By Evan Mohl
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE - Never in his wildest dreams did Michael Loyd believe he'd be a world champion.
But last week, the Copperas Cove resident won the Electronic Arts (EA) Champions of Gaming contest for NASCAR 09 in Orlando, Fla. For his prize, Loyd received five Xbox 360 games, a free year's subscription to Xbox LIVE, a plaque and a chance to race against NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin in a one-on-one battle.
A recap of the entire event, which also included competitions in NBA Live 09, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR Golf 09, EA SPORTS Soccer 09 and Madden NFL 09 will air Wednesday on Spike TV at 10:30 p.m.
"I guess I got my 15 minutes of fame," Loyd said. "The whole experience was great, a lot of fun and just exciting."
Loyd barely defeated Hamlin in a six-lap match. The 25-year-old Loyd started out in the lead before Hamlin overtook him. After the two players exchanged leads again, Loyd took over on the last lap to edge out the NASCAR driver.
Hamlin then signed a copy of the game for Loyd, who blamed the close race on the fact he had to use default settings as opposed to his own car.
"The key to the game is how you build your car in the garage, just like real life," Loyd said. "But it was fun to race Denny in a close one. We got to talk a little bit, comparing the game to real life. He said it was pretty close, especially all the things you can do to tweak your car in the garage."
Loyd believes his skill in the garage – the actual building of the car – is what got him the world champion crown. He estimates that he spends more time working on his car than on the track.
Balance is the most important ingredient, according to Loyd.
"A lot of people make their cars really fast, but then they wreck on a turn," he said. "Other people have really good handling, but can't go fast enough. I try find a happy medium."
Loyd never played the video game in the hopes of becoming a world champion. He actually stumbled across the concept while playing online with his friend.
After signing on to Xbox LIVE, an advertisement for a tournament of the Americas peaked Loyd's interest. He checked out the link and decided to see where he stacked up against some of the best players in the world.
"It's kind of funny because I usually just play private games with my friend," Loyd said. "I don't like to race newbs."
The tournament lasted 10 weeks. To advance, a player had to be in the top 10 in points. Loyd easily qualified.
After the top 100 players were set, Loyd had to get through the knockout round. It lasted one week, and the player with the most points moved on to the global challenge.
Loyd didn't race nearly as much as some, but still managed to win. He competed 80 times, winning 13 and getting second more than he could count.
With no qualifiers from the other regions – Europe and Asia – Loyd was crowned world champ.
"I was just lucky I guess," Loyd said. "It all just kind of worked out."
Organizers of the event disagreed.
"These newly crowned Gillette-EA SPORTS Champions of Gaming have proven that they have what it takes to compete at the highest level, just like our Gillette Champions," said Peter Clay, Vice President, Gillette Global Grooming. "Through our partnership with EA SPORTS, we're proud to provide our winners with the experience of a lifetime and the chance to compete against some of the top names in sport."
Loyd, originally from Kingstree, S.C., moved to Cove about two years ago to help take care of his deployed brother's place. He watches pets and takes care of the house, among other things.
Since then, he's been doing the same deed for other service families throughout the area.
"It's kind of strange. I never thought of myself as a Texan," Loyd said. "But they introduced me from Texas at the event and I have embraced it a little bit. I really like living in Cove a lot."
Loyd estimates that he plays NASCAR 09 about one to four hours a day, on average. Sometimes he'll go more, sometimes he won't even play.
He bases his style on Jeff Burton, his favorite driver.
"I think he's one of the most respected drivers out there," Loyd said. "He's just always consistent, kind of like I try to be."
Unlike Burton, however, Loyd has a championship.