As it turns out, E3 2019 wasn’t a total bust.
Though Microsoft’s press conference was met with mixed reception, Sony never showed, and the best reveals were made on livestreams as opposed to real-life stages, the event I looked forward to most this week had nothing to do with surprise video game announcements. For me, the highlight of this year’s show centered on Street Fighter 5, a Miller Lite can, and absurdist comedian Eric Andre.
It all started Monday, June 10. I received an email around 10 a.m. pitching me “the first-ever drinkable gaming controller” — the Cantroller, created by none other than Miller Lite. Then, in bold lettering, I saw the words:
Check out the just-released promo video featuring comedian Eric Andre here.
Out of curiosity, I kept scanning.
“On Wednesday, 6/12 Eric will be at the Cantroller drop event in LA. For the chance to win a Cantroller, players will need to use the Cantroller at the event to attempt to beat comedian Eric Andre in Street Fighter. Win, and the controller is yours.”
Comparable in weight and dimensions to a normal beer can, the Cantroller described here was one of 200 in existence, all of which were intended as promotional trophies awarded to winners of the Cantroller drop event contest. Hence the name, each Cantroller doubled as a perfectly serviceable game controller, equipped for use on PC by way of a Bluetooth radio it had fastened to its base.
Made entirely of aluminum, the Cantroller was developed in partnership with a New York-based ad agency called Unit9. If it weren’t for the functional circuit board it had strapped to the side opposite its label, I would have confused the Cantroller for an ordinary Miller Lite beer can. However, because the circuit board was disguised as a complete set of face buttons, it transformed what was otherwise suburban street trash into an actual, working gamepad.
Like Fred Savage’s younger brother in the hit film The Wizard, it was at this moment I decided I was not only going to play Eric Andre at Street Fighter for a chance to win a lukewarm can of fizz with a circuit board attached, but that I was going to take home the gold, too … not that I could take it home given its TSA-averse liquid and alcoholic contents.
My sights set on a newfound destiny, no one was around to stop me from achieving said lofty pursuits. No one except myself, that is. At first, in classic misanthropic fashion, I backed down.
“That sounds awesome,” I said in an email to a PR representative at Miller Lite. “Could I come check it out? Not sure I can beat Eric Andre at Street Fighter, but I’d love to write about this after seeing it in person.”
Yet the more I mulled it over, the more I was inclined to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. A day later, I backpedaled on my initial cowardice.
“Actually, on second thought,” I said, “I’ll play Street Fighter with Eric Andre. Let’s do it, sign me up!”
When I arrived at the event, admittedly I wasn’t sure if I was in the right place. To be honest, the pitch I had gotten downplayed the Eric Andre appearance so much that I though I’d been duped. Normally, PR people are quick to point out celebrity guests, name-dropping them in the subject lines where necessary to garner attention.
That wasn’t the case here, as Miller Lite took a tactful, if somewhat reductive approach with the headline Drinkable gaming controller, the “Cantroller.” Had Andre’s name been included, I’m certain more press would have shown up. Nevertheless, 450 people did register for a Miller Lite gaming event held in a remote building planted atop a largely unadorned parking lot.
Of those that came early, I was one of three working in media. The first reporter was already getting started by the time I stepped in. Both he and Andre were using the Cantroller to play Street Fighter 5 on a connected Alienware PC whose video and audio signals were being output to a sizable flatscreen TV. As I watched Andre’s health bar deplete, something amazing happened.
Mid-match, Andre called up friend and fellow comedian Hannibal Buress on FaceTime.
“What up, Hannibal?” he inquired. “Play me at Street Fighter.”
Miraculously, a few minutes later, that wish was granted. Hannibal Buress entered the building, played one round of Street Fighter 5 against Andre, and left. Because my turn on the Cantroller was delayed as a result, it was apparent no one at Miller Lite knew Buress was going to make a cameo. Not that I minded. In this ad-lib sketch comedy routine, even spectatorship was a gift.
Not long thereafter, I was finally handed a Cantroller. It felt stiff. Unlike a traditional PlayStation or Xbox controller, the Cantroller lacked meaningful travel. Its buttons were shallow, offering minimal feedback in the form of clicks or haptics. Without seeing my character react onscreen, there was no way to tell if my button presses were doing anything at all. The situation worsened as our match began.
On top of having flat, mushy buttons, the Cantroller relied on Bluetooth as its sole wireless connectivity protocol. Yes, that means latency was at an all-time high. Especially in a fast paced competitive game like Street Fighter, reduced latency is key to pulling off elaborate combos and fluid movement. Thus, most professional players avoid wireless controllers like the plague.
Still, even if I had a proper wired controller or fight stick, I probably wouldn’t have won in my Street Fighter 5 tussle with Eric Andre. The playing field was balanced. As was the case for the person who went before me, both Andre and I had to use the Cantroller to finish a complete three-round match of Street Fighter 5. One of us had to win. It was close [Editors’ Note: It wasn’t], but ultimately my illustrious rival emerged victorious.
That being said, Miller Lite retweeted me to its 200K+ Twitter followers. Not some nobody our readers have never heard of named Eric Andre. So, tell me, who’s the real winner here? Not him. Illegalize ranch.
After conceding, I lingered for about an hour, finished out my remaining three-bread-water ration, and called a Lyft. Before I could go, I chatted up one of the Miller Lite PR folks, advising the company advertise its beverages more aggressively to gamers.
I’m told there are government regulations preventing this, specifically, from happening. To gamers everywhere, I apologize. It is time we rise up and take back what is ours. Miller Lite is gamer fuel. Call the cops, I don’t care.