September 25th is a date that will forever be remembered by fans of the Xbox Live Indie Game ‘Mount Your Friends’, for it is the date that the first ever UK champion was crowned. Twenty four grapplers grabbed, swung and mounted one another at Loading Bar until only one climbed to the very top of the greasy, muscle-bound pile. Here’s the story of that fateful night...
In case you’ve not played Mount Your Friends, here’s a quick description. The rules of the game are pretty simple. Two players take it in turns to climb on top of one another, getting onto the top of the ever-growing tower of men. Once the first player has mounted the goat (really) that creates the base of the competition, the other player has one minute to reach the highest point. The face buttons on the controller are each mapped to an individual limb; holding it down allows you to manipulate it in a wildly unrealistic 360 degrees. Releasing the face button will cause the hand or foot on the particular limb to stick, allowing you to climb to the top with a bit of skilful manipulation of limbs and physics. It is a kind of hybrid of QWOPand GIRP, two games which require similar levels of bendy, twisty limb action to reach a goal. At first, it is fairly straightforward, but by the end of a match, the tower is so large it takes almost the entire minute to reach the top, so top-level players will use the physics in such a way to throw their dudes up the tower, gathering distance quickly but at risk of falling and screwing it all up. There are plenty of videos on YouTube that will give you an idea of what Mount Your Friends is all about, but most of them are some awful lad called ‘The Disgruntled Videogame Dork’ talking about how all the in-game men have a big, wobbly willy instead of the fact that it is, without question, one of the best competitive videogames in YEARS. So, download it, play it yourself, and maybe you’ll be entering the next annual Mount Your Friends UK Championship! (although, if you do fancy watching a bit of footage, the always brilliant Bitsocketcovered it in this video.)
So, the tournament worked as such. It was a bracket of 32, with 24 ‘mounters’, drawn against each other at random, from a Mario hat. Once the first round of battles had taken place, the losers were placed back and eight were drawn out to create a final bracket for the tournament. Standard knockout rules. We had some seasoned veterans, some wily contenders and a few newcomers (including a handful who had never played the game at all!), providing a good mix of skillsets and some real upset potential! You'd have to attend ADCC to see this level of grappling action!
The first elimination happened almost immediately, when Matt Lees eliminated Chris Higgins so quickly it was almost by accident. First blood had been shed. The games were underway. The stand out match in the first round was Lydia Ellery vs. Joseph Reynolds, two highly seeded competitors competed in a lengthy bout to open the tournament. Ultimately, as is the case with Mount Your Friends, one mistake led to Reynolds falling from the tower of man and being eliminated after a particularly thrilling back and forth battle. Meanwhile, over at the other side of the bracket, rank outside Chris Powell had begun his quest for glory with a win of ‘questionable nature’.
Here’s what is meant by questionable. In Mount Your Friends, it is possible to position your men so that the tower leans right over the the extreme left or right of the screen, effectively blocking in the player who starts on that side, rendering them unable to get to the top of the pile and guaranteeing victory for the other. In the cutthroat world of professional Mount Your Friends, this is a tactic that is somewhat frowned upon because it denies the spectators the high-end tower play, which is the most exciting aspect of the game, and requires more skill from both players to continue the battle. However, a win is a win, and it cannot be denied as a very, veryeffective strategy.
Round 2 featured what I considered to be the match of the tournament between Will Templeton and Gary Dutton. It was a decent back and forth match, with Will beginning to get the upper hand thanks to some incredibly skilful flings up the tower, drawing gasps from the audience. None bigger, however, than the one that came when he forced Gary into a ‘shut out’ situation, meaning all that Will needed to do to guarantee victory was to get to the top of the pile one final time.
And he fell. Perhaps the pressure of the situation got to him? Perhaps hubris? Only Will truly knows the answer. How someone comes back from these kind of losses is what separates the elite players from the rest of the pack.
Onwards to the quarter finals. We had Lydia vs Gary, Chris Spann vs Sean, Ian Dickson vs Chris Powell and Ben vs Sandy. All of these matches told thrilling storylines as we head into the final rounds. Lydia and Gary were two players who had really started to find their stride and were a challenge for anyone who faced them. Chris Spann and Sean had travelled from the harsh North together and were arguably the top two ranked players in the tournament. Ian Dickson, the event organiser and skilled ‘Mounter’ was facing allegations of a fix, and wanted to show that his victories were due to his true skill rather than any kind of corruption. However, he was up against Chris Powell, tournament dark horse and master of the ‘shut out’. Ben and Sandy were both players who were eliminated, and brought back for the ‘losers bracket’. Both players now found themselves one win away from the semi finals, and two wins away from starring in their very own Rocky story.
When the smoke cleared, we were left with Lydia Ellery vs Sean Bell, with the winner being the sure favourite to win the whole thing and Chris Powell, fresh off yet another ‘shut out’ victory squaring off against Ben Ward, with an astonishing comeback still on the cards. At this level, both battles were a demonstration of top tier friend mounting, with Sean besting Lydia in a battle between two exceptional players, while Chris Powell showed, again, his ruthlessly efficient ‘shut out’ game in eliminating Ben Ward. The comeback was OVER.
We had our first ever final. The favourite, Sean Patrick Bell, was set to face off against the man who had a tactic that, so far, had been shown to be unbeatable - Chris Powell. The winner would take home the giant, golden crotch that was created as prize but, more importantly, would be crowned the first ever Mount Your Friends UK champion!
It was a great final. Chris, sticking to his lethal technique, immediately began pushing the tower toward the left hand side, with the inevitable goal of blocking Sean in. Sean, however, showed why he was the number one favourite to take the golden crotch by continuing to block Chris’ attempts at this repeatedly, eventually forcing a mistake that cost Chris far too much ascent time, and with that Sean Bell was crowned the best player of Mount Your Friends in the whole United Kingdom (that could be bothered to show up at Loading Bar that evening).
Ultimately, it was a brilliant evening. Everyone who took part showed brilliant sportsmanship (although I dread to think what would’ve happened if Sean had been knocked out in the first round) and we saw some genuinely great, tense matchups. It definitely showed that Mount Your Friends deserves to be talked about alongside all the top ‘e-Sports’ currently kicking around. Plans are already in the works for the champion to return to defend his trophy next year, so if this has inspired you to give the game a go, you’ve got until roughly the next Eurogamer Expo to sharpen those skills. My unclaimed offer of a drink to the person who knocks Sean out of the competition still stands!
(A MASSIVE thanks to the entire competitor field, everyone who turned up to spectate and Loading Bar, for allowing this ridiculous event to take place. Apologies to the small group of punters sat in the corner playing Super Mario World and Bomberman, who I heckled throughout the evening. They were a bit rubbish at both games, mind. All the photos were taken by the man who may as well be the official Midnight Resistance photographer, Gary Dutton, when he wasn't busy getting knocked out in the Quarter Finals. Finally, give your man Ian Dickson a round of applause for organising the whole thing, like a svelte Vince McMahon from Runcorn.)