MLG showcases Halo 2 because it’s so damn popular. But it’s also more visually compelling: the 3-D visuals of a first-person shooter game like Halo 2 are more accessible than Smash’s surreal 2-D world of purple glowing fountains and twin Eskimos with mallets.
But in the end, will people want to watch other people play video games the way they want to watch NASCAR?
“Everyone in my generation and younger now is playing video games as they grow up,” says 21-year-old Sam Lingle, the editor in chief of the gaming site Amped Sports, who’s covered this MLG season. “So, when we get older, there’ll be a bigger market for spectating video games. So far, they still haven’t reached out as much to the mainstream. They’re trying to get there with I guess the TV show and stuff, but I’m not sure that the average Halo player across the nation knows about it.”
If they don’t already, Sepso thinks they will soon. “Five years, MLG’s bigger than action sports. Bigger than poker. It’s also worldwide. We just started this year — and next year we’ll be expanding pretty rapidly — the end of next year, there will be MLG circuits in other countries. In five years, you’re really talking about your third global championship happening. And we can only go planet-wide. So far.”
Before the New York playoffs, the rankings of MLG’s Smash top five singles, based on the results of five previous 2006 tournaments, stand like this:
1) Ken. The most famous Smasher ever, Ken Hoang has his own Wikipedia entry. He’d never finished lower than second at an MLG event until KoreanDJ defeated him in Orlando, where he came in fifth and Azen finished first. Consider him vengeful.
2) Chu Dat. Spiky-haired Daniel “Chu Dat” Rodriguez is the pretty boy of Smash, bearing a striking resemblance to Phil of the Future heartthrob Ricky Ullman. As a player, the 19-year-old is famous for double-teaming opponents as the Ice Climbers, a team of boy and girl twin Eskimos named Bobo and Nana who behave as one character even though they appear as two. As a result, friends often cheer him on with words that sound like baby talk: “Go Chu, you don’t need Nana!” He’s listed on one Florida kid’s MySpace profile as a hero beside Bill Clinton.
3) PC Chris. A friendly, floppy-haired ex-skateboarder, he looks like a younger Ashton Kutcher. PC Chris, who is a 19-year-old freshman at Westchester County Community College, was signed by MLG earlier this year after he toppled Ken in a major first-place upset. He met his girlfriend Lilian, a 16-year-old high-school senior from Connecticut, at a Smash event. About a year ago, his GameCube broke and he re-gifted his copy of Smash to a friend, so he doesn’t even own the video game he plays professionally.
4) Mew2King. Pro gamers usually despise the nerd stereotype, but Jason Zimmerman, a 17-year-old from New Jersey, embraces the typecast. Pale-skinned with wire-rimmed glasses and dirty blonde hair, he’s spent more than 1000 hours compiling a “super in-depth hardcore nerdy” AOL site of video game statistics, which he prefaces by writing, “I pretty much have no life but video games.” He also dabbles in Halo, lists the date he got Xbox Live (March 31, 2005), and can tell you how long Super Princess Peach’s tossed turnips last onscreen in Smash (2.33333 seconds). In the VIP area at MLG New York, he drinks so much free Red Bull that he gets cut off.