Robbie Lakeman: "I Feel Like I Could Take On Hank"

August 4th, 2013 - Last October, four days after the door closed on the one million point cutoff for getting a dedicated machine among the main lineup at the Kong Off 2, I wrote a tribute to those who weren't able to "roll it" in time.

During the very moments when I was readying that post, an up-and-coming Donkey Konger named Robbie Lakeman was in the midst of a live stream that would end with his first-ever kill screen.

At the time, Lakeman was a long way from a million point skill level. But I ended the post by saying "perhaps you'll all have your own machines" at the Kong Off 3 (referring to Lakeman and fellow competitors Mike Groesbeck and Mitchell Elliott).

All three players attended the Kong Off 2, competing in the Wildcard Division, and I'm pleased to say that two of them will indeed be "first-timers" among the coveted main lineup this November.

In June, Groesbeck grabbed 9th place on the Twin Galaxies Donkey Kong scoreboard with 1,023,600 points, more than enough to get him in.

Then, on the 4th of July, Lakeman streamed an incredible MAME performance with a final score of 1,070,200, thereby becoming the fifth highest-scoring Donkey Kong player of all time (beating the standing high scores of both Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell).

In order to secure a place in the Kong Off 3 main lineup, however, Lakeman would have to perform a score on original arcade hardware.

Less than a week later, a trip to Funspot in New Hampshire sealed the deal: over the course of two days of attempts on the same machine where Wiebe took the world record from Mitchell in 2005 and Hank Chien topped his own record in 2011, as tourists milled around him to visit the world famous machine and to watch this new contender, Lakeman achieved 1,021,100, a new (soon to be official) 10th-place position on the Donkey Kong scoreboard.

Twin Galaxies co-owner Richie Knucklez' response to the achievement was simple and direct: "welcome to the Kong Off 3."

Today the Kong Off 3, Tomorrow the Record?

If the hallowed and feared Funspot DK cabinet is (as arcade legend has it) haunted by a vindictive evil spirit that spews wilder barrels and meaner fireballs, Lakeman was nonetheless able to pin it into submission. The only player to ever achieve a higher score on that machine is Chien himself, who is now, apparently, in Lakeman's crosshairs.

Lakeman chats with reporters
at the Kong Off 2

In a live-streamed replay of his Funspot performance, over which he gave a full length running commentary, Lakeman made his ambitions known:

"This was my sixth kill screen in three weeks. The confidence level is at an all-time high. I feel like I could take on Hank's score at this point. That's gonna require some adjustments, but I feel like I could do it... I don't want to sound too cocky, but it's just a mentality thing. I like to think that I can do it... like I can do anything... the rate of improvement that I've had over the last year and a half, it's been so quick."

As for the champ himself? "The consistency with which you are getting 1M scores frightens me," Chien admitted on Facebook.

"It was a good feeling, hearing that." Lakeman replied in his commentary. "If my name ever gets brought up as someone for Hank to worry about, I would call that successful."

While his game still needs some work to get up to world record pace, Lakeman believes in attitude as the key to getting there:

"I play golf, it's my favorite sport. I don't want to go out before a round saying 'oh my game sucks, I'm not that good, I can't beat this guy.' It's the wrong mentality. You have to commit yourself that you can do it, then just go out and do your best."

What About Vincent?

Vincent Lemay, the "heir apparent" to the Donkey Kong world title, who now sits in second place just 2,700 points under Hank Chien, is no longer actively pursuing the top spot.

Lemay decided, after his shot heard around the world in January, that the record isn't yet high enough for him to beat:

"I need to take a break and put myself in learning mode to come back stronger than Hank... Hank's score is definitely very good, but both me and Hank can play at a much higher pace than that... It's like Usain Bolt in the 100 meters at the Olympic Games of 2008: at the end of the race, he slowed down. Doing a score when you slow down at the end is definitely not the kind of score I want to aim for anymore."

Aside from Lemay, fellow Canadian phenom (and 1-1 record holder) Phil Tudose is on a score-smashing rampage as of late and a definite contender. Steve Wiebe recently hinted at returning to the hunt. And a decision by Kong Off 2 champ Jeff Willms or MAME world record holder Dean Saglio to make a run are ever-present threats.

At the moment, though, all eyes are on Robbie Lakeman. New blood has joined the siege on Chien's throne.


Anonymous said...

I like Hank, but it's going to be really exciting when somebody beats his score!

Hank Chien said...

Good luck Robbie! Better do it soon, I gotta start practicing for KO3!

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