One of PAX’s central attractions is the Omegathon, a tradition dating back to the very first PAX in 2004. Twenty attendees are randomly selected before the show to compete in a six-round gaming competition spread across the entire weekend. Each round is played live on stage in front of PAX attendees.
The games for rounds one through five are announced ahead of time, giving the contestants about three weeks to prepare. The game selected for the final round is a closely-guarded secret, revealed live on stage to the final two Omeganauts and PAX attendees alike. Last year’s final was a Pac-Man arcade high score competition.
Here’s what this year’s Omegathon game lineup looks like:
|1||Super Monkey Ball 2||20|
|2||Tony Hawk Project 8||16|
|4||Calling All Cars||8|
|5||World of Goo||4|
So what’s it like to compete in the Omegathon at PAX? We caught up with three-time Omeganaut Kyle Spradling, a.k.a. “Amlethus,” to give us an insider’s perspective on the four-day high-stakes gaming competition.
Spradling has been attending PAX since the very first year, and was first selected to be an Omeganaut in 2006.
“I was working on building a fence with a friend of mine, and I get this call: ‘Unknown Number,'” Spradling recalled. “And I pick it up and I hear ‘Hey, this is Mike from Penny Arcade.'”
Robert Khoo now makes the calls, but they still show up on caller ID as “unknown number,” an important tip to note for those PAX attendees that are hoping to some day be selected as an Omeganaut in the future.
In his first Omegathon appearance in 2006, Spradling was eliminated in the penultimate round in a game of Mario Kart DS. “I practiced that the most, but what I didn’t know is that in that game Yoshi was clearly the best character for people who play that game well,” he explained. “That’s when I learned I can’t just practice, I need to read up on it and study the best strategies.”
Spradling was randomly selected again as an Omeganaut in 2014, giving him a rare chance to apply what he learned from his first appearance. Last year he made it all the way to the final round, but lost the Pac-Man contest on stage at Benaroya Hall. The consolation prize for the Omegathon runner-up: you get to come back and try it all again the next year.
For the three weeks leading up to PAX this year, Spradling has been practicing the games four to six hours every other day and studying GameFAQs, strategy wikis, and any other pro tips he can find online to learn the top strategies.
Of course, there’s really no way to prepare for the secret final round, which is what did Spradling in last year. “I’m good at reflex games, but my core games are strategy games. Pac-Man is only a strategy game if you understand the ghost maneuvers, but you can’t pick that up on the fly.”
Spradling’s advice for future Omeganauts? “Only sign up if you really want it. It will take over your PAX experience.”
If Spradling wins it all this year, he plans to use the prize money to go on a long-delayed honeymoon with his wife of four years. (The winner gets a trip to the Tokyo Game Show but can opt for cash instead.) If he doesn’t win, he actually hopes to be eliminated in round five Sunday night rather than take second place on the main stage again Monday night.
“If I’m runner-up again, I might just go down on my knees on the stage and shout ‘NOOOO! You have my soul, PAX!’ But, I’ll still come back, because it’s fun, it’s wonderful, and I have a duty to do.”
[Update: Amlethus was edged out in Round 5 tonight, falling just short of second place in World of Goo.]