Getting ready to run it back with a new title.
If you dared to push further with "esports" people would look as if a horn was growing out of your head.

At 20, I was on a very different path than everyone I had grown up with. They were away at college, I was trying to figure out this MLG thing. "Start-up" had not yet entered the mainstream lexicon and carried very little cache. Saying "the NFL of video hames" incurred raised eyebrows. If you dared to push further with "esports" people would look as if a horn was growing out of your head. It was hard to be taken seriously outside a core group who were on a very similar path.

Familiar Faces
Flamesword attended the same school as me around this time. We'd see each other twice a week running between classes.

I did my best to hype him up back at the office, but during these early years I got a lot of: "Flamesword... that's a dumb name."
Despite all this it was clear the potential was high and other priorities like going to class lost out. At this point I was still attempting to do both, but the comparision was grossly unfair. One took me to the midtown Manhattan office where I got to hear Harvard MBA's debate Sundance about a sky rocketing industry. The other, was the most disinfranchising experience of my life.

There were three types of people at community college:
  • Burn outs
  • Bright people seeking to transfer
  • Old people with old lives I couldn't relate to
They were all trying to get out as fast as possible and the whole experinece felt like one of those meetings no one wants to attend. The only glimmer of hope were the three days a week I spent at the MLG office and the events we hosted across the country.

Twenty was also that very awkward age that came right before twenty-one. Everyone older was at a bar, everyone the same age was away at college, and hanging out with anyone younger came with the stigma of being the "old creepy guy."
Event weekends were a massive outlet and a lot of my attention was focused on extracting the maximum amount of fun from the tour. Back then I mostly wanted to have stories that could compete with the collegiate frolics. Looking backwards, I was fortunate that my journey provided a diverse slice of Americana. That year we hit Charlotte, Dallas, Chicago, Orlando, Las Vegas, Toronto, and my home turf of "the Meadowlands."
We were operating on a 3 year old game while the world had moved onto the Xbox 360 and was awaiting the imminent release of Halo 3.
My identity got rooted in gaming culture during an anxiety filled "console transition year." For two years Halo 2 had been a supercharger for MLG, but now there was uncertainty. The Halo community was fragmenting across the slow roll out of Perfect Dark, Gears of War, Rainbow 6, and Call of Duty.

In real time we were watching our previously unassailable position deterioriorate. And in order to continue to run the best esports tournaments, Halo 3 had to include a very specific set of features. It was nerve wracking to be on such unstable footing.
MLG was an industry entrypoint

The field of competitors heading into the the Great Recession
There was also a growing field 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, both companies made plays across tv, streaming, Xbox, Playstation, and a wide variety of partnerships. Luckily we had the advantage of an opponent focused on television, who only had the wrong combinations of games and 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

In early 2011, DJWheat provided this response to an article titled: "StarCraft is Too Big for TV to Ignore | SixJax Gaming." One of the more fun Reddit posts to come out of the CGS fiasco, especially with the context of what happened after.

Marcus was coming off off CGS and his understanding of the TV problem was only matched by his passion to not have to live through it again. The conviction to convince a bunch of executives that we should give tournament operators "infinite airtime" can only be born out of something like the failure of CGS.

The launch of Twitch finally gave esports the breathing room to tell their stories in a way that made sense to the community.

It also provides a different perspective to the line "failing upwards." Failures are a part of the journey.This was fuel for the early days of Twitch.
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.
Under the watchful eye of a leadership team fresh from AOL, we began building our cultural cache through investments into both mainstream and esports culture. In the mainstream , superstar Gilbert Arenas became the "owner" of Final Boss. His financial support allowed the team to have their pick of the litter whenver 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 recieved 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 for us 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.

A great example that newer was not necessarily better.
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.
MLG event weekends were a rituatlized ~5 day affair full of familiar rhytmns. Our video team would arrive ahead of the public to prepare for a weekend of broadcasts and production. The days would be filled with some aspect aspect of networking, recording, power, set up, and whatever else 2-3 broadcast centers, 30-50 (?) competitive stations and several hundred teenagers could come up with. We executed events in the face of a comically large amount of natural disasters and unexpected challengers.

After the season opener in Charlotte, a hurricane caused flight cancellations forcing some of us to extend our hotel stay.
As the last representatives of our people, we encountered a highly increased level hostility from the hotel staff. Throughout that Monday they had begun discovering the damage an unsupervised group of teenagers hopped up on caffeine, alcohol, and video games could do. In attempts to find anyone responsible to whom a bill could be sent to, we were made privy to some trully awe inspiring levels of destruction.
Halo was definitely the favorite child on the circuit. Broadcasts for games like Gears and Rainbow would share a "leaner" operations that was set up, broken down and networked by the same people who cast, switched, and mixed it. Many times we would also end up sharing rooms together. It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. These were some fun events and where a lot of people in the industry got their start.
Events were punctuated by family style dinners and hotel room LANs with more people arriving each night. Thursday you'd try to go easy. Either you had three long days of work ahead or you were trying to stay sharp for the first day of competition. Everyone had stuff to do Friday, and there was a level of respect if someone wanted out. There were people that were always out and people you would never see. There was little correlation between these two groups and results.
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 prizes
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.
She has been nominated for an Academy Award, two Grammy Awards, and the Mercury Prize
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. Those who are out by Saturday night go party and those who are go quiet to stay in game shape. 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 Vegas 2007
All of this gameplay had to be recorded and published. Our solution at that time were physical recorders that spawned several spools of DVDs each event. My role was to make sure that hundreds of matches and games across 4 or more titles were captured, logged, and published. Lenox and I had a room with 8 stations transcribing and uploading gameplay for days on end. The fact that we were watching hundreds of hours of gameplay on eight scenes concurrently made us extremely valuable to future content development aspirations. Our roles in managing the PPV and VoD quickly expanded to new franchises 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. This is the genesis of a general thesis that esports usually walks so that creators can run.

