For Skimbo, Madden fuels his competitive fire

After an injury sidelined his hopes in real-life baseball, Michael “Skimbo” Skimbo traded the pitcher's mound for a controller and became one of the best Madden players around. Electronic Arts

Multiple top-3 finishes in Madden 17 tournaments. One of the only competitors to qualify for every single LAN tournament since the inception of the Madden Championship Series in 2016. Arguably one of the greatest Madden players of this generation.

And to think Michael "Skimbo" Skimbo never even played video games in high school.

Unlike many of his fellow competitors, Skimbo's career in Madden didn't begin early on in his life. Instead, the Oklahoma native was focused on improving his abilities on the field, participating in a handful of sports throughout high school. A naturally gifted athlete, Skimbo was particularly good at baseball, eventually earning a scholarship to a Division III school as a left-handed pitcher.

However, in his first practice of his freshman year, Skimbo re-tore his left labrum, effectively ending his collegiate baseball career before it had a chance to blossom. Resilience, though, might as well be Skimbo's calling card. By the start of his sophomore season, Skimbo had turned to tennis, which he could still play effectively with his right arm, to satisfy his competitive itch.

Still that wasn't enough for him. Needing to pass the time which had been allotted to baseball, Skimbo drifted towards Madden, compelled by the challenge of participating in a traditional sport his schedule never allowed him to enjoy. Almost sheepishly, the now-Madden star admitted it wasn't so easy at first.

"It was sports or nothing in high school, so I never really had a chance to play video games until college. I would hate to lose against my buddies, but it would happen a lot, and I would ask to do the game over, do the game over. Eventually I would sneak into their room when they were asleep and I would play Madden literally all night, just so I could beat them," Skimbo said.

That practice would pay off, as Skimbo would go on to not only beat his unsuspecting roommates, but other rivals too, eventually competing in his first tournament during Madden 25 in Atlanta in 2013. It was there Skimbo would knock off Carlos "Los" Yancy, a respected member of the competitive community, signaling his arrival to the scene.

It's funny now to look back and see the humble beginnings of the 25-year-old, but only because he's developed into one of the premier players. Known for one of the best passing attacks in the competitive scene, Skimbo utilizes a variety of different motions and hot routes to perfect his shotgun bunch-formation offense. However, his expert ability to manipulate the soft spots in coverages has its disadvantages on the field -- namely that Skimbo lacks a solid run game.

It's hurt him in the past, particularly during the Madden Bowl Finals, where with just under two minutes remaining in the game, Skimbo failed to close out the contest despite being ahead. A better running game, he rationalizes, could have iced the game away.

But perhaps more important, his lack of diverse play calling has opened Skimbo up to criticism from the competitive community: the dreaded word, "cheese."

"I get how it looks. You watch real football on Sunday, they run a bunch of different formations. But if you look at the old college days where OU [Oklahoma] would run the Wishbone, they would run the same formation, but have three different looks out of it. You had to respect each one because you didn't know which look was coming. That's kinda how I run my offense as well," Skimbo said.

Skimbo admits that the negative perception around his aerial strategy could have affected him during his younger years, but nowadays it's a reminder of how far he's progressed as a competitor.

"People who think like that aren't thinking like a Madden player," Skimbo said. I always think of it as a challenge. When someone has this unbelievable run game I go find this unbelievable run defense. That's where I think it separates the skill gap from being one of the top players to being just a good player. The good player will say that play is too good, I didn't know what to do. The top players will say, well that is a good play, but I'm going to find a defense to beat him because I want to be considered the best."

It may seem too easy for Skimbo to dismiss the criticism, but that's only because he just doesn't care. The thrill of the competition has gotten Skimbo to where he is now, steps away from tasting glory in the game which he only just learned to love. "Anyone can achieve anything they want as long as they put in the time."

Funny it all started with a kid who just wanted to play Madden in the dorm rooms.