Las Vegas Finals - November 2006 - Telling my friends I was flying to Las Vegas might have sounded cool but turns out there's not a lot for 19 year old to do there. My room mate for the event, (Eric Fensler of the GI Joe PSA fame) proceeded to empty the mini-fridge multiple times during the weekend, something I distinctly remember being questioned about back at the office.

While the event was primarily focused on Halo 2, the Xbox 360 had launched in the weeks prior with Gears of War as a tentpole title. Part of the event featured a a 2v2 showmatch between T2 & Gandhi and some UFC stars. In subsequent years there would be a steady stream of professional athletes integrated into esports events, largely an effort to peer match gamers with athletes to establish credibility for the former. In 2020 GenZ doesn't really differentiate between the two anymore, but that took some 15 years of effort.
I'd ended up meeting Ace there, who would go on to be a Halo Champion himself in 2014 & 2020. Carbon would defeat Final Boss, kicking off one of the first waves of roster mania which would see Strongside replace Saiyan. The event felt smaller as there wasn't an open bracket (to make it easy for TV) which prevented the usual mass of audience on the mainstage. Episodes wouldn't air until months later and only a few games made it to the final product. Converting esports to TV was hard and clunky, but a necessary evil to drive awareness in the age before social platforms really took hold. At the time Facebook was still duking it out with MySpace and the MLG forums were biggest centers of discussion.

Gandhi and Ghost would go on to respectively work in game design and esports at Hi-Rez & EA

Carbon ended up winning the $100k grand prize after defeating Finals Boss for the third consecutive time. Prior to the matches - I got to tag along with Str8, FB, and Carbon while they got their hero shots taken on Freemont street. It's always amusing to see the delta between how much the players got along and how hard the producers would try to play up the rivalry.
New York Playoffs - October 2006
iThe 2005 New York playoffs were the first MLG event that was part of a larger convention; Digital Life. Minor catastrophes I recollect were buying CDRs instead of DVDRs and the roof leaking on our production gear. Carbon would go on to defeat Final Boss again via a massive comeback, one of my online acquaintances (GI Factor) would win the Open FFA, and PC Chris would win smash. I vaguely remember KillerN requiring a smoke break between each of his 1v1 matches, which would go on to influence rule sets on breaks.
MLG Walshy's House
As an intern, one of my tasks was to pull audio clips for the promos that would play during the USA TV show. Gandhi yelling was my best pull and this also became the first ever video uploaded to the MLG Youtube Channel on Dec. 13, 2006.
Staff and players were provided lodging at the New Yorker Hotel, which despite the prominent name was a below mediocre accommodation with tiny rooms, options in NYC were slim. Post event dinner with FB was neat, playing Halo:CE with Carbon afterwards was fun.

Around this time Puckett was very deep into production of the TV show, bringing in forum kids to record third person PoV's on modded Xboxes and our current CEO was kicking off his acquisition spree with Gamebattles - whose price I vaguely recollect being $250k. This would be the catalyst for later expansion into Call of Duty.
MLG Orlando - August 2006
Every year my family would take an annual trip to Maine, which I remember being thrilled to skip as a result of a call for interns via the MLG Forums. Luckily I had some limited Final Cut Experience AND was located near the headquarters above Grand Central, which contributed to the Head of Video Product - Ryan "Synide" Thompson giving me my first position in esports (starting salary $10/hour.) Ryan would go on to help launch many other careers over the next 15 years.
My earliest memories of that office were playing Halo:CE 2v2's, Anakin confusing me with another "Joker" who didn't pay an entry fee in 2004, and Clap (Adam Apicella) telling me to not wear my "Born to Ride" A&F t-shirt. Also after the then current CEO Matt Braumberg (who would go on to Bioware and Zynga) complained about the temperature of his office, Sundance handed over a roll of tape and told me to deal with it. Assuming that fell within the normal scope of work, I was startled when a very confused CEO politely asked what the hell I was doing taping up his AC vents.
While Carbon upsetting Final Boss and ending their streak stands out as one of the most iconic moments in Halo History, the timing was less than ideal as FB had just signed to $250,000K contracts.
Prior to getting my position at MLG, I had already bought airfare and a team pass to compete, so the powers-that-be allowed me to both compete and work at the event, which to my knowledge, the last time such a privilege was bestowed on an employee. My chief responsibility at the Orlando event was dragging around 20+ DVD recorders and capturing late round matches to be published to the PPV VoD platform. This was both my first time working on the backend of a video platform and understanding the effects.
Bear in mind, at this point YouTube had a limit of 10 min/video, no meaningful advertising revenue, and Jutin.tv was still years away. I think my event rate for three days was $200, but the Red Bull Pro Lounge Pass and hotel rooms was made it worth it. To my recollection I overcompensated by consuming 20+ Red Bulls during the weekend. In the weeks after the event I'd hole up in the edit bay in-front of 4 laptops capturing and cutting hundreds of matches from DVD's and tapes to upload to the PPV digital service (MLG.tv 1.0) . That summer was when I first met Shibby, who was in town to film some(1) silly(2) promos(3) during his college break. There was also an initiative to send our pro players capture cards, which while forward thinking, faced too many technical barriers to be viable. Sometimes being early is as good as being wrong.

