The mechanics are pretty simple. The first part of the Challenge is a three-month, persistent qualifying tournament hooked into the Virgin Gaming platform; once you join, you can start anytime and get matched against other similar players that are online when you are. According to Virgin Gaming CEO Rob Segal, that’s one of the big advantages the Challenge Series has to anything that’s come before.
“People are able to join online and play their favorite game from the comfort of their own home on their own schedule,” Mr. Segal told us over the phone. “For the first time, we’ve got a platform that’s safe, secure, and automated, but doesn’t force people to play in a leaderboard or bracket model. You just win enough games against other qualifiers – whenever you feel like playing – and you’re moving on to the next round.”
“At its essence, the Challenge Series is a product for the masses,” explained Virgin Gaming’s CMO Joe Versace. “The technology allows anybody to come in and play. You can win 10 games and gain entry to the Finals through a free pass, or you can get there with 6 wins through our $10 pass. You don’t need to be the best gamer in the world, and you don’t have to make the sacrifice of traveling to a location playing in a live event. We’re doing all the pre-qualifiers through hundreds of thousands of matches online, then sending the best 1,000 people to the Finals in New York City.”
Losing a game in qualifying will end your run, but you can enter as many times as you like. The cockiest (and richest) players can bypass qualifying altogether; by plunking down $400, anyone can gain immediate access to the Finals. In addition, GameStop is offering trips to the Finals through their own tournaments for PowerUp Pro members. However you make it to Manhattan, you don’t have to win the grand prize to walk away with some cash.
“We want the Finals to be a real celebration of sports gaming,” continued Mr. Segal. “You don’t have to win the entire thing to have a great experience and make some money. If you win a couple of games, chances are you’re going to at least get your money back and have the experience of a lifetime.”
At first, the decision to go exclusively with PlayStation 3 seemed curious to us. The mechanics of such a large tournament actually made it an easy decision, according to Mr. Segal.
“When a program of this magnitude is concentrated on a single platform, it performs much better,” he said. “We thought long and hard about this, and made the decision to move forward with Sony. They recognize how important competitive gaming is and have been working with us very closely to make this happen. That’s not to say down the road it won’t be different – we’re in discussions with Microsoft and it’s our expectation to have something for Xbox players in the coming months – but in the past, the programs that have worked the best were those that were exclusive to a single platform.”
“We think this is the next big thing in sports gaming,” he concluded. “It’s the results of months and months of hard work, and it’s a great opportunity for the video game industry to take a step forward and move into the limelight.”
The specific prize pool is a cool $400,000 each for FIFA 12 and Madden 12, while NHL 12’s pool is at $200,000. For more information, and to sign up, check out www.easports.com/challengeseries.