Have Gun, Will Travel

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

Didn't affect his gaming, though. He dominated his quarterfinal and semifinal opponents the next day; in the semifinal match, Sebastian Droschak, from Germany, failed to score a point.

Zyos faced Triana for the championship. Triana had beaten out Dave Walsh to get there, the American some viewed as better than Zyos. But Zyos had already beaten Triana, and he'd learned something while watching the Canadian's other games: Whenever his match was the match displayed on the movie-style projection screen, the one hanging down from the roof so the thousands in attendance could watch from a distance rather than huddle around the television on which their favorite gamer played, whenever his match was the featured one, Triana would get nervous, play tentatively, be afraid to make a mistake with God and all of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium watching.

And if any match were to be on the projection screen, Zyos thought, it would be the championship one.

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.

"Dad," he said before the match started, when Steve Leto worried his presence might screw up his son's concentration, "I've got this one."

Zyos was right. Triana was too nervous to eat before the match, and during it, as Andrew Mayeda of the Citizen wrote, "in a number of key confrontations, he couldn't finish Leto off despite having the advantage."

Zyos won 15-9 and 15-11, the fist pump he gave at the end the only real show of emotion from the whole tournament. Another $20,000 check was his. From October to October, factoring in the money he'd won from MLG, Matt Leto now made more playing video games than most people did in their first year out of college.

And he still had the MLG Championship in New York to consider.

He got to New York at four in the morning sick as all get-out. Leto spent the next few hours between the bed and the bathroom of his hotel suite. Then it was off to the MLG Championship, to which only the top-ranked players were invited.

The MTV and MLG people had wanted him to come earlier than the night before. MTV needed preliminary footage of Leto for the documentary on Halo 2 it would later air, and it would really be great, really help the piece along, if Leto agreed to come a couple of days in advance. But Leto didn't agree. Said he needed to practice with his team, the Filthy Jackalopes, in Detroit. Said he wanted to be on top of his game. This from the guy who'd won WCG 2004 two weeks earlier.

So he stayed in Detroit. Stayed until he had to go, drove from Detroit to Manhattan--13 hours across the country, carrying with him what would later be diagnosed as food poisoning.

The sickness "was coming out of everywhere," MLG's Erik Semmelhack says. In the morning, he took Leto to get a cup of coffee, then sat him down in the VIP section near the sound stage on West 12th Street where the tournament was about to begin.

He wore his winter jacket while he played. In the Free For All, the event where it's every man for himself, every man trying to score as many kills as possible while getting killed the fewest times possible, where two, four or 10 gamers can gang up on one to take him out, where it makes sense to do that--especially to Zyos, ranked first for the year in the Free For All--Zyos nonetheless took the early lead. And never looked back.

To win the Free For All as Zyos won it, finishing some 20 kills better than the next gamer, "that's just, like, unheard of in any tournament setting," Adam Apicella, the vice president of operations for MLG, told MTV. "Let alone against seven of the best tournament players in the world. He just dominated the game, and I've never seen really a performance like that."

The win meant a bye into the Final Four of the single-player tournament. Dreary-eyed--even when the MTV cameras were on him--he advanced to the championship match. And then won that 15-8.

"Yes!" he yelled, and pumped his fist a couple of times.

The weekend went well. An $8,000 check for his first-place finish in the single-player tournament. A $15,000 endorsement from Nokia for taking first. A $2,000 check for finishing the season ranked first overall. A $5,000 check to the Filthy Jackalopes for finishing second in the four-on-four tournament. (Fittingly, Zyos had a new team by December.)

And the money keeps coming. Semmelhack says Zyos is looking at "mid-five figures" in endorsements alone this year. And with MLG's tournament purse of $250,000 in 2005, Matt Leto, college dropout, professional Halo player, should be a six-figure 22-year-old by year's end.

"I am lucky," he says. "But it takes a lot of skill, too."

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