MPG / DAILY BREAD / JANUARY 13, 2017
Words / Lake Kilpatrick
Mostly everyone who has played the Mad Skills Motocross franchise and attempted to make a dent in the leaderboards has heard of James Lambert, more commonly recognized under his alias ‘Master52.’ He’s one of the veterans of the game as he’s been playing it for approximately seven years. The skills that he’s accumulated throughout that time have earned him the unofficial title of the best player in the world, but it had never been put to the ultimate test. Lambert got the chance to travel from his home state of Missouri across the Atlantic Ocean to Sweden for the inaugural Mad Skills Motocross 2 World Championships in which he would compete against eleven other qualified competitors from around the world for a cash prize, as well as a unique in-game helmet. He made it all the way to the final round in a showdown against ‘DJauzzi’ and ‘TCR_Bragstad.’ He ended up finishing in second position, but still came away with a healthy cash prize and the title of the second best Mad Skills player in the world. We caught up with James to talk about traveling to Europe for the first time, racing on exceptionally technical tracks specifically designed for the finals, and how the game has helped him out on a real bike.
So, you were one of the twelve entrants out over two hundred thousand that made it to Sweden for the first ever Mad Skills Motocross 2 World Championships. What was it like to be a part of the inaugural event?
It actually felt pretty good, because after playing for seven years and talking to people about, y’know, seeing how far the game could go and if we could do some sort of ‘Mad Skills Des Nations.’ Just a few months ago they said they were introducing the first Mad Skills World Championship, so it was really exciting to hear. I told myself I’m gonna do whatever I have to do to get there, so I qualified all of November and played about, I’d say, close to three hours a day to make sure I had good enough times to qualify. So, I put a lot of work into it and it was awesome; it was a great event.
What was the qualification process like?
So, they have two ways that you can race on the game: you can race for free in the regular jam tracks and they have cash racing so you can play for money. I went the cash route, because I wanted to make some money while I was qualifying, so I went that way. They used kinda the same tracks; they have ‘em on a schedule to where they come at certain times, so there were tracks I’ve seen before and a couple new ones.
The way that the first ten rounds of play were set up, there was a lot of sudden death and elimination, how nerve wracking is it playing in a format like that?
Yeah, the person that finished last in the round would go into the next elimination round. So, as long as you didn’t get last each round then you were good to go, and that was kind of my strategy...like I was kind of mid-pack most of the time. People were saying “What’s going on with Master52? He’s kinda underperforming.” I know that people expected me to win every round, but I was just staying mid-pack and making sure I didn’t get last every time and, y’know, it worked! They said “If you’re gonna peak, peak late.” That’s just kinda how I was thinking about it. For some reason, most guys would get their times in pretty early and it would take me a few more minutes to get one in. In round eight, I was running last place for like thirty minutes and with twenty minutes to go, I jumped up to second place. It was kind of nerve wracking, but I knew I had one hour to get a good time, that’s usually enough to get a pretty decent time in. You just gotta stay calm.
The format of the Grand Finals was interesting in the fact that you didn’t know who won until you watched the race back afterwards side by side with your competitors. How did you feel about your time when the hour mark was up?
Well, I pretty much knew I got second before it was even over, because the guy next to me was like “Ahh, man! That was a pretty good one.” He said he got in the 1:08’s and I was still stuck in the 1:09’s. I was so frustrated - there was like ten minutes left - and I was getting frustrated, because I knew seven thousand dollars was on the line. I was like ‘I know I can get a good run in and win this thing’ but I just ran out of time. So, it was a little frustrating, but I was happy to make it that far.
Now that you’ve done it, is there anything you would change differently about how you approached the Grand Final?
I think my strategy for next year would be to get a faster time in earlier, that way I can try out more crazy lines, y’know, ‘cause most of the time I was just trying to get in a good time just on the safe line, and the safe line isn’t gonna win the race. So, I think I need to work on getting a faster time in quicker like some of the other guys did. That was my downfall with the whole thing.