The MLG Main Stage
MLG Anaheim - June 2006 - This tournament took place the Anaheim Convention Center, which has become somewhat of an esports mecca as a result of the multitude of gaming events it has hosted. (like Blizzcon)

As a high school senior with a restaurant job, I saved for months for a cross country flight and hotel accomidations split across two teams. The event was scheduled to take place the weekend after my graduation, and after staying up all night, I boarded a plane and left for Los Angeles.
My team was pretty mediocre, and if I recall correctly, we ended up placing somewhere in the neighborhood of Top 64 of ~200 teams. The initial plan was to compete with my high school friends, but despite guarantees to the contrary from my team mates, their parents chose not to send their teenagers cross country to a video game tournament. The final standings were pretty good considering this was a last minute team cobbled together with the forums. I remember the power going out during the FFA, allowing me to replay a match I was probably going to lose. My other stroke of luck/genius was getting every pro player and staff member to sign my personalized "J0KR" hoodie. Later on when I applied for an MLG internship, the staff actually remembered who I was as my autograph requests were the first most of them had ever received. Some other memorable moments from the event included Ken being raised and filming cutaways for the upcoming USA TV show.
2006 was a big year for MLG, with a multiple rounds raised and more sponsor interest with Boost Mobile, Gamestop, and Scion signing on.
MLG Meadowland - April 2006 I was fortunate to learn about shady sponsors early on. Meadowlands was another local event, but at the time I was trying to think ahead on how to attend MLG Dallas and Chicago, which would be expensive to travel to. At the time my aunt worked in the corporate office a hotel chain, and she gifted me with a bunch of hotel vouchers. Via the forums or XBL I ended up getting introduced to MoB Godfather who first - promised me a spot on a team, then didn't buy enough passes, then relegated me to coach, and finally struck a deal with me to sponsor my travel to Dallas in exchange for the hotel vouchers. Needless to say I never got that Dallas T&E.
However, the experience outside that malarky was dope. 2006 event's were much larger, more attended, and were being filmed for the USA TV Show. Highlights included meeting LenoxCoolGamer and Oz, playing Halo:CE 2v2's all night with Hellboy and ChaosDaNinja, and getting a bunch of pros to sign my TV. A memory that sticks out was Tsquared showing up to the room and talking about a show he was pitching with Sepso similar to Pimp My Ride in which T2 would play the role of Xhibit. A few years later that would end up turning into another project I would be involved in, the Dr. Pepper Ultimate Gaming House.
MLG 2005 New York Finals - February 2006 (which actually took place in 2006 in New Jersey)

After lurking on the MLG Forums for nearly two years (note to event operators - geographically dense event frequency matters - finding out about a company because of one of their events ..... then waiting two years for the next one is a poor user experience) finally there would be an event within reasonable distance of me. Unfortunately, it was the finals with no open qualifier so I would have to settle in as a spectator.
The 2005 Halo 2 season was incredible, there was massive hype around Halo 2 right after it's launch, sick players, and a 14 event long season that saw Shoot to Kill (aka Team 3D aka Final Boss) win nearly every event they attended. While not being able to play was rough, at least it was the finals I'd get to attend.

It was in the Hyatt Ballroom of Jersey City where I met Sundance, wearing an oversized puffy coat with loudly colored sneakers. The finals featured one of the best Midship Ball endings ever and Team 3D would end up winning the match. This was where I also first met Nexy and Sparrow, both of whom I'd work with for several years. Also Richard Jefferson stopped by.

October 2005, Digital Life - This was roughly a year after Halo 2 came out. I had been playing competitively and was itching for an event outside my high school to compete at. The upcoming MLG event would be the season finals (no open qualifiers) so this was as good as it was going to get.

I remember the distinct feeling of playing some atypical settings (SMG Start?) at a standing station. There was no good finish for me here. Zyos would end up winning the event.
15 Years Later with Walshy at the 2019 LoL All-Star Event
USA Qualifiers for the 2005 WCG Cyber Games - My junior year of High School, I was very devoted to Halo 2. Playing in CAL-I and wishing I could go to an MLG Event. Unfortunately during the winter of 2005 the closest thing I had were WCG USA Qualifiers which featured a 2v2 tournament with Ogre 1 & Ogre 2 facing off against Walshy & Saiyan.

While at the time I was most impacted by winning a free Samsung Digital Camera, this was the very magical event that featured Artosis' Starcraft run, Monte playing WC3, Kim Phan, Day9, Tasteless, and Jax Money Crew. I was fortunate to get to know or work with most of these people later on in my career.

Ogres ended up winning and esports didn't really stick as much with my other three high school buddies.
2004 Summer - The promotional campaign for Halo 2 was an Alternate Reality Game (ARG), that consisted of a sub-plot related to the title's narrative. In practice, it required an online mass to decipher clues that would provide a geolocated coordinates to a payphone and the time of day it would ring. We became aware of it after spending the summer on a Halo Forum where it felt like everyone else was going to participate. The kick-off for this campaign had a high cluster of pay phones in Manhattan, which was pretty close to my North Jersey home.

However during the summer before my Junior Year of High School, going into the city solo was fog-of-war territory within regards to my parents rules. On the one hand I was pretty sure it wasn't allowed, on the other.... they had spent my entire childhood singing praises of the glory of "the City!" After convincing my friend that this would be a great idea, we told our parents we were going for an all day bike ride, and grabbed the train in.

The core milestone of this story is this is likely the first time I physically encountered "people I met on the internet." These were a bunch of 4Chan forum kids, students from Columbia University, and other denizens of the internet that might find recording an audio clip from a payphone exciting. The whole adventure was fun- wandering from the Upper West Side to Midtown, checking out Midtown Comics, and just experiencing the city. The internet people ended up fine, so from this point forward this was no longer a barrier with a stigma or initial thoughts of fear - as my parents frequently alluded to.

My buddy and I still laugh about the story. I think the eventual prize was a disc with an mp3 of the full audio.

i love bees
The prize?
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