By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 17, 2010; 10:57 PM
It's the year 2552. Humanity is at war with alien invaders. The Noble Team, an experienced group of soldiers, must fight to protect the planet Reach.
Bravely manning the controls are four dudes who met playing video games online. Their coach paces back and forth behind them, calling out when an enemy force is spotted, announcing deaths and kills, making sure players are using the proper weapons and encouraging his troops forward in the newly released game "Halo: Reach."
"Some gamers aren't always very loud, so it helps to have someone do the call-outs for them," explained Roxanne Spenceley, 24, as she watched her boyfriend, Kurt Sorrell, compete at the national video game tournament in National Harbor on Sunday. (Spenceley is better known by her gamer tag, Aphrodiite. She did not want to mention Sorrell's tag, as it might offend pop singer Katy Perry.)
This weekend 2,500 amateur players from around the country gathered at the Gaylord National Hotel and Convention Center for the Major League Gaming Pro Circuit and Doritos Pro-Gaming Combine.
During the three-day tournament, more than 10,000 spectators stopped by to watch gamers face off in a half-dozen video games, including "Halo," "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" and "World of Warcraft."
Major League Gaming, which was founded eight years ago, hosts a handful of tournaments each year that allow gamers to meet up in person and compete for thousands of dollars in prizes (plus nerdy bragging rights).
In the early days, gamers would drag in their own TVs, said Raymond Lau, 25, who manages professional players and a few sponsors. Today, there is state-of-the-art equipment, and top contenders compete on a brightly lit main stage surrounded by bleachers. Gamers at Sunday's event also could have their playing skills critiqued by pros, attend seminars and try out the game Killzone 3, which has yet to be released.
This weekend's tournament brought together a crowd that confirmed many stereotypes associated with video gaming: thousands of guys in their late teens and early 20s. Lots of hoodies. Lots of bulky headphones. And very few women (other than the handful in short black skirts handing out soda).
Sponsors included brands already popular among gamers: Doritos, Hot Pockets and Dr Pepper. It also included brands that girlfriends of the players (okay, or their moms) might wish were more associated with gaming: Old Spice, Bic Flex4 razors and Stride gum.
This was the first time a national tournament has featured "Hal0: Reach," which was released about a month ago. That didn't give gamers much time to train. Still, more than 250 teams signed up, selling out the bracket and causing the first night of matches to last until 2 a.m.
"That's the hottest thing right now. Everyone's going to every event for it," said Joel Acosta, 27, a Florida Highway Patrol dispatcher better known by his tag, Lose. "Everyone really, really likes this one because it's like the old classic" versions of Halo, which first debuted in 2001.
Acosta's team, Resurrect, came together while playing online. He's from Miami, and his teammates are from Canada, Missouri and Colorado. Since it's difficult to coordinate practices across multiple time zones, the team decided to gather with other teams Thursday night for a "land practice."
But one of the guys driving down with a monitor and game system crashed his car, totaling it and smashing up his equipment, Acosta said. (He seemed to be fine, and got a spare car and made it to the competition.)
That meant some last-minute improvising at the Gaylord.
"I broke one of the TVs off the wall and took it to another room so we would have enough screens," he explained. "I had to. I had to practice."
Practice, practice, practice - it was a mantra uttered by several gamers when asked what makes a good team.
For the High Fives team, that means four to six hours of practice each day in the weeks leading up to a tournament. Scott Belanger, the team's coach, graduated from Georgia Tech this spring and landed an electrical engineering job at an Air Force base. A full-time job meant he couldn't practice as much, but he suddenly had more money to spend traveling to tournaments.
Hence, why he got into coaching.
"This is not my job," said Belanger, 23, who lives outside Atlanta and is known online as Sscoob. "I have a double life. I have my Halo friends, my gaming friends, and then I have my normal friends . . .some of them think I should have never touched a video game controller."