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Videogames Wed Dec 11 2013

Chicago Native Heading to Madden Championships

gamersshowdown.jpgGarfield Park native Chris Smith headed to Best Buy at 1000 W. North Ave. on Monday in search of the new Playstation 4. As is typical with the most popular system in a new console cycle, they're nearly impossible to track down. When a store gets them in stock, they typically sell out within a matter of minutes (thanks, Twitter). Try to buy them online, and the only way to secure one is to purchase a bundle of items that jacks the overall price up a few hundred dollars. Nonetheless, Smith was determined to find one.

The "Blue Shirts" at Best Buy told him they didn't have any in stock, but that they were hosting a Madden 25 tournament as part of the Ultimate Gamers Showdown on Tuesday, with promotional giveaways during the event that included multiple $50 gift cards, televisions, and best of all, a new XBox One along with a pair of Playstation 4s.

Smith has played Madden for the last six years, but he hadn't gotten a chance to play it on the new console just yet. He also hadn't participated in a tournament ever before. "My friends always told me I should enter one of these," he said. "I came here today hoping that at the least I'd get lucky and win one of the Playstations they were giving away."

The winner of the tournament got more than just a hard-to-find console, though. It came with a $1,000 gift card as well as an all expenses paid trip for two to Dallas to compete in the final eight of the Ultimate Gamers Showdown on the world's largest column-free interior HD LED video screen that hangs high above AT&T Stadium -- home to the Dallas Cowboys.

With that kind of prize on the line, gamers from across the region flooded into the North Avenue Best Buy. Matt Clark took an 11-hour bus ride from Kansas City, Missouri to take his shot at advancing to Dallas. He arrived just an hour before the tournament began.

"This was the closest regional event I could find," Clark said. "The bus ticket only cost me $50, so it was a pretty easy call. I could've won that back through a gift card giveaway."

Bears All-Pro linebacker Lance Briggs made an appearance during the event to sign autographs and to hit the sticks for a few plays against some Best Buy employees. Though he doesn't grab a controller very often anymore, it draws his interest in a different way.

"I play it few and far between, but I still buy the game to see my rating," Briggs chuckled. "They keep putting me at 78 for a speed rating, and I don't get it! Last year I had a 74 yard interception return against the Cowboys which I exhibited plenty of speed. Give me an 80! I think there are a couple of extra Packers inside the decision room that won't let me be higher than 78."

Briggs' presence didn't distract the gamers though. With $1,000 and a trip to Dallas on the line, it's questionable if anything could draw attention away from their games. Hardcore Madden players typically take about five minutes before each game to set the depth chart and audibles of the team they're using to optimize their plan of attack. It may seem like overkill for games that feature three minute quarters (per competition rules), but you have to take every edge you can when the games are that short.

Clark had played in a few Madden tournaments hosted by Virgin Gaming, and with that experience was able to cruise into the finals using the defending Super Bowl runners up, the San Francisco 49ers. Second prize in Chicago was a $500 Best Buy gift card, so he knew either way he was taking a 1:30am bus back to Kansas City on the plus side.

Smith, on the other hand, was locked into a difficult semi-final match against Elia Daoud. Daoud won his quarter-final game with a touchdown pass as time expired, sending the roughly 50 person crowd into a frenzy as the last seconds were ticked down by event host ITSWINGMAN.

Down 14-7 with no timeouts and under 12 seconds to go, Daoud fired a pass over the middle inside the five-yard line, but was stopped cold by Smith's Seahawks defense just inches short of the goal-line. The clock expired before Daoud was able to get his 49ers team back to the line of scrimmage, and Smith was on his way to the finals.

Chris Smith (left) faces off against Matt Clark (right) in the finals of the Ultimate Gamers Showdown, hosted by Best Buy at 1000 West N. Ave. in Chicago.

Clark (still playing as the 49ers) took the ball to begin the championship game, but was only able to muster a field goal. Smith (Seahawks) responded with a long touchdown pass to Golden Tate to take a 7-3 lead late in the first half. Clark marched down the field running a hurry-up offense with under a minute to go, but chose to go for a touchdown with nine seconds left and no timeouts. His throw over the middle came up short of the goal line, and time expired for the first half with the score staying at 7-3.

Smith took the ball in the second half, and continued his plan that had been successful all night: edge runs with Marshawn Lynch, and when his opponent took control of the free safety to try and stop it, throw a deep ball over the top. It worked again, as Percy Harvin waltzed into the endzone on a 50+ yard deep ball to make it 14-3.

Clark countered with a touchdown pass and successful two-point conversion (good Madden players never screw up end-game scenarios) to make it 14-11, but failed to get the onside kick. Smith bled the clock down with running plays and added a late touchdown and two-pointer to make it 22-11, and took home the title with a clinching interception on the final drive.

From never having played in a Madden tournament before, to representing Chicago in a nationwide tournament, a search for a Playstation 4 turned into a whole lot more for Smith.

"I'll definitely be buying Christmas gifts for my wife (Sheena) and daughter (Zamya) along with some other family members," Smith said. His wife of four years also gets to travel with him to Dallas, where another $1,500 Best Buy gift card awaits the winner of the final eight.

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