Turborilla (the developer for the game) created special tracks just for the World Championships, how difficult were they compared to what is normally available on the game for just anyone to play?
Yeah, they used twelve new tracks that have never been seen before and they were way more difficult than what the regular public plays on. I was actually pretty excited to hear that, because I think that’s where I excel in the game. Y’know, after playing for so long, I’ve got a good strategy down and I’m pretty good on the technical tracks. It was really exciting, because the longer you stayed in the championship - the harder the tracks got. I started getting better and better and made it to the very last round, so it kinda worked out good for me. I really enjoy those hard tracks, because everybody can ride through an easy track; it really comes down to how you control the bike on the hard ones.
What’s your process like for learning a new track?
The thing was that you couldn’t see anybody else’s time but your own, so you’d have to try out multiple lines, figure out which ones were the fastest, and go through the whole track right at the beginning to see if there was anything crazy. You just had to test out different lines and make sure you’re not doing the slow line the whole time - that’s what happened to a few guys, they were doing the wrong line the whole time and didn’t realize it, and that’s when they got knocked into the elimination round. Luckily that never happened to me, but it was tough to adapt...just had to keep sharp focus.
How many times do you restart when you’re trying to put in a fast time?
I guess I could say…in any one of those rounds, at least three hundred times. When you’re playing against the best in the world, your runs have to be so precise and one little mess up could cost you. They were worried about the viewers just wondering why we restart so much, but it’s just gotta be so perfect.
Anyone that is an avid videogame player understands that it’s easy to get frustrated when things aren’t going your way, how do you deal with that?
Yeah, some sections are just so tough. The one I lost on - there was one that I just could not get down for some reason, even though I knew I could do it. It’s tough...that’s one reason they call it Mad Skills, because it makes you so mad, haha. It’s like when you know you can do a line, but it takes you forever to get it down. You just gotta stay calm and tell yourself - it’s kinda nerdy - but tell yourself you know you can do it and you can get it done.
So, you’re from Missouri - a long shot from Sweden - what was it like spending time over in Europe? Any sort of culture shock?
Oh, it was so different from Missouri. The thing that really messed me up was the seven hour time change; I couldn’t go to sleep, it was tough to get up. The sun was only up for like six hours out of the day, it would set at like three o‘clock, so it would really mess you up. But, it was nice. There was tons of snow; people use skis to get around on the sidewalk and they drag their kids in sleds. I mean, it was a good lookin’ place though. All the food, I would say, is a lot healthier than here in America.
What was the best meal you had while you were there?
I would say the swedish meatballs. That’s why they call ‘em swedish meatballs, ‘cause they were so good there.
Do you ride or race motocross in real life?
Yup, I’ve been racing since I was six years old. I usually try to stick around Missouri, but I just went out to Glen Helen last year; that was really fun. This year I’m gonna try to qualify for Loretta’s in 25+ and 450 B. So, the whole family likes to race. My Dad’s been doin’ it since he was ten years old and my brother does it, we’ve been a racin’ family for all our lives.
Do you think your experience riding in real life helps you be so fast in the game or since it’s such a simple side scroller that anyone can kind of pick it up and be good with enough practice?
Yeah, some guys say that my riding skills help me on the game which I really believe it does. It’s weird, because sometimes when I’m riding a real bike I feel like the Mad Skills helps me go a little bit faster, haha. But y’know, I think that it helped me. Some guys that are pretty good didn’t race when they were young, but Justin Cooper was there and most of the guys there had backgrounds in racing. So, I think it helps.
What advice would you have for someone that wants to make it to the top and compete in the World Championships next year?
I would say that it’s just like real life, you just have to put in the time. It’s just like training on a real bike; you just have to try different techniques, work at it, and learn from your mistakes. The talent will develop over time and hopefully you make it to the top!