Janesville's Casey earns spot among elite gamers in Vegas
JANESVILLE — With a trip to championships in Las Vegas on the line, Mason Crosby lined up for a 55-yard field goal attempt.
There was never a doubt.
As the ball sailed between the uprights, the capacity crowd hooted, howled and congratulated the winning coach.
This wasn't at Lambeau Field, as Packer fans who saw Crosby kick this year know. This was in the east side Janesville apartment of 20-year Justin Casey. With Casey at the controls, this year's Packers team defeated San Francisco—yes, why couldn't it have happened that way at Candlestick Park?—27-24 in the qualifying game to get to the "Madden NFL 13" challenge finals.
While just 20, Casey has been playing video games for 14 years.
The 2011 Parker High graduate works at Best Buy and spends much of his leisure time playing other gamers from around the country through the EA Sports control center.
"We played about 30 hours straight to get ready for the play-in games," Casey said.
Casey and his roommate, Andy Kramer, are avid gamers. Kramer could have played in this year's Madden tournament, but he neglected to register in time. Casey did, and he is reaping the benefits.
Because he bought "Madden 13" this year, Casey didn't have to pay a fee to enter the tournament.
The computer game updates player abilities as the season moves along, so the better teams in the NFL season are the best in the Madden game.
During the regular season of pro football, Casey looks for "challenges" on the EA Sports website. Game players are rated on their ability.
"I'm an eight," Casey said. "Ten is the best, but there aren't many 10s. Maybe three or four. And there aren't many nines."
Games can be played for money. Casey plays for $20 to $40 a game. The money aspect keeps the challenges legitimate.
"I don't play many people from around here," Casey said.
Casey said good players don't make mistakes, and the defensive part of the game separates players. While on offense, Casey has to read defenses just as Aaron Rodgers would do.
The tournament is split into four rounds. Last year, more than 100,000 signed up and entered the tournament. Casey said 200,000 games were purchased this year, but he did not know how many actually played in the tournament.
Casey got through the first two rounds and then had to win two games two Sundays ago to earn a spot in the 256-player finals in Las Vegas.
About 15 friends filled his living room while Casey maneuvered the Packers against an opponent who used the 49ers.
The tournament can pit opponents using the same "Madden 13" team. It will happen often in Las Vegas.
The first game went back and forth, and late in the fourth quarter, Casey's Packers were up by three points.
"I had a fourth-and-3 at his 46," Casey said. "(Donald) Driver dropped the ball.
"He drove down with no timeouts and got to the 9 with 20 seconds left. He ran up the middle to try and get a field goal, and Frank Gore fumbled at the 6. Clay Matthews got it out. I kneeled down and won."
In the qualifying game, Casey again used the Packers against another opponent who used the 49ers. Casey quickly faced a 21-0 deficit, due in part to an interception returned for a TD and a failed fourth-down attempt that set up another 49er TD.
But Casey scored in the final seconds of the first half, received the second-half kickoff and went down for another TD. A touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson on fourth-and-14 tied the game in the fourth quarter, and then the 49ers threw an interception at the 50.
One pass put Casey and the Packers in reasonable FG range, and Casey sent out Crosby for the decisive 55-yarder.
Before you question that decision, Casey offers an explanation.
"With kickers, it's a little bit different," he said. "The accuracy is off of you."
Casey "booted" the ball home, and his friends erupted.
So Casey is headed to Las Vegas for the national tournament Feb. 9-10 with his father and his roommate.
Casey earned $500 for his play-in victory, which covers expenses. The first three games he plays in Vegas are worth $250 apiece, which then jumps to $500 per game, then to $1,250. The champion earns $140,000, with the runner-up earning $40,000.
"I get nervous at times," Casey said. "Right now I'm OK, but last night I got a little nervous thinking about it."
He plans to jump on the 49er bandwagon in the national tournament.
"The 49ers definitely are the best team," he said. "(Colin) Kaepernick is just ridiculous."
And as Packer fans understand, if Casey was able to maneuver this year's Mason Crosby to a game-winning kick, anything is possible.