Splash Damage at Wembley for Special Effect
On Friday 20th April Splash Damage’s Elite Footballers descended on North London.
The train was silent. Heads lowered. Awkward glances out of the window. As soon as Wembley’s famous arch was in sight the tension became palpable. Forget launching games; Special Effect’s 5-a-side football tournament is the high point in the Splash Damage calendar.
The walk down Wembley way is one of pilgrimage for many football fans, the building works and preparation for Saturday’s FA Cup Semi-Final between Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur could do little to dampen the mood.
After the obligatory selfies, Instagram story updates and back and forth on directions Splash Damage made their way to tournament.
The trophies were lined up and Splash Damage’s priorities were immediately split:
“We’ve got no chance of winning the main tournament, we should play to get into the lower bracket final (and the trophy is nicer!)” said star striker Ben Cottage.
It was a sentiment echoed by most of the squad; Sports Interactive, Jagex and EA the goliaths of the Special Effect 5-a-side tournament were all in attendance, and their names on the sheet instilled fear.
Anthony Massey, the barking, commanding Roy Keane of the Splash Damage team (and acting player-manager on the day, citing a “dodgy groin”) ushered the team to the hallowed (astro) turf and kicked off the warmup to keep the boys focused.
“I’ve sent around a proper English pre-footy playlist to get them psyched up,” he said, with Chumbawumba, Baddeil and Skinner and Blur proving firm favourites.
The warmup was strenuous; laps around the turf, deep lunges and shooting practice particular highlights for the watching crowd:
While the warmup was underway the groups were drawn; titans of the gaming industry clashing. This time there was no Metacritic, no NPD sales figures, no, this time pride was being decided by skill, teamwork and who could withstand the 28 degree heat the best.
Murmurs spread throughout the squad. Would we still be playing to be in the bottom two? Could we win the group? Could we allow ourselves to be beaten by REBELLION?! The Splash Damage competitive streak was coming to the fore; steely glances towards middle distance, no eye contact with the enemy. We meant business, and our walk to the pitch showed it:
Game 1: Splash Damage vs Rare
Our first match was against Guildford’s own Rare, fresh off the back of the wildly successful launch of ‘Sea of Thieves,’ they were high in confidence, and it showed. It was back and forth in the early minutes, with Rare equalising with a low drive from distance. Our skill began to shine through though, and we pulled away to take the game 5-1; a thunderbolt from distance from Khaliq the highlight of game 1.
Spirits were high, bodies were feeling good and our sunburn was only in its fledgling state. Rebellion were up next, an unknown quantity for the boys, but we weren’t taking them lightly.
Game 2: Splash Damage vs Rebellion
It was tight from the off, with physical challenges raining down from both teams (who briefly forgot this tournament was for charity). Rebellion took the lead with a long distance stunner, before Cottage replied with a close range finish. Splash took the lead with another highlight reel finish, before Rebellion equalised with the last kick of the match.
Coach Massey’s temper was frayed; “We shouldn’t be dropping points from that position” he bellowed, before following up with various other footballing cliches.
There was a debrief with language far too colourful to share here, before a few of the team headed inside for cooler conditions until our next game.
Game 3: Splash Damage vs Ubisoft – Future
With Massey’s words still ringing in their ears the team took to the pitch to face a fresh challenge in the form of Ubisoft – Future. The team looked shaken; perhaps Massey’s Mourinho-like approach had demotivated them? Perhaps the intense heat was catching up to them? Perhaps Ubisoft – Futrue were far better than we thought?
A sloppy opening cost Splash, quickly falling behind and finding ourselves 3-1 down after 5 minutes. The latter half of the game was much better; with Melenets pulling a goal back. As the high fives were still going on Ubisoft – Future hit back, surely ending all hopes of a Splash Damage comeback. Melenets had other ideas though, grabbing the game by the scruff of the neck and bringing a rise from everyone else in the process. Cottage poked in a scrappy third for the boys, before Melenets, comfortably the best player on the pitch, scored a last minute equaliser to prompt wild scenes of celebration from this Social Media Manager.
