Road to Madden Bowl XXI

So Madden Bowl XXI is over, but the road to it was fun and pretty interesting and something I planned to post about, let’s kick it off and run down the timeline.

November 7th, 2014 I wake up to an email invite from GM to sit in on the Connected Car Expo and experience some Q&A and also stay around to check out the LA Auto Show, after CCE there would be some other events including a Madden Competition and a GT6 event down in Hollywood. It was new but it wasn’t out of my wheelhouse, I focus on tech and I’ve been a car and racing enthusiast for ages. I opted in to join in on a new experience and see what I could do in a show like that.

Flash forward to Day 0, Connect Car Expo, meeting the GM team that invited me to the show and getting the thing started. The big promo for the morning, car connectivity, not just through navigation systems and media players in cars but going further with 4G / LTE and hyper awareness of where the car can go. Behind us in the lobby seating zone, a GMC Canyon with 4G sits, it also has a full LCD screen mounted in the tailgate and an Xbox One with Madden connected online. Showcasing the lower latency and ability to play anywhere, it’s a cool feature, probably the greatest tailgate experience if you can swing it too.

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After hearing about many predictions and projects of integrating tech and the driving experience we head out, check out the GMC Canyon in further detail, looking at the interior, talking wi-fi hotspots and Onstar connectivity to the phone for full control of the car. After a quick hop in the cars we head off to Luxe City Center and it all begins, writers and editors for other publications gather in, we snack, watch TV’s get setup and find the details of the competition, the winner of the qualifier will represent GMC in Madden Bowl XXI in Scottsdale, AZ. The room falls a bit silent, I feel the nerves in my hands come alive, I start tapping my feet, I’m eager. I haven’t dedicated myself to football games in a while but I feel confident enough to give it a challenge.

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After a few rides out test driving and shooting photos of the Canyon we come back, some of the numbers for competitors have dwindled down and it all begins. Paired off we play rounds in our bracket until we come to a finale. It’s a strange thing of course, start with relative ease or calm, as the time passes on the hands sweat, the lean forward becomes more clear, breathing focuses and the eyes study the screen while those nerves start to betray with eagerness and hyper activity. It’s a closer match in the final, felt like I was barely going to scrape by on it, with everything on the line though the plays started coming together and the final score hit.

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It was a blank moment, surreal in every sense, everyone excited and I was trying to figure out what happened. I play matches in other games all the time online and at arcades but nothing quite matched up to what just happened because of how big the future of it was. I celebrated a bit, was given a bag of cool goodies including a copy of Madden 15 on Xbox One and the future was all in my hands.

After my days for the LAAS wrapped up I headed back, took a few days and studied the pricing online, given Black Friday was around the corner there were early deals all over, I snagged a base Xbox One (AC Unity Ed) for about 300 at Fry’s with a coupon. From that point on I spent near daily practice on Madden, using my team from the event (Bengals!) learning better play calling, getting more hours in and studying better formation usage so that I wasn’t using spray and pray. While things like the Madden coaching suggestions were a nice starter guide it didn’t make a ton of sense if I was going to play on a bigger stage though.

I studied and talked with Tech2k about my options, about how to target my matches on tighter clocks, what formations would work best and how aggressive my style would be. We went over last-minute adjustments on the line, hot routes and more to create windows where there might be a lack of them.

Finally January was at a close, tons of matches had closed in Madden 15, I had the game pouring out of my eyeballs and we were on the flight to Scottsdale. I was nervous, feeling nauseated and trying to reinforce that I just spent the last few months nonstop playing Madden in dedicated practice periods and in any free moments I had. My Xbox One packed in my carry-on with me and I’d keep going until the final that night.

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After landing it was clear, no going back, there’s no tomorrow it was all on the practice and the final event. We loaded up in a GMC Canyon All-Terrain that GMC had set aside for us to get around in and headed to the hotel. The hours ahead included some mexican food, tea and somewhat sleep deprived practice. After a short nap and a bit more play it was time to head down to the big show. Unfortunately it was also pouring buckets.

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We played that night, a Super Bowl inspired theme with open mods to the teams and playbook. The Madden Bowl fell into 2 areas, the main pro / celebrity area on stage and tents on the back section where we played out of the back of a Canyon, it was an odd scenario, it all started that way and it was all ending that way. As the rain came down we played on though and eventually in the battle of EA vs GMC… well.

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I guess that says it all right? It was a harder challenge going Seahawks vs Patriots given I hadn’t really practiced using either, my opponent was someone who felt at home in their game, trying to make quicker calls, playing tough and scoring early. We went in 5 minute quarters and in those first 2 I wasn’t able to make it happen. In the second half we kept going, those nerves were alive again and I was full of bad reactions, random tosses of the ball still and I wasn’t connecting. With some calm breaths and focus I found my pocket though, a blitz where I went play action with a decent pass, there wasn’t anyone in the backfield and it charged home. I didn’t get too eager, with the game tied I played it safe and kicked.

The remaining game was wide open and it would be on my defense to hold the ball in the midfield to avoid a field goal. As we clashed on it was a universal sentiment that we would probably head into overtime, both sides seemed pretty confident as our defenses allowed little traction and the punts were piling up. On a lucky break through the Seahawks came to life for me, we broke through in the last-minute, Lynch being a critical point breaking through just enough for the conversions, it was adding up, with slants and rushing helping edge us up we got a clear pass that forced me to stop the clock. It was a 38 yard shot, well within the kicking range of the match. Launched off it was a good shot and we left 5 seconds on the clock. After the punt and kneel there was one play left, a long bomb Brady hail mary shot, with no room to get any play in it was the only one in the bag, he shot off and connected but the deep defense was there and plowed him out around the 40 leaving our matchup to end.

The entire experience was surreal, I still look back on it now wondering if that just really happened. Then I look over at the Xbox One and it’s an obvious reminder yes it did happen and it was very exciting. Winning with GMC was a really cool thing that I can mark down and always remember. It’s a testament that with time and effort you can pull off amazing things and that any opportunity has the potential to bring so much more.

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