Contest searches for best sports gamers

EA Sports and Virgin Gaming are putting together a competition to find the best sports gamers. Virgin Gaming

EA Sports and Virgin Gaming are teaming up to find the best sports video game players in the world, ultimately awarding $1 million in prize money to the best of the best.

That’s $400,000 in prize money to the top “Madden NFL 13” players, $400,000 to the top “FIFA 13” players and $200,000 to the best “NHL 13” gamers as the EA Sports Challenge Series weeds out skilled contenders from online pretenders exclusively on the PlayStation 3, with the finals taking place Feb. 9 in Las Vegas.

Gamers who purchase the title they wish to compete in at GameStop will be given a code for free entry into the tournament. Otherwise, the play-in fee will cost you $10 per EA Sports title. (You can enter all three tournaments if you think you’re good enough.)

This is the second season Virgin Gaming has been in charge of the EA Sports Challenge Series, and according to VG co-founders Billy Levy and Zachary Zeldin, the company learned a great deal from the competition’s debut a year ago, and they’re applying the lessons learned over the course of their rookie campaign to the second season of the massive tournament.

“This year, Challenge Series is launching two weeks after the release of ‘Madden 13,’ then two weeks after the ‘NHL’ launch we’ll launch that tournament, and the same with ‘FIFA’," Levy said. "Last year we didn’t start Challenge Series until December, but a lot of players wanted to start playing and competing once they got their games. When we got to the live finals, so many people came up to us and asked why we waited so long to start, so we’re starting it a lot earlier this year.

“We had over 100,000 people sign up and play online last year, and then when it came to the live finals, we had never done an event that big. But now after running it successfully online and seeing how the live final played out, this year we’re a lot more coordinated in order to provide the best experience possible.”

The structure of the tournament has also changed, streamlining the process in order to make things simpler for gamers trying to advance to the live final.

“Instead of doing a Qualifier A and a Qualifier B round like we did last year, now it’s just one straight set,” Zeldin says. “Buy your copy of ‘Madden,’ ‘NHL,’ or ‘FIFA’ from GameStop and you get automatic entry into round one, otherwise you have to pay $10 to enter. Win four games in the qualifier, and the first 1,024 people for ‘Madden’ and ‘FIFA’ and the first 512 people for ‘NHL’ make it into the online bracketed final. What happens then is the bracketed tournament starts Jan. 7 for ‘Madden,’ Jan. 8 for ‘FIFA’ and Jan. 9 for ‘NHL,’ and we play the first two rounds of this tournament online from the comforts of your own couch. If you win the first two rounds, not only are you guaranteed a pretty good prize, but you’re guaranteed a seat at the Challenge Series live final in Vegas with a chance to win the grand prize.”

While gamers who qualify for the live event will need to pay their own way to Vegas for the final, Virgin Gaming will be holding additional tournaments leading up to the championship where gamers will be able to win flights and hotel accommodations.

“We were able to work with a lot of the big hotels in Las Vegas in order to offer some deeply discounted room rates for players,” Levy adds. “There are going to be discounts on all of the MGM property hotels.”

Levy and Zeldin already know three people who can’t wait to make reservations.

“There’s a lot of smack talk going on already from last year’s winners,” Levy says with a laugh. “All three of them have guaranteed a repeat.”

The “Madden NFL 13” online tournament starts Tuesday. For official rules, check out the official Challenge Series website.