An old football addage says ‘The table doesn’t lie’ and after 3 games Splash Damage were sat on 5 points. That wouldn’t be enough to see us through to the knockouts, and wasn’t low enough to see us fall into the lower bracket. We had a decision to make, and blocking our quest for glory were a familiar foe; Twitch.
Game 4: Splash Damage vs Twitch
A draw wouldn’t be enough for either team here, and there was personal pride on the line. The opening few minutes were full of niggly challenges and the odd professional foul. One in particular, leaving Melenets on the turf, drew outcry from the watching fans. It had the reverse effect on the boys on the pitch though, Melenets in particular, who’s anger fuelled a match winning, tournament defining performance.
He smashed in the opener following the foul, before some sloppy play let Twitch back into the match. The comeback was short lived, as Melenets grabbed his second moments later. Before I could finish live-tweeting the second goal Melenets drilled in his third to complete a well deserved hat-trick and put Splash Damage in the driving seat. He wasn’t done there, though, with memories of the poor first half challenge still in his mind he drilled in his and Splash Damage’s fourth from distance, before setting up Cottage for Splash’s 5th of the match. The memory of that goal will live long in the memory as a Cottage feint sent the keeper to the floor before lifting the ball over him:
With necks and faces slowly reddening in the sun Cottage curled in his second of the match, moving Splash 6-1 to the good. As some co-operative sun cream applying was taking place on the touch line Dani Cabero poked in from close range, before Adam Russell put the icing on the cake with a deft finish. 8-1 the final score.
The boys walked off the pitch with their heads held high and chests puffed out. The mood in the camp had changed. Long gone were the low expectations of the lower bracket. Now the boys had their sights set high, their dream of winning the Special Effect Wembley 5’s Tournament was only a couple of games away.
There was palpable tension in the air. Some eliminated teams headed home, others hit the watering hole and watched on from the sidelines as the draw was made…
Splash Damage vs Creative Assembley.
Cheers broke out in the watching crowd as Splash and CA eyes met. Mutual respect and a great rivalry was brewing.
As the teams greeted one another and the social media managers exchanged tips on the best Instagram filters for capturing the action the event organisers made a second announcement:
Splash vs Creative Assembley was no more, there had been an administrative error and instead our boys would be facing a newcomer; Santander.
The team watched on from the sidelines as the final few minutes of the other group games played out, apprehensive about the unknown quantity.
Knockout Round 1: Splash Damage vs Santander
This was the big leagues now. No margin for error. One Steven Gerrard-esque slip and you could be back on the Bakerloo Line home.
The game started with Santander dominating the ball. This was well drilled, hardened 5-a-side unit – brought up in the hard fought financial 5-a-side leagues. Their quality shone through early, with a feint down the line opening up space for a low effort into the corner.
Santander continued to dominate before Cottage smashed an effort off the post as our confidence began to grow.
We couldn’t maintain the momentum though, as sloppy work in the middle of the pitch was punished by Santander for a second goal to create daylight between the two teams.
Cabero pulled a goal back in the closing stages, but for all of Splash Damage’s pressure we couldn’t find an equaliser. It was a deserved victory for Santander, though, but they themselves couldn’t progress beyond the semi-final.
The team trudged off, knowing they were well beaten. The post-match drinks could hardly lift the spirits of the squad, but they vowed to be better next time.
Despite not making it as far as we would have liked it was still a great day; being a part of the amazing game development community in the UK is something we’re incredibly proud of at Splash Damage. The work that Special Effect do is something that has touched us all in the studio, and I’m sure across other studios all across the country, and every penny raised throughout the year goes to a great cause.
We gave it our all but it wasn’t to be this year. But rest assured we’ll be back next year, better than ever, ready to challenge for the title.