When Tom Ryan entered his first video game tournaments, teams had to bring their own TVs to help promoters supply the event.

When Tom Ryan entered his first video game tournaments, teams had to bring their own TVs to help promoters supply the event.

These days, the screens are provided. And they're usually plastered with names of corporate sponsors.

"It's entirely different," said Ryan, 24, an elite pro gamer from Pickerington who's known by the tag name OGRE 2. "I started playing in tournaments on the national level in 2003. It's funny looking back on it."

Players there from the beginning also are looking forward - and wondering how massive pro gaming can get.

This weekend, the world's best players will convene in Columbus for a stop on the pro circuit organized by Major League Gaming, an operation that has exploded during its eight-year history. It's actually similar to other sports leagues - and even has its own high-energy preview show.

"The guys who started it were big gaming fans," league spokeswoman Katie Goldberg explained. "They were also businessmen and really into sports. They wanted to create something along the lines of NASCAR and the NFL."

The MLG is well on its way.

This season, events will be held in enormous venues with sponsor booths, giant projector screens and rabid fans who rally around famous gamers requested to sign autographs after matches.

"Every event sells out," Ryan said. "A lot of people just don't even know it's going on. That just shows how big it could get if more and more people keep hearing about it."

Players compete in "Halo: Reach" on Xbox 360, "Call of Duty: Black Ops" on PlayStation 3 and "StarCraft II" on PC. Prize money and stipends awarded through the six MLG events this season will total more than $1 million.

"You have to go to really understand it," Goldberg said. "These guys are so talented, and the spectators are as die-hard as those in any major sport out there."

Already the most successful player in league history, Ryan will attempt to win another title playing in the "Halo" tournament with Instinct, a new four-person team. Before the upcoming event in his hometown, he resumed his rigorous training schedule.

"We practiced just about every night for the last month, month and a half," he said. "You try to get online as much as possible. Once you get within two or three weeks of the event, you're literally pushing everything else aside, and you're playing at least four to six hours."

Last weekend, Instinct traveled to Chicago to practice in person against other top teams. They took first place.

"I love the competition, the tourneys, the rivalries," Ryan said. "I'm sort of just riding the wave and seeing where it takes me."