The eight-year anniversary of the Mega Drive Championships takes place on 8th January 2009. Upon that day the English faithful will be holding their Nineteenth Mega Drive Championship with Commander Graham and Doc Shakib expected to vie for the trophy. Unlike previous competitions, it would be folly to rule out the other Division One competitors, with Earl Holbrook, Lieutenant Gareth and Professor King each possessing a realistic chance of winning the ulitmate victory.
The halfway point in the path of tournament history was the Thirteenth Mega Drive Championship, which took place on 13th January 2005. The five men who participated did so in the knowledge that this was intended to be the last of a series of tired contests that had spanned four-years, had been blighted by the problem of predictability and, in truth, changed little since the original in 2001. Yet, when the Thirteenth Mega Drive Championship finished it turned out not to be the end, but the start of a new beginning.
Five men contested the title at the Thirteenth Mega Drive Championship and five men shall contest it at the Nineteenth. The face of Division One has changed significantly over the past four years with Doc Shakib the only member to play at the top level in both the Thirteenth and Nineteenth Championships. Yet between the two tournaments, Doc Shakib's record has been turbulent. His fourth-placed finish at the Thirteenth Tournament was swiftly followed by relegation at the Fourteenth, only to win promotion at the first attempt at the Fifteenth and be crowned Mega Drive Champion at the Sixteenth! Doc Shakib will certainly be one of the favourites batting for the title on the 8th January, but with fierce competition expected from the other Division One members expected and his own form inconsistent, his third title victory is far from secure.
Baron Von Hooton provided the biggest shock of the Thirteenth Tournament when his 2-0 victory over Doc Shakib, on Golden Axe 2, elevated him into third place at the expense of the Doc. He would rub salt into the wound at the Fourteenth Championship when a 4-4 draw on NHL '96, against Mr Smith, in the penultimate game, would earn him the necessary point required to salvage his place in the top division and condemn Doc Shakib to relegation. Yet Baron Von Hooton's time in the top flight would only last for one further tournament and, since relegation at the Fifteenth Mega Drive Championship, Baron Von Hooton has languished in the lower league. This fallen giant, who battled at the top for thirteen tournaments, has yet to find anywhere near the form required for promotion.
Lieutenant Gareth secured his place in Division One following promotion at the Eighteenth Championship. He had previously had a spell in the top flight from the Fifteenth to Seventeenth tournaments, but was finally subjected to relegation after only scoring four-points at the Seventeenth Championship - a performance he will be looking to avoid this time round. Lieutenant Gareth holds a better record at International level than any other Division One member, but his domestic form varies dramatically. His previous experience in the top-flight will probably give him the edge over rivals Professor King and Earl Holbrook, but where he will finally finish in the table is a matter of conjecture and the Championship is just as likely as relegation.
Mr Smith finished the Thirteenth Tournament in second spot after defeat to Lord Dilks on Road Rash 2. He started a phased withdrawal from the competitions following the Fourteenth Mega Drive Championship and was to play his last game in the Sixteenth Tournament Knockout final where he defeated his long-term rival, Lord Dilks, 1-0 on Golden Axe 2. During his time competing in the Championships, Mr Smith amassed eight league titles and won two knockouts. He made a return in 2007 to participate in the Anglo-Irish Mega Drive Tournament and is statistically ranked as the best English player both domestically and internationally.
Commander Graham was promoted to the top flight after winning Division Two at the Sixteenth Championship. His league positions have been impressive since his elevation and he is ranked second among the current crop of members. Commander Graham will be looking to finish one place higher than his second placed finish at the Eighteenth Championship. He is probably more determined than the others in Division One, however, he will need to overcome the vastly experienced Doc Shakib if he is to become the fourth man since the creation of the contests to lift the trophy. Commander Graham is not seriously considered a candidate for relegation, although his performance for Team England at the 2008 European Mega Drive Championship shows that he is far from invulnerable.
