Have Gun, Will Travel

How far can a video-game champ go? Ask Matt Leto.

The weapons one uses--pistol, shotgun, rocket launcher, what have you--are the same for both single- and multiplayer tournaments and are found throughout a level's landscape. Zyos discovered that certain weapons are made available at certain parts of levels at certain times. But the times when they're available never change. In other words, it's clockwork. Zyos put a clock above his television one day, ran to the right spots, waited for the weapons to materialize and collected them all before his opponent could get any. Easy game. Today, in 2003, it's the most common exploit known to Halo players.

Still, despite his genius, Zyos' parents remain skeptical. They doubt their son will ever make a living playing video games. They doubt the promises of MLG. Yet here he is in a packed auditorium in Seoul, South Korea, with thousands more watching him over the Internet, with a chance at $20,000. For Zyos, it's a start.

He focuses the rocket launcher's scope onto the right half of the window. Seconds pass. Hebbada hasn't studied the different levels as thoroughly as Zyos, doesn't know that by walking in front of this window, he's inadvertently walking into the line of...

The legions of Matt Leto's fans across the world are never more than a message board away.
Mark Graham
The legions of Matt Leto's fans across the world are never more than a message board away.
Above: Leto at work (or is it play?) alone in his room. Below: the tools with which he makes his money.
Mark Graham
Above: Leto at work (or is it play?) alone in his room. Below: the tools with which he makes his money.

A blast from Zyos' gun. And the game is over. The thousands in attendance, watching the action on a projection screen, cheer.

One year and two months later, sitting in his parents' living room in Allen, Matt Leto says, "That [win] changed everything." Changed his parents' perception of his dream, changed the way in which he practiced--if anything else, he became more obsessive, more thorough after World Cyber Games 2003. He gave himself to Halo.

The year that followed Seoul was a blur of frequent-flyer miles and first-place checks. By the time San Francisco hosted World Cyber Games 2004 in October, Leto had won roughly $10,000 in MLG tournaments, in both single and team play. He'd also formed and disbanded seven teams, because, despite their success, they still didn't live up to Leto's expectations. And he'd dropped out of Collin County Community College, because he could stand to win $40,000 more at WCG San Francisco and the MLG Championship in New York if he practiced nonstop.

It started in 2000, and 2004 marked the first year any city outside Korea hosted the World Cyber Games. Roughly 700 gamers from 60 countries qualified for the five-day, eight-game event. San Francisco held it in the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, next to City Hall. There was $412,600 in total purses.

Leto's family came. Steve and Rhonda, younger sister Megan and brother Taylor. It was the first time any Leto would watch Matt in person. He'd breezed through the qualifying rounds in Miami and Long Beach, California. He was the favorite to win WCG again. Wherever he went in San Fran, a camera crew from Worldsport HD followed, shooting footage for a documentary on the Games.

Zyos beat his first opponent, Nelson Triana of Canada, 15-1. Then Yoonho Choi of South Korea, 15-3. Even if he lost his next match, against fellow American Stephen Booth, Zyos would advance. The first day of Halo at WCG is a round-robin of four players per bracket, and no one else was 2-0 with one match left.

Zyos lost his match to Booth 15-6. The loss had its upside, though. It meant both Americans would advance to the championship bracket. But the gamers watching, especially the Canadian Nelson Triana, now eliminated from the next round, thought something wasn't right. Why had Zyos, normally a conservative player, one who waited for his opponents to expose themselves, become the aggressor against Booth, accidentally running into his fire? And weren't the two, away from the controllers, friends? And to prepare for WCG, hadn't Leto flown to Seattle and spent a week practicing at Booth's house? Maybe they'd formed some sort of pact up there, to make sure they both advanced.

Andrew Mayeda covered WCG 2004 for the Ottawa Citizen. He quoted three gamers who thought Leto threw the game. He talked to one of the match's referees, "and I have to be careful how I phrase this," Mayeda says, "but I suspect he thought that Matt threw the game, too."

The referee in question is Cody Walker, also a Canadian. Leto says, "Look, both of the referees were Canadian. Nelson was Canadian. The map"--the individual level on which his match against Booth was played--"is almost like a coin toss as to who wins it. Winning on that map is based more on luck than skill. It's completely false that I threw the match...I lose games. Just to say I'm unbeatable is wrong." No, there was no pact between him and Booth, he says. And Booth's practicing against him for a week--could it not mean that Booth had learned in that time how to beat Zyos?

In any case, in a decision they refused to explain, WCG officials ordered another round-robin among Zyos, Booth and Triana.

Zyos and Triana advanced.

That night Triana drove to Best Buy and bought a television so he could practice on his own. He went to bed around 4 a.m. Zyos was up that late, too. But he wasn't practicing; he'd prepared enough for WCG. He was playing poker.

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