Box Score is a weekly column that offers a look at sports games and the athletic side of the industry from the perspective of veteran reviewer and sports fan Richard Grisham.
Eight people will gather in New York City this May, and one of them will walk away changed forever.
For the third year in a row, 2K Sports is running a contest to give away a million dollars to someone who plays its latest baseball game. Unlike the past two seasons, though, this year’s version (tied to the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of MLB 2K12) opens the door to a much wider group of potential winners – then pits eight of them against each other in head-to-head matchups to crown a champion. A very, very rich one.
To someone like me – as well as a nation of like-minded sports gamers – the two-day tournament at the MLB Fan Cave in Manhattan is more compelling than any reality show or scripted drama. This isn’t 10 grand we’re talking about; it’s a million freaking dollars. The pressure and the intensity of the moment have the potential to be groundbreaking. Frankly, it’s something I’d pay to see.
“I love hearing that,” laughs Jason Argent, 2K Sports’ Vice President of Marketing. “We think so too, but it’s good to know we’re not breathing our own exhaust. Everyone we’ve talked to feels the same way.”
In order to make it to the Big Apple, though, there’s work to be done. You first need to qualify by pitching a perfect game in a special game mode designed for the contest. In the past, contestants had to go through a lot of hoops to document and submit their perfect game to 2K Sports – and do it very quickly.
“It’s about quality over speed now. In past years, it was the first person to throw a perfect game,” Argent recalls. “This year, it’s about the quality of that perfect game – and you’ve got two months to go for it. Also, in the past, you had to videotape the submission. We’ve done away with that this year. I think that was the biggest barrier, and that’s now gone.”
Starting on Opening Day and running through April 30, MLB 2K12 will have an option tied to its MLB Today mode, letting anyone log in and try his or her hand at it. Each real-world matchup can be used, and tougher challenges will be rewarded with higher scores if you manage to throw a perfect game.
“There’s a proprietary algorithm that has been developed,” continues Argent. “It measures multiple, different aspects of the game; the main one is difficulty. If you throw a perfect game against a really great offense with a low-rated pitcher, your score will be much higher than someone who throws a perfect game with a very high-rated pitcher against a not-so-good offense.”
Strategies will be interesting. Obviously, you have to get at least one gem to qualify, so some people will assuredly search for the best pitchers against weak lineups. However, since beating the Pirates with Roy Halladay won’t get you nearly as high of a score as doing the same thing with Bud Norris and the Astros, decisions aren’t always easy to make. Plus, everything will be tracked real-time for the world to see.
“Part of what we really love about this is that kind of decision,” Argent says. “Do I play an ‘easier’ game with the hopes of just getting on the leaderboard, or do I go after a harder one with the chance that it’s going to be a lot tougher to do? We have no idea what we’re going to see, but that’s part of the excitement. Everyone’s going to have their own strategy.”
MLB 2K12 may have its issues, but its pitching mechanics are superb. In fact, I’ve actually come within shouting distance of a perfect game; using the Rangers’ Neftali Feliz in a playoff game against the Tampa Bay Rays, I hadn’t allowed so much as a baserunner through six innings. Unfortunately, catastrophe struck when the power briefly went out in my house and my gem was lost forever. Luckily for me, the contest hadn’t started yet.
The 2K team doesn’t really know how many people will qualify. It could be 50; it could be 5,000.
“It’s the best question, and it’s the toughest one to answer,” says Argent. “The way it’s been set up in the past it was a bit more difficult. The submissions we got were all over the board - there were ones that were perfect games, ones that may have been perfect but it was hard to tell, and there were even submissions where it was blatantly not even a perfect game! I think this year, with the dynamic nature of it and the tournament, we’re going to have a lot of submissions.”
The brilliance of the Challenge, though, lies in its grand finale this May. At that point, it simply becomes a head-to-head, single-elimination tournament.
“It’ll be draft format,” Argent describes of how the tournament will kick off. “Of those eight people, the first person will have their first choice at a matchup of teams they want to play with, and then it’ll go 2-8.” Having accomplished the top-ranked perfect game will give that person a nice edge heading into the million-dollar fight.
Every pitch, every hit, and every twist and turn will be remembered by each contestant for the rest of their lives – seven of them in agony, one in ecstasy.
Richard Grisham has been obsessed with sports and video games since childhood, when he'd routinely create and track MicroLeague Baseball seasons on paper. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and four-year old son, who he'll soon be training to be an NFL placekicker. As a freelance journalist and writer, his work has appeared in GamesRadar, NGamer, and 1UP.