up. There were so many social mechanics built into the event. If you made it 1 or 2 rounds, you'd end up becoming familiar with the group of people you were advancing with. It was a gladiatorial bonding where everyone was both an opponent and a friend. Once eliminated, you had an investment in figuring how high your 4v4 team would get seeded. So you'd follow the games of your three other team mates, rooting for someone to go deep so that the team would get a higher seed. And if somehow you squeaked your way into the very late rounds, you were all but guaranteed to sit shoulder to shoulder with some actual professional players. The whole thing was narrated by Puckett on the venue wide PA system, and a clever name might attract a large group to your station. The end of the bracket usually saw a good mix of pros and cracked younger talent. This is where forum kids and online warriors became legends. The chaotic nature of the competition required godlike map awareness and mechanics. Pistola was 13 when he won his first. Him and Naded went back and forth all season long.
    The 2007 circuit was chronicled via a G4TV show. Events had been streamed on the MLG website since at least '04.
    Saturday morning the Open Bracket 4v4 starts, and by 5PM you're seeing the 16 pro teams take on the 16 amateur bracket squads. Most of the amateurs wash out by late Saturday and a few heroes break through to Sunday morning. We wrap up on Sunday with the usual cast of Final Boss, Str8, and Carbon and a final round of hotel room LANs and big wrap parties at the rooms of whoever won.
    MLG Top 10 from the Halo 2 Championship
    All of this gameplay had to be recorded and published. Our solution was physical recorders that spawned several spools of DVDs per event. Lenox and I were given free reign to execute this publishing operation. The hundreds of hours of gameplay we watched led to other projects like Top 10's, Player Mic Commentaries, and the newly launched Game Room.
    Gaming was one of the major frontlines in the Great Reddit vs Digg War. My intimate view into that conflict made it glaringly obvious how quickly League of Legends was growing.
    This was only my second year, but the Game Room was already the second video platform we had launched. "Videos by the MLG community, for the MLG community." I think our biggest success was when one of our videos trended on Digg. Which was immediately followed by various forms of "Do-It-Again'' prodding. I spent one Christmas holiday ingratiating myself with the Digg power user culture, meeting people like Slasher, realizing how much of the world orbited around MrBabyMan, and getting prepared for the great Reddit migration. Top 10's really blew up and I remember counting frames of split second snipes with Puckett and Contini in a tiny editing bay. A lot of this was fairly groundbreaking for the time, and our content played a role in influencing the top plays and gameplays meta on YouTube. Also the genesis of a general thesis that esports usually walks so that content creators can run.
    Think deeply about the state of internet culture in 2007.

    There was no TikTok or Instagram. There was no Twitch livestreaming. Twitter was at an irrelevant scale, and Facebook was just starting to fumble around with video. YouTube had a 10 minute timelimit. Subscriptions and Content-ID were functionally not working. There was no copyright enforcement, no moderation. Discoverability was driven through the the "Most Watched" category, and every week was a streetfight between your Halo montage and the latest Naruto rip. Differentiate yourself by the quality of your plays, the opponents, and your edit. Forum rep was king and a Haupage video card in a pro lobby was your ticket to glory.

    We were also blessed to have some crazy talented creators come through the MLG community. Zola, who would go on to creative direct for the Chainsmokers and Coldplay, made his bones with Halo 2 and Halo 3 classics. Dan Chosich, who built nearly a decade of Halo creative, began his career with tournament trailers like 50k Framework.

    Halo montages as a genre served as the blueprints for the first wave of Call of Duty sniper montages, which in turn were the foundations for Optic and Faze. Many CoD pros got their start competing in Halo and the two communities share a common culture to this day. Modern Warfare 4 launched this year but adjusting to accommodate a new game well is hard and expensive. CoD had fewer live events than Halo or Gears. It also became another 4v4 title.

    Without big broadcasts and tournaments, top CoD players focused more of their attention on YouTube as the outlet to build their reputation. As Youtube began incentivizing longer videos, those players moved from montages to longer gameplay commentaries. A lot of this value was captured by multi-channel networks like Machinima who, as one of the few organizations trusted to funnel Google money, propogated the most succesfull formats. The success of CoD commentaries served as a blueprint for Starcraft commentaries, which were a transition point into Twitch livestreaming.

    I'm not saying we wouldn't have streaming without Halo (or CS) montages, but they played a part.
    There was a lineup of solid Xbox 360 titles that gave us a swings at launching new esports. We learned quickly that while we could put Rainbow6 and Gears into our esports framework, results would not necessarily be the same as Halo. We were also blessed with Shadowrun, which had a short but amazing run on the circuit. Shadowrun dropped in late May, just three months ahead of the release of Halo 3. The ending of this story was obvious even back then. It's what happened in the middle that was really the beautiful part.

    A crisp class based shooter utilizing CSGO round system with unique abilities. The game was well balanced, allowing for both deep team strategy and individual skill. Shadowrun was impeccable, leaving a strong impression that gave me a strong belief in the principles behind Project A (VALORANT).
    A bunch of us were a core part of the SR beta testing community and were recognized with namesake bots. SR came out at a time when top Halo pros were also looking for a title to practice with a 360 controller. We restructured our events to accommodate them.

    Events were scheduled so that teams like Final Boss could compete in both Halo 2 and Shadowrun across one weekend.

    The game launched in May and was on the circuit by July.

    The Shadowrun National Champions. The look of men who know they will be the first and last of their kind.
    Also in May we got our first preview of Halo 3 when the beta dropped. Everyone felt obligated to spam games on Valhalla; a thankless task of trying to predict what competitive could feel like through the lens of Big Team Battle. While it was early, there were moments of hope with features like System Link, Theater, and a map maker visible. Having to go back to playing Halo 2 after the Beta felt like a letdown.

    It was also an early and powerful lesson how effectively marketing, timing, and publisher direction could impact a title. The Microsoft marketing machine never really gave Shadowrun a chance, and once the culture shifted to Halo 3, Shadowrun's momentum hit a brick wall. This wasn't by design, but it illustrated the impacts publisher support played on esports.
    The final leg of the season required us to concurrently run events for both Halo 2 and 3. Two massive workstreams, one to fulfill our commitment and one critical to our future.

    We came out the gates strong. Halo 3 launched on September 25th, 2007. Three days later we had our first round of gametypes up on the file share. These began circulating across the entire Halo community, reinforcing our brand equity as the title-de-jour transitioned. We modified our final event of the season in Vegas to include a massive Halo 3 LAN that ran concurrently to of our other world finals for Rainbow, Gears, Halo, and Shadowrun. We kicked off a film festival that took full advantage of the game's theater mode. We worked to make sure developers would be onsite to "understand esports." Joe Tung made the trek and would go on to have massive influence over esports later on.

    Also CPL ran a $1M tournament. I think a few people are still waiting for that check.
    Made on