Epic Games and Microsoft might wish it were otherwise, but the story behind the next Gears of War game is as much about Gears of War 2 as it is about Gears of War 3. When new installments in video game mega-franchises like Gears are finally unveiled, players usually only care about what's to come. But in the case of Gears 3, what happened with its predecessor – what is, in fact, still happening with it – is nearly as important to gamers as what's next. This week, Epic showed off Gears of War 3's online competitive multiplayer for the first time, and there's a lot to share about what's changed, what's back and what the studio's philosophy is regarding online play. Most of the new information will make Gears of War fans weep with joy. But to understand why, you have to know what they've been through. When Gears of War 2 launched in 2008, matchmaking was painfully slow and sometimes failed entirely. Difficulties with the network code exacerbated the previous game's lopsided host/client-based connection system. The flow from game to game was choppy and full of dead ends. Glitches, bugs and cheating were endemic. Many hardcore Gears of War fans (along with casual fans and newcomers) abandoned Gears 2's multiplayer mode entirely. The community made its voice heard loudly on the official Gears forums and elsewhere on the web. The Hotness Dedicated Servers Host Migration Cloud-based profiles Persistent parties Public Beta in 2011 But rather than stick with the status quo for the final game in the Gears trilogy, Epic has decided to ditch the current host/client system in favor of dedicated servers, run by Epic, that will handle all of the matchmaking neutrally for players worldwide. Gamers can now count on a distant computer to crunch all those ping, latency and bandwidth numbers for them instead of having it done by a single player's code. In theory, dedicated servers should remove one team's advantage over another based solely on internet connection. (This is known in Gears as "host advantage," a phrase uttered in a derisive tone normally reserved for Jar-Jar Binks and Justin Bieber.) When Title Update 6 rolled out for Gears of War 2, Epic began secretly bringing some of these new dedicated servers online and testing them in the real world. Remember that recent match where you were convinced the other team was winning because they had host advantage? Maybe. Maybe not. Dedicated servers are a huge change for Gears of War 3, and that addition alone probably would have satisfied a large contingent of the series' fans and critics. But Epic is going all-out with its multiplayer overhaul, leaving many of the choices made for Gears 2 in the dust. Gears 3 will include true host migration, meaning that if the person who started the game decides to quit (probably because you're beating them too badly), the game is designed to seamlessly choose another player to control the game without skipping a beat. Peer-to-peer voice chat will also be handled by the servers, heading off what Epic anticipates could be some bandwidth limitations in the newest version of Xbox Live. Social matches like the ones introduced in Title Update 6 will be back in Gears 3 and will use the same method of filling in blank spots in the roster with AI bots. Persistent parties will now be a part of the Gears online experience, allowing you and your friends to move between games and modes without having to disband and re-gather after your matches end. And Epic will even be storing your Gears of War 3 profile information on its own servers to prevent some of the file corruption that has occurred in Gears of War 2. Many of these are key features fans have been requesting for years, and they'll completely transform the Gears of War online multiplayer experience. But we haven't even gotten to the good stuff yet.