By Cheryl Conway
Playing video games for two decades for fun recently turned competitive for one Roxbury man who now holds the title as Madden 2016 Champion.
Frank Sardoni Jr., 25, of Succasunna, recently won $20,000 in an EA Sports Madden NFL 16 Championship Tournament. He was crowned the winner on Tues., June 14, at Novo Theater in Los Angeles, Calif., after competing for a month on his Xbox One against a million other players around the United States.
Being known as the “greatest Madden Player on the planet,” is quite thrilling for the 2009 Roxbury High School alumnus who not only won the cash prize but got to take home a championship title belt, got sent on a free vacation to California where the final matches were played, appeared on ESPN, got to meet a bunch of NFL players, appeared on the Dan Patrick Show and was on stage with Marshall Falk during the Dorito’s 50th anniversary celebration while in L.A.
It was “definitely a surreal moment,” says Sardoni. “Definitely out of a fairy tale book. I went down to California for a free vacation. I was able to actually win!”
Sardoni has been playing video games for 20 years, since he was five years old. His favorite game, by far, is Madden; he has been playing for ten years on Xbox One, since 2013 and on Xbox 360 before that.
While he plays for fun, he decided to play more competitively the past three years. He had won a few thousand dollars from the underground tournament in 2015. Winning Madden 2016 was his first big tournament that he won.
The tournament began May 14.
“That’s when the whole ladder system started,” he explains, with about a million gamers playing throughout the country.
“You go online for a month,” he explains, and play random people. He would try to play five games a day, spending about 20 minutes to complete each game. From that, the top 64 players with the highest record move onto the next round. Sardoni was ranked 42 at that point.
“Then they created the single elimination bracket,” in which he had to get through three rounds.
“Out of 64 people, only four people get through,” he explains. “I got through 60 people; I had to play six games.”
That was when Sardoni was one of the eight players flown out to Burbank, Cali., and then to Microsoft’s Novo Theater in downtown Hollywood to play in the finals in ESPN and ESPN 3 from June 9 to June 14.
Sardoni flew out with “a buddy of mine,” Peter Calesato from Staten Island, N.Y., who also made it to the finals. Calesato ended up finishing in third place winning $3,500.
The finals were handled as a pool play or a “round robin” with eight players. There were two round robins with four players in each. The same tournament was happening with PlayStation Four.
The top four players from Xbox One was one round and the top four players from PlayStation Four was the other round.
Each player gets to pick their “Dream Team” selecting 34 various players from the NFL teams and creating a fantasy team. Players must be at least 18 years old to play in the free tournament. In the final rounds he faced gamers from areas such as New York, Ohio, California, Arizona, Florida, Texas, Chicago and Seattle.
“You get to pick players from each team,” he says. Some of his top players included Rob “Gronk” Grockowski, a tight-end for the New England Patriots; Calvin Johnson Jr., retired wide receiver for the Detroit Lions; and the late Sean Taylor from the Washington Redskins.
When he is not gaming, Sardoni works full-time in information technology for New York Life Insurance. He attended Roxbury schools for ten years, since the eighth grade and then got his degree in business management from Fairleigh Dickenson in Florham Park and an associate’s in computer science.
While baseball is his sport, having played at the college level for FDU and for the RHS varsity team, Sardoni says he turned to football for the video game. Chicago Bears is his favorite team, he says.
With his $20,000 prize, Sardoni plans to purchase a condominium and help pay for his wedding tentatively scheduled for Oct. 2017. He just got engaged Mon., July 4, to Amber Lopez of Flanders, his RHS sweetheart, a 2011 graduate who he has been dating for the past three years.
Playing Madden is a fun challenge for Sardoni, who will probably be automatically entered into the next tournament, which will now be held four times annually for gamers to enjoy. The next tournament is set for Nov.
“Strategies that you can come up with, almost like a chess game,” is what excites Sardoni in the Madden game. “They make a move, you counterattack.” Having good, “hand eye coordination, you have to be good at the controller. I like games like that.”
While all of those skills are important, Sardoni shares his secret to winning this year’s tournament.
“We use different schemes, coming up with a unique scheme that no one else has,” he says. “I was running a different formation that no one was running,” known as the Single Back Tight Slots. “I used Rob Grockowski to full advantage that no one could stop.”
No matter the strategy, “Practice makes perfect,” concludes Sardoni. “If you want to be good at something, then practice, practice, practice.”