Maintaining our gameplay archive was a position that came with some community perks. When the pros started finding out who was in charge of deciding the gameplay upload order, I got inundated with friend requests from players I continued to be a fan of. Eventually I had a pretty decent relationship with every player and team on the circuit. Fans on the forums would also wonder why some names had their games always posted in the first wave, regardless of results. I got intel on team changes, scrim results, and montage release drops. One of the cooler perks was getting early previews of the Walshy montage from Peridious when he'd be at the office. People would ask me what I thought of their roster move before it happened.
This feels like a pretty good mile marker to recognize the cultural impact of the Halo montage.

Think deeply about the state of internet culture in 2007.

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

We were 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 around this time but adjusting to accomodate a new game well is hard and expensive. MLG was slow to invest and as a result CoD had fewer of the live event associated advantages than Halo.

Without as many big broadcasts and tournaments, top CoD players turned to YouTube as the outlets to build their reputation on. 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 was one of the few organizations able to collect ad revenue from Google. The success of CoD Commentaries served as a subsequent blueprint for Starcraft commentaries, which were the transition point into Twitch livestreaming. I'm not saying we wouldn't have streaming without Halo (or CS) montages, but it's hard not to respect their contribution to the content evolution.
The general tone of 2007 was preparing for whatever Halo 3 would bring.

There was a lineup of solid Xbox 360 titles that gave us a few 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 such a strong impression that when in 2018 the concept was re-introduced to me through Project A (VALORANT), it was a no-brainer the new Riot shooter would take off.

A bunch of us were a core part of the beta testing community in Shadowrun and many of the in-game bots were named after us. Jokr, Synide, EnragedGnome and EA are all names that appeared in the game. It came out at a time when top Halo pros were looking for a title to practice with a 360 controller and we restructured our events to accomidate 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.

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 power can strangle a title. The Microsoft marketing machine never really gave Shadowrun a chance and once the culture shifted back with Halo 3, the momentum for Shadowrun hit a brickwall. This wasn't by design, but illustrated the impacts of publisher support and neglect played on the success of any esport.
A bunch of us were a core part of the beta testing community to the point where many of the in-game bots were named after us. It came out at a time when top Halo pros were looking for 360 controller practice and we restructured our events to accomidate 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.
The final leg of the season required us to concurrently run both Halo 2 and 3. Two massive workstreams, one to fullfill our promise and one critical our future. I thought a lot about this time while working on the VCT's transition year.

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 like fire across the entire Halo community reinforcing our brand equity. 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 came out that year and he would go on to have massive influence over esports later on.

Also CPL ran a $1M tournament. I'm not sure if anyone ever got paid for it.
Charlotte 2007
These late stage Halo 2 events are a great example of what regionality looked like in early esports. It mirrored a lot of what was shown in the 11 countries of the USA. Top teams were top teams because they had top players. But a little below that teams were clustered around geographic groups.

There was a strong showing from Michigan with Walshy, Mackeo, Victory, Tupac, Fiddy, Ray, and JRG clustering around teams like Agency, Icons, and NLR.

Legendz was a core that originated from a Maryland LAN center.

There was a cluster of competitors from Texas and the West Coast. 5k was from some cornfields in the midwest.

Fans from those regions found this to be an authentic representation of themselves and their communities. This wasn't a rule, so much as it was something that happened.
2007 MLG Pro Circuit
MLG Charlotte
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meadowlands 2007 - same venue, worst catering, little halo village of tons of hotels
whole new set of teams
Photo shoot with Karma, Tsquared, and Walshy
Obama photo at construction site
hotel with a central shaft
new logo
two story pro lounge
boost mobile tour
saiyan team detach/boo
FB signed by Gilbert Arenas
Picked up Strongside
Staying late after the event with Dan Choesich and Jason
Lenox was the intern's intern
beating saiyan & neighbor with GI Factor
5k showing up - never doubt the online warriors
logos for teams during the offseason
MLG game that never came to be - with advertising on the chest
discussion about flying in all the pros
VoD Room
pro player stipends
sponsors - Stride?
got frag purchase - scoots
Sands Expo Center - Rainbow6, Sitting at the Airport with Cloud after his win, Halo 2 season finish after 360 release, winning the Xbox by being able to name the prophets, kid cudi launch party
Poop in the Elevator, Beat Nieghbor & Sayian, Hurricane or flight delay with Dan Choseich and Jason Met Scoots here building a thing lots of AOL hires built a network with profiles match commentaries and profile pieces blogs
Seeing the pivot to XBOX 360 - Halo 3 - September 25, 2007

Championship Gaming Series
dallas 2007 -
became really familiar with big hotel ballrooms filled with TV monitors
running around hot tubs
hilton anitole
locker room - which gave us great lines like "we just need to shoot back"
Gandhi was considered one of the best snipers
Smoke is a collection of airborne solid and liquid particulates and gases emitted when a material undergoes combustion or pyrolysis, together with the quantity of air that is entrained or otherwise mixed into the mass.
It is commonly an unwanted by-product of fires (including stoves, candles, oil lamps, and fireplaces), but may also be used for pest control (fumigation), communication (smoke signals), defensive and offensive capabilities in the military (smoke-screen), cooking, or smoking (tobacco, cannabis, etc.).

chicago 2007 - pheasunt run, outside of the city, recently shut down, mainstay for FGC, got booze after a long walk
orlando 2007 - astro headset prototype
all kinds of weird results
Strongside giving away shirts
vegas 2007 - mimi getting us upgrades to the Venetion
new tv show

boost mobile - str8 sick winning side station
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