Red Bull Escape Room World Championships 2019 – Part 1: Preamble & Qualifying

When I tell people I’ve participated in the Red Bull Escape Room World Championships they usually say “there’s an escape room world championship?!” So before I delve into the details of the experience, I thought it would be worthwhile explaining what it is, as much as it’s understood by anyone.

In late 2016, almost completely out of the blue, Red Bull announced that they were organising an escape room world championship. This was surprising for a number of reasons:

1. Most of the world still didn’t know what an escape room was
2. There was no such thing as ‘competitive escape rooming’
3. It’s not an activity that lends itself to TV/streaming coverage, or publicity of any kind really

The prevailing theory was that this was some type of strange marketing campaign for the Red Bull-produced (and almost inconceivably awful) movie, MindGamers. But the fact that it has come back for a second edition suggests this isn’t the case.

Anyway, back to 2016/17. As there was no template for what an escape room world championship should look like, Red Bull had a blank page to work from. What they came up with was something that didn’t really have much to do with escape rooms, and annoyed me quite a lot. But apparently not enough to put me off completely, so when “season 2” was announced in 2018 (to take place in 2019) I signed up for more.

The qualification process this time was very similar to the previous method. First of all you had to complete an online puzzle game as fast as you can. The top 40(ish) times from the online game were invited to a “real life” qualifier, where you played a four-screen interactive puzzle game, informally called “The Cube”. The fastest time from this trial would become the national team of that country.

In the UK we had quite an uneventful time. I rejoined two of my team-mates from 2017, Sera and Sharan, and we recruited Dave to replace Ken, who had been ruled out by agreeing to work with Red Bull on improving the event. We came up with the name Team Squared to reflect the four equal parts of the team. We posted a fast time on the online game to earn a place at the London qualifier. Then we set the world’s best time at the live event to become the UK team.

Team Squared - The UK representatives at the Red Bull Escape Room World Championships
The most narcissistic team on Facebook are at it again

Elsewhere, things were a little more complicated. Organisational and technical issues ran rampant. Some countries that held events last time decided not to this year (it’s down to the individual Red Bull organisations whether or not to host it in their area) causing some distress. Some countries made it very difficult for people to attend the qualifiers by not announcing where or when they were. Some countries played the wrong game (apparently at least one of the “the cubes” still had the 2017 version installed on it). Some countries were accused of cheating after posting some very suspicious results online. Some countries had to redo their events after the equipment completely broke. One event almost managed to create a political incident when it was won by a team from a different country (within the rules), resulting in two teams being invited; the qualifier’s fastest team, and the fastest team from the host country.

And then there was the wildcard. For reasons never made crystal clear, but probably to try and appease all those who felt aggrieved by the qualification process, one finals slot was made available to the winners of a further online competition. This event had a strong whiff of ‘being made up as it went along’, and likely caused more aggrevation than it cured. But ultimately resulted in Slackers United being invited as a second US-based team.

24 teams were now invited to London (not the exotic destination I was hoping for) to compete in the Red Bull Escape Room World Championships 2019. Tune in next time to see what the 22 teams that made it (Georgia and Azerbaijan were ruled out due to Visa issues) were up against.

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