Just Dance has a new World Cup champion, and it's not who anyone thought it would be. Somehow breezing past stiff competition from around the globe, high school-aged Umutcan managed the biggest upset in the game's short competitive history.
I know what you're thinking: there's a World Cup for Just Dance? Yes, there is. That motion-tracking rhythm game from 2009 that originally released for the Nintendo Wii that everyone insisted on playing after coming back from the bar drunk and which spawned seven sequels and even more spin-offs is also an esport.
Umutcan, who goes by "Technoth" in the dancing world, who came to Paris for the Just Dance World Cup as one of its youngest contenders, will leave it a champion. Hailing from Ankara, Turkey's capital, Umutcan was nobody's favourite to take the championship.
Instead, many assumed Brazil's Diegho San would take first place for the third year in a row, or that if anyone were to unseat him, it would be France's own TheFairyDina or perhaps Australian newcomer Denzal Van Uitregt.
Umutcan (center) holding the Just Dance Word Cup trophy beside Pamela (right) and Uitregt left).
But Umutcan proved them all wrong. Using a Swiss-system for the group stage meant that only the top four performers would make it into the playoffs. Umutcan was actually tied with previous champion Diegho San wins, but because he had defeated him during their group stage best-of-three series, it was the Turkish dancer who got to progress (the final ranking was based on points, and San being the two-time world champion, a win against him was worth the most points).
After sending the former world champion home, Umutcan had to go up against Hian who was, up until the semifinals, undefeated. But even on the first song, Beyoncé's "Single Ladies," despite the superb timing of his competitor, it was Umutcan's style and energy gave him a lead.
While Hian took the next round on Frankie Valli's "Cant Take My Eyes Off You," it was Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now," that decided the winner, which turned out to be, to the surprise of even the announcers, Umutcan.
The judges loved his fluid movements and passion even when it cost him precision on the choreography, a trend that continued through to the finals against a third Brazilian opponent, Pamela. "Don't Stop Me Now," returned for the first round, followed by will.i.am's "Scream & Shout" featuring Britney Spears. Umutcan took both with one of the judges, Just Dance's own Manager of Choreography, saying she simply couldn't take her eyes off the aspiring champion.
The World Cup trophy was presented to Umutcan with The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" blasting in the background, because when you're a slave to the money then you die the only thing to do is dance in front of a video game.
Prior to the tournament, he told Ubisoft, the game's publisher and the organiser behind the event, that he tried to qualify last year but was unsuccessful. "I was not as good as now," he said, having trained three hours a day in the months in-between to make sure 2017 was different.
Ever since Diegho San won the first Just Dance World Cup a few years ago, the scene around the game in Brazil has exploded, as evidenced by the number of top ranked talent that hails from that country. With no comparative community to be inspired by or borrow from in Turkey, Umutcan's rise feels even more like Billy Elliot (2000) meets The Wizard (1989).
"[The] crowded environment doesn't make me scared," he said before the tournament. "On the contrary, it makes me excited and encourages me." For Umutcan, Just Dance is more than just a competition though, who added that the game is a key part of how he socializes with friends and has built lasting relationships. And of course his favourite Just Dance song is David Guetta's "Hey Mama" featuring Nicki Minaj, because "when I play this song, I feel more excited and free."
You can watch the finals here.