The Need For Speed Tour Grand Final!
It's not very often members of the public get to put their gaming skills to the ultimate test and compete for a 0,000 sports car, but on Saturday 26th September 50 lucky GAME customers got to do just that in the Grand Finals of our nationwide Need For Speed Tour!
Hosted in the grandiose, bustling confines of the Thorpe Park Dome, this was an event to rival the spectacle of the awesome Nemesis and Colossus, or the tension of a first ride on the park's signature attractions SAW and Stealth.
Fast, flashy and full of sharp twists and breakneck turns, the gameplay of the new Need For Speed, SHIFT, felt instantly at home in the theme park atmosphere, and it wasn't long before Thorpe's Saturday thrillseekers were stopping by on their way to the rides to sample the delights of EA's latest, greatest racing game.
There too were the finalists. Apart from the winner of our online competition, each one had earned their spot with the fastest lap time from one of the 49 GAME Stores which had participated in the competition over the summer. And so, quite rightly, each equally fancied their chances of walking away with the coveted prize - a GAME and NFS-branded sleek silver Nissan 350z.
To paraphrase George Orwell, however, it suddenly became clear that some racers were more equal than others. Three pro gamers had made the final 50, and were regarded as the men to beat - but the competition format still left it wide open for an upset.
See, this wasn't about straight-up racing. Instead, each competitor stepped up to the stage to put down one practice lap and one official lap time on the Brands Hatch cicuit. Racing the same virtual car they were competing to win in real life, the winner wasn't decided by the fastest lap on the day, but instead in knockout format; meaning only the top drivers were left in, round after round. Out on the track on their own with nowhere to hide, and with their whole day potentially turning on one badly-taken corner, the competitors were understandably edgy.
Despite this, they were still happy to find time to chat to us about the game, their chances in the competition, and the other games they were into.
One of the hopefuls was Crewe Store winner Lance Knight, who we caught up with after the morning's heats, as the competition was whittled down from 50 to the elite last 16.
"I've had SHIFT since it came out last Friday, but for my first three laps I was shaking! I'm alright now though. My mate who won the heat at the Romford Store had his go then we went on a ride, then I had my go, had another ride, and that calmed me down". Asked about his chances, however, he didn't look it; "I'm seventh at the moment, but it's gonna be close. All depends who puts it down on the day."
One man who seemed confident in his ability however was ex pro gamer Nick Townsend, who was happy to discuss his gaming roots. "I was a big PGR3 player" he explained "and luckily I was able to impress at an event in Birmingham and joined the London Mint team. Being a pro gamer is another way of life. I used to be one of the people who'd go to LA and compete with people from all over the world. So when CGS (Championship Gaming Series) folded I felt lost, but I'm still vaguely good at games so here I am!"
Curiously however, Nick wasn't so much interested in the 0k-valued prize as he was in the glory. "I've always been underrated against the Dignitas players", he confessed, "So I really want to prove I'm good enough to win. The car would be a nice bonus, though!"
Despite setting the pace after the first round with a speedy 59.906 time, Nick was up against some stiff competition. Pro gamers Ben iveMorris from eSports team The Imperials and Steven tuneEmbling of Team Dignitas also made swift and steady progress through the rounds, and as 16 became 8, and eight became a semi-final of four players, all three [pro gamers] were still in contention.
Before the final we took the chance to catch up with one of the contestants who'd been knocked out in the earlier rounds. "The day's been brilliant", enthused Thom Tyler, the winner from our Basingstoke store. "GAME and EA have done a really good job, it's been a great day out and I don't think anyone goes away from here a loser." With a final lap time of 1:00.94 and an overall position of 12th, he was happy with his performance. "Believe it or not the last day I played the game was when I qualified. To do as well as I did, I can't complain - and full credit to these guys here, they've put in a lot of time."
But it was those all important lap times which mattered most, and in front of a growing crowd it was Nick who cracked first; the one-time pace-setter putting in a 1:00.51 lap and looking instantly deflated. "I didn't deserve to be in the final. I messed up on a corner and couldn't get it back," he winced as Lady Gaga blared out of the PA system.
So Nick was out, as too was his fellow semi-finalist Andrew Dunford, who was incredibly unlucky to clock a sub 1-minute time - 0:59.888 - and still not make the final. And so we were left with the two favourites in the final; both pro gamers; both desperate to take home the top prize.
Considering he'd just proven himself one of the two best Need For Speed players in the country, Steve Embling had a right to feel cocksure. Instead, he actually came across as quite humble and full of praise for his competition Ben, who had trumped him in the final by a meagre four thousandths of a second. "It was always going to be tough; we've had some really great players here today, so getting this far is fantastic. I know Ben; he was nearly a world champion in PGR4 so he's going to be very, very hard to beat."
Ben meanwhile was pulling out the fighting talk ahead of competing for the highest valued prize in his pro gaming career. "Steve's got some experience, but I have as well so it's pretty even. I tell you what though, he looks a little nervous. I am too, but looking at him I think I may have the mental edge."
Before the final, EA rolled out their big guns in the form of future F1 driver Bruno ephew of AyrtonSenna and chart sensation Tinchy Stryder - much to the delight of the crowd of screaming teenage girls, who drowned out even the PA system with their own rendition of his hit 'Never Leave You' (vids are on Facebook). And after watching Tinchy defeat the potential future F1 champ, Steve and Ben made the long walk to the stage to a deafening cacophony of noise and excitement!
It can't have been easy, being on stage with a frenetic circus of celebrities, camera crews, baying screams of encouragement and audible gasps at every potential loose corner. It was hardest for Ben, who seemed to have developed a fan club throughout the day. His lap time of 1:00.334 was evidence of that. He reacted like he'd already lost.
Steven stepped up, knowing a sub 1-minute time would win it. But he looked nervous. An edgy start and a couple of less-than-perfect turns set up up for a tight finish, and as he entered the final straight, the clock ticking down, it looked tight. Very tight. In the end, it came down to hundredths of a second - but Steven had just shaded it, crossing the line in 1:00.111!
Bedlam ensued, as Steven was pulled this way and that for pictures with the two big names and his prize, the Nissan 350z - not bad considering he'd driven to Thorpe Park in a Renault Clio! But between the celebrations and photos, he managed to find a few words to sum up the event. "The pressure was really on, and I think our times showed that. I'm feeling really great - I was quite consistent throughout the tournament, which I was pleased with, but there were a lot of really good people here who poured their heart and soul into this - I'm just glad to come out on top!"
Congrats to Steve, who walked (well, drove) away with the Nissan 350z sports car - and many thanks to Thorpe Park, EA, Tinchy Stryder and Bruno Senna for what turned out to be a day to remember. Keep watching our Competitions page for more opportunities like this in the near future, folks!