36-year-old Robert Hart played various positions in high school, ranging from quarterback to kicker. But the position that has gotten him the farthest in life is gamer.
Hart, otherwise known as 40Gs, was among the contestants for the popular cross-country reality game show Madden Nation, which filmed an episode in Baltimore earlier this month. The show recently finished filming its fourth season, but this was its first-ever stop at M&T Bank Stadium.
The show follows some of the best competitive Madden video game* *players in the nation as they travel to multiple NFL cities and stadiums over a two-and-a-half week span. The gamers compete against one another in the iconic video game, with the ultimate prize being $100,000. The *Madden Nation *tour bus had already made previous stops in other cities like Tampa and New Orleans, with the finale taking place in Times Square in Manhattan.
"The show has evolved quite a bit over the years," said Executive Producer Brian Richardson. "In the beginning, the gamers had no idea what the show was, or what the experience would be like. We had to convince them to be on the show. Now, most of the top gamers come looking for us to try and get on the bus."
"A lot of gamers fight tooth-and-nail to get on this show," said producer Lee George, who travels with the contestants throughout the entire season. Contestants are ultimately chosen based on their statistics in regional competitions, although how well their personalities translate to television is often a secondary requirement.
George described how the competitors are broken into two teams, the AFC and NFC, who will compete in a "control game" at a neutral location in the city each episode is filmed. The ESPN Zone in the Inner Harbor served as the site for this particular episode's control game. The winners of that game choose a competitor from each side to play each other in an elimination game, whereby the loser is eliminated from the competition. For this episode, the setting was the visiting team's locker room at M&T Bank Stadium.
You don't realize how popular it is until you're out on the road," Richardson said. "We'll be driving through Mississippi, and a truck filled with teenagers will pull up next to us on the bus and honk and scream out the windows. Whenever we've got the bus parked at a hotel or even a gas station, people come up and ask how they can get on the show. To the people who play the game, the show has become really well known."
Each gamer represents a real NFL player, and wears their jersey throughout the season. For Hart, this proved to be particularly ironic, as the Redskins fan was assigned Dallas Cowboy linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
"The world knows me," Hart, the veteran of the contestants said. He has been playing competitive Madden since 1989, only the second year of the game's release. He has traveled throughout the nation playing the game and making a living off of it.
"You can always find someone who thinks they're better [than you are]," Hart offered confidently, adding that as a new version of the game is released each year, more of the "professionals" will not be able to play it at the same level of the previous version.
Hart threw the ball around with his fellow competitors on the field at M&T Bank Stadium while the cameras rolled, even making a few field goals. Other competitors like ONE9, YoungNef, and RG ran elaborate routes, demonstrating knowledge of football that would certainly be needed to successfully play the video game counterpart.
The show's host, called Curly Top, then arrived to greet the contestants. In true reality show form, he stated that as great as each contestant had played, only one would be the winner.
Hart said that win, lose or draw, the game may have run its course for him, and he may start devoting himself to other endeavors after the competition is over. Preparing for this show alone led to eight hours of practice a day.
Richardson recognizes the devotion. "Madden has just exploded in the last few years," he said. "The sales of Madden '09 are just unbelievable, and it's not just that people play the game, they get passionate about it."
"Hopefully, even people who aren't that familiar with it can watch the show and still enjoy the competition."