|Donkey Kong World Champion Robbie Lakeman|
(Photo: Dave Danzara)
Hours before, alone in a late-night session that he opted not to stream to Twitch TV, Lakeman finally cracked the score that he'd barely missed on two prior occasions, becoming the fifth player—following Billy Mitchell, Tim Sczerby, Steve Wiebe, and Dr. Chien—to set the world record on a Donkey Kong arcade machine.
Late on Friday evening, with rumors and speculation swirling, a crowd gathered in Lakeman's Twitch channel as it wordlessly came to life. A nearly silent, awkwardly-angled, "TV cam" rebroadcast of the previous night's three-hour performance began.
A less-than-ideal presentation, but more than enough to electrify the Donkey Kong faithful as they realized what was unfolding. Nobody knew what the final score would be, only that they were about to witness arcade gaming history.
1,141,800, as it turned out. A number that will hold very little meaning to those unschooled in the Donkey Kong dark arts, but Lakeman's 3,200 point-lead over Chien finally brings to an end the reign of the player who spent four years terrorizing the top spot by beating his own top score again and again, and who some suspected might never be defeated.
The Road to the Record
|Photo: William McEvoy|
It started two and a half years ago as a bar bet between Lakeman and a friend—get into the Donkey Kong top 20, or at the very least to the kill screen.
Already an avid golfer and poker player, Lakeman took up competitive classic gaming and quickly established a formidable resume. After attaining several world records and putting in regular strong showings at the annual Funspot Tournament, Lakeman eventually gravitated to Donkey Kong, the game being, in his words, "where all the competition is."
Lakeman proved to be a quick study. His first kill screen came just before the Kong Off 2 in 2012, and by the time of the Kong Off 3 one year later, he had earned a spot among the top 12... though not without one hell of a fight.
While boasting since August of 2013 that he felt capable of taking on Hank, it wasn't until the middle of this year that Lakeman started making serious attempts.
His near-nightly sessions—all streamed in public—continued for months, with Lakeman throwing himself against a score that refused to yield. As frustration mounted, he exploded into foul-tempered rants at the game and desperate pleas to his viewers to refrain from announcing games-in-progress on the Web, for fear of jinxing.
Finally, almost immediately after making the decision to go off-stream and play in private, Thursday night's session came together, and with it the culmination of Lakeman's ambition.
The Swings That Missed
Lakeman was not the only player in the hunt for the Donkey Kong record in recent times.
Lemay intends to try again for the record this October... though now he'll be targeting a different player.
Ross Benziger's close call came nine months after Lemay's, at the Kencade in Oregon. Benziger's objective wasn't even to beat Chien's score, but simply to attain a "top 12" position in the arcade standings in order to secure a spot at the Kong Off 3.
Finally, just two weeks ago during the Donkey Kong Online Open #4, MAME champion Dean Saglio found his way to a machine at Richie Knucklez' arcade in New Jersey when, approaching the end of a run that was on pace to break the record (and with Chien himself only a few feet away on an adjacent machine) the game reset:
The rumored Hank Chien "force field" never seemed more intimidating than after this horrifying incident, but evidently, this burst of electromagnetic interference was its last, glorious gasp.
As long as it took for Chien's score to finally go down, and with how narrowly it was beaten, it's possible that Lakeman's may not stand for very long. With the players that are already parked right behind him, and up-and-comers on the approach, Lakeman could be a short-lived champion.
To that possibility, Lakeman says: "it's a great feeling to say that I was on top at one point. Even if it's gone a couple days from now."
Congratulations Robbie! Your journey over the past two and a half years (the last few months in particular) has been an inspiring lesson in persistence, and the potential of the competitive spirit.
I often find it difficult to express to outsiders what it is that we're actually doing, and why we're doing it, when we play this game.
Thanks for expressing it so well.
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Thanks to all of the above (and many more) for crediting Donkey Blog as the source of this story.