Nationwide video game tour visits BR

With the hand-eye coordination of a veteran gamer, Chad Crochet deftly picked up an XBox 360 controller Wednesday night at EA’s Soccer and Speed Tour stop in Baton Rouge and thrashed the computer in a short contest.

Electronic Arts’ “Soccer and Speed Tour” stopped in Baton Rouge on Wednesday night to promote its two big holiday releases — “Need For Speed: Most Wanted” and “FIFA 13” — at the Mellow Mushroom at 4250 Burbank St. Gamers dropped in to test drive the newest installments of their favorite franchises on the nine consoles and TVs, some set up in the back of EA’s tour van and others outside underneath a black canopy.

One look at the tour van with its wraparound imagery of global soccer icon Lionel Messi celebrating a goal and two high-end sports car navigating a curve, and it’s purpose is overwhelmingly clear.

Crochet, 23, an analytical chemist at Praxair Inc., said he has played FIFA, a soccer game, for years and picked up the game again four years ago when his friend brought home “FIFA 10.”

“Once you play this game, it’s hard to play Madden (EA’s football game) because you don’t have the control you do for this game,” Crochet said. “It’s way better than last year in terms of physics and I think they improved the AI (artificial intelligence) on defense.”

Summer Bradley, who works with EA product teams to promote games, said tour directors added Baton Rouge as a last-minute stop in an attempt to reach more college students. She said they decided to set up at Mellow Mushroom because of its large Wednesday night trivia and karaoke crowd and its proximity to LSU.

“Students just eat this type of thing up,” Bradley said. “This type of thing causes a lot of excitement.”

She said another reason they chose to visit Baton Rouge was because of the quality assurance office EA opened in Baton Rouge three years ago. At that office, gamers test video games before they hit store shelves to see there are any bugs in the system and to evaluate how the overall game play measures up.

The tour began Sept. 22 in Chicago and includes three vans rolling at the same time with more than 20 stops scheduled for each van. Bradley said the company wanted to include some college towns and smaller cities for gamers who do not live in major cities like New York and San Diego, where such tours are common.

The tour concludes Nov. 25 in New Orleans, Miami and Albuquerque, N.M.

She said FIFA developers have sponsored similar tours for years and this is the first time they shared the spotlight with another game. “Need For Speed” was not released until about a week into the tour.

At each stop, gamers compete in a bracket-style tournament where they played both games until one emerges victorious.

At the college stops, Bradley said, the winner won an Astro Gaming A50 Wireless Headset valued at $300. T-shirts and video games were also given out.

Cory Smith, manager at Mellow Mushroom, said Wednesday tends to be the restaurant’s busiest night of the week because of karaoke, and they expected a large turnout. He said managers had been working to get video game companies to sponsor a game night at the restaurant for some time.

“Most of our staff is college-aged kids and most of our clientele is college-aged kids,” Smith said. “We always try and find something new and exciting that our staff will get behind and in turn, our clientele will like.”

“Need For Speed: Most Wanted” is the 19th installment of the popular video game series that has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, according to EA officials. “FIFA 13” is the 20th incarnation of EA’s popular soccer franchise that has also sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.

Ari Deitch, 24, who works at Gulf Coast Analytical Laboratories Inc., said he was happy the tour came to Baton Rouge.

“It’s the only game I really play,” he said, referring to FIFA.