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XBLA Pac-Man World Championship begins next week!

First announced at the Tokyo Game Show, Microsoft has just released the details of their first-ever Xbox 360 Pac-Man World Championship. In short, beginning next Wednesday, April 25th, the Xbox Live Arcade Pac-Man leaderboards will be erased to provide a clean slate for the tournament. On that date, at 12:01am GMT gamers can visit to register and review rules before they start playing. The top nine players will be flown to New York City for the finals on June 5, with the winner being crowned the Xbox 360 Pac-Man World Champion by series creator, Toru Iwatani. (We suspect they've already got a crown pre-sized for Billy Mitchell.)

During a phone briefing with Microsoft's Jeff Bell, corporate vice president of Global Marketing, we asked about the Xbox 360's oft-maligned D-pad. Repeatedly. While Mr. Bell didn't seem to be as acutely aware of the D-pad's tragic shortcomings as many of us are, he did make it clear that, regardless of what controller you use to make it to the championship (MadCatz XBLA stick, perhaps), once there you'll be required to use the Xbox 360 gamepad. If you don't have the gaming chops -- or if that D-pad precludes any you may have had -- don't worry. There's one last chance for you to make it to the finals in New York City: the Pac-Man FANatic contest.

Pac-Man fanboys from the US or Canada can make a video demonstrating to judges why they (and not those other nerds) are in fact, the (North American) world's biggest Pac-Man fan. We're really hoping these end up on Xbox Live Marketplace ... we'd pay almost anything. The winner of the Pac-Man FANatic contest will join the other nine winners to compete for the title of "Pac-Man World Champion."

When asked about Billy Mitchell specifically, Mr. Bell said, "We obviously know Billy, and we have contacted him and let him know we're doing this and we're anticipating that he will be playing and competing... ." We imagine Mr. Mitchell preparing his mind and body in a comically rigorous montage, culminating in a sweat-drenched sprint up the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum where a glorious, vintage Pac-Man cabinet waits for him.

Billy Mitchell The winner of this Pac-a-thon will earn not only the admiration of his peers, a one-of-a-kind Pac-Man inspired Xbox 360 console, and one hundred thousand Microsoft Points (insert clever micro-transactions joke here), but also a Quiznos prize package that appears to validate everything Subway's ad says about video games: 26 years of free Quiznos toasted subs! What's second prize? Set of steak knives (just kidding!). But seriously, folks. We can't wait to see what the odds in Vegas are of Billy Mitchell taking this thing.

Lastly, in celebration of the championship and the twenty-sixth anniversary of Pac-Man, Microsoft will be adding the animated Pac-Man series (which ran from 1982 to 1984) to Xbox Live Marketplace in the US on April 25th. Each episode will cost 160 Microsoft Points (or about $2). Quiznos will also launch a nationwide ad campaign featuring The Pac (take that, Snakka!) to promote the tournament and their involvement.

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