[Ed.'s Note: Major League Gaming pro Tom "Tsquared" Taylor weighed in with the first six of these things you should know in the latest issue of The Mag. The rest you'll only find here on espnthemag.com.]
1. EVERYONE IS WELCOME. "There are 16 pro teams in MLG, but you have to win to keep the tag. Most events have two brackets, amateur and pro. As many as 256 teams—four guys to a team—can enter the amateur bracket. If you finish in the top 16, you advance to the pro level and start to earn points. The 16 teams with the most points get to be the pros at the next event. I've been pro since 2003."
2. WE STICK TO OUR STRENGTHS. "My team, Str8 Rippin, competes in Halo 3, which is like the Texas hold 'em of MLG. Everyone has a specialty. Eric 'Snipedown' Wrona is good with a sniper, Bryan 'Legit' Rizzo handles objective work, such as capturing the flag, and Kyle 'ElamiteWarrior' Elam can do it all. I'm the oldest, at 21, so I try to lead."
3. PRACTICE? YEAH, A BIT. "My teammates live all over the country, so sometimes we fly to meet up. We practice by scrimmaging against other teams on Xbox Live anywhere from eight to 16 hours a day. But we've played together so much, we know how to win. It's mostly a matter of outsmarting the other guys."
4. PRO GAMING IS FLUSH. "Str8 Rippin is sponsored by Dr Pepper, and I'm sponsored by Panasonic. In addition to the money, they fulfill our needs for stuff like new equipment and hotel suites. But that's icing on the cake, considering the travel stipends MLG gives the pro teams and the money we make from tournaments. First prize at the national championships in Vegas will be $100,000. If you're good, you can easily make six figures."
5. THE FACE OF GAMING IS CHANGING. "Most MLG players don't fit the stereotype. For one, we're athletic; I try to stay in shape, not just for appearance and health reasons but for confidence when I play. There are also more female gamers. Bonnie 'Xena' Burton was first. She proved girls could compete with guys. And she's great in interviews."
6. WE DON'T CARE. "I'll let other people debate whether or not gaming is a sport. I know it's a competition that we play at a high level against other people who are just as skilled. Ultimately it's a game, just like basketball and football are."
7. IT'S SOME SERIOUS COMP. "Teams can trade or recruit free agents, but rosters lock before tournaments begin. We also have a coach, Zac Lammie. Before matches he studies the gameplay of opponents, and during events he roams behind us, keeping us coordinated and monitoring our power-ups. We make fun of him because we're better than him at the game, but he knows more about Halo than anybody."
8. SCHOOL'S ON THE RADAR, TOO. "It's easier to balance college with gaming because you don't have to get up so early. Eric's in high school, though he still manages to wake up at 6 a.m. for school and then practice Halo until midnight. I've heard of parents getting upset about the idea of their kid being a professional gamer, but then they'll go to a tourney, see the media coverage and realize how legit it all is."
9. "FANS" IS AN UNDERSTATEMENT. "Our fans range from 18-year-old girls to 14-year-old boys to dad groupies who follow you around and want pictures and autographs. We see college kids with body paint and giant signs. It's crazy to think our team logo is recognized by tens of thousands of people aroundthe world. I've even seen MySpace pages on which our logo is the profile photo. It's like, Don't you want a picture of yourself?"
10. PEOPLE ONLY GET HURT IN THE GAME. "No one's been put on the IR yet. After my second tourney I got a blister on my right index finger, my shooting finger. I just put some superglue on it to prevent the blister from coming back. That's the only injury I've suffered. But we do get very tired. There's a lot of mental strain. We need to take frequent breaks and get our sleep."
11. I STILL LOVE TO PLAY. "But there are a lot of opportunities with other MLG league games like Gears of War, Rainbow 6 Vegas 2 or World of Warcraft; I just happened to grow up playing Halo, and that's what they picked for the main game. I don't play anything else during the season; sometimes the settings are different and can throw off your aim. But I look forward to the off-season, when I can take a month off Halo and play all the games that have come out."