Earl Holbrook took the step up to Division One following promotion at the Seventeenth Championship. His first tournament at the higher level saw him fight his way through a Micro Machines '96 heavy draw and came within touching distance of qualifying for Team England for the 2008 European Mega Drive Championship. Overall, Earl Holbrook is ranked lowest of the current crop of Division One members. His style is the crudest of all those in the top division and he will need to bash out some decent performances if he is to avoid the drop, although his abilities and tactics proved effective last time around.
Captain Maltby finished in a predictable last place at the Thirteenth Mega Drive Championship. He was deemed the competition whipping boy and it surprised nobody that the man synonymous with defeat once again propped up the league table. Yet since then something has changed. Following one tournament in Division Two, Captain Maltby managed to establish himself in the higher league, achieving awesome things like a second-placed finish at the Seventeenth Mega Drive Tournament and winning the Knockout at the Fifteenth Championship. Relegation at the Eighteenth Tournament came as something of a surprise and Captain Maltby will be continuing his trade in Division Two for the first time since the Fourteenth Tournament.
Professor King completes the Division One line-up at the Nineteenth Mega Drive Championship. He brings with him some very impressive performances from the lower league, as well as some scores to settle. Professor King lost out on promotion at the Seventeenth Tournament, on goal-difference, to Earl Holbrook and the Eighteenth Championship saw a keenly contested rivalry as he and Lieutenant Gareth tussled for superiority in the league, Division Two Cup and Road Rash 3. Now these battles move onto a greater stage and, in spite of having no experience in Division One, Professor King will be looking to use his passionate determination to vanquish old foes and set his sights on higher targets. Winning the title would be an impressive fete and is certainly not outside the realms of possibility, but avoiding relegation must always be the primary target for any Division One rookie.
Lord Dilks was the winner of the Thirteenth Mega Drive Championship. Although each member only played four games (making the Thirteenth Tournament the second shortest competition of all time) Lord Dilks was able to secure a 100% win record, something that he would later repeat at the Eighteenth Mega Drive Championship where he finished with double the points of second place and an incredible +64 goal difference. This would be Lord Dilks's last outing in the domestic league. He would go on to represent Team England at the 2008 European Mega Drive Championship with his final competitive tournament game being a 6-1 victory on Pete Sampras Tennis against Alberto Campos, which he wrapped up with an ace!
Other changes since the Thirteenth Mega Drive Championship have seen the re-introduction of the Tournament Knockout, which was originally disbanded after the Eleventh Tournament. Of the current crop of Division One members, only Doc Shakib and Lieutenant Gareth have won the competition at the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Championships respectively. Professor King is the only Division One member to have never reached a Knockout final, which this time will take place on Mega Bomberman. Byes from the earliest round have been altered to be awarded upon league position in order to give an advantage to the Division One members, although the Knockout final has not comprised of two Division One members since Captain Maltby beat Baron Von Hooton on Columns at the Fifteenth Mega Drive Championship.
The Challenge, although not recognised as an official competition, was also in its proverbial foetus phase, as a mini-knockout competition on Super Street Fighter 2 that served as a warm-up to the main league event. At the Thirteenth Tournament, Doc Shakib beat Mr Smith in the final, but since then the Challenge has evolved into quite a different beast. The Nineteenth Mega Drive Championship will see all tournament members challenged to race through Green Hill Zone Act 1 from Sonic the Hedgehog with the fastest time winning. Times of less than thirty seconds have been claimed by a number of members, but reproducing such performances on the day might be a little bit trickier.
Much has changed since those days in early 2005. When five men gathered around a television and Mega Drive to contest what they assumed was to be the final Mega Drive Championship. Of those five who sat around that cold January evening nearly four years ago, three have hung up their controllers and set out for pastures new, one fights on in the lower league and of those five, only Doc Shakib continues alone in the top flight. The Nineteenth Championship sees the baton passed to a new generation in what promises to be a new era in Mega Drive gaming. For not only have Commander Graham, Doc Shakib, Earl Holbrook, Lieutenant Gareth and Professor King all got their eyes set on the first place trophy, but there is the distant promise of the 2009 European Mega Drive Championship. The line-up may be different but the competition is set to be more open and passionate than ever before and on Thursday 8th January 2009 we will find out who has what it takes to become the Nineteenth Mega Drive Champion.