Even now I'd say that's probably the only thing we ask of our members.
So that's it, folks: a week of playlists, All-Stars lobbies and varied meets, all tightly squashed together to celebrate a wonderful, diverse year of the Off-Road All-Stars existing within the GTA Online universe, bringing together members from all over the world and welcoming our allies within our festivities to truly share this awesome milestone with as many people as possible. And what a week it was.
I had decided a few weeks ago to throw something together, a whimsical decision with a call-out to my amazing Commissioners to help me set up such an event; it wasn't until a week before our anniversary that I actually made the choice to turn it into a full week of activity, spurred on by my impending forced sabbatical & motivated by the constant, unwavering enthusiasm of our unique little community. I forced myself to sit down and think back to the beginning, the excitement I experienced as our members rose from just myself to ten, fifteen, twenty, watching as people outside of the pre-existing friendship group showed an interest and made the choice to become an All-Star and don our sunny yellow crew colour and ideals. From the very start of it all we only had one aim, and a simple one at that: have a shit ton of fun whilst treating one another with the respect we'd want to be treated with ourselves.
Even now I'd say that's probably the only thing we ask of our members.
This week has only strengthened my faith in this ideal and, as I've never been one to avoid embarrassing myself, I have to admit that it feels almost like I'm falling in love with the All-Stars all over again... because that's exactly how it takes hold. It's an instantaneous development, getting swept up in the adrenaline rush of meeting new people who you give you that rapid-fire click from the moment you enter a lobby with them; it's feeling simultaneously safe whilst at the same time getting those wild little leaps in your stomach every time someone makes you laugh, welcoming an addiction that has, as of last week, stood the test of time for twelve months and - I genuinely believe this - will continue to reign over many of us for a good long while yet. It's taking that risk of wanting it to be everything it promises to be on the surface and finding out that you were right to trust your instincts all along. There's something inexplicable and, dare I say it, magical about something so simple as a group of people hanging out in an online universe bringing so much happiness and purpose to something which, for most people, is just a way of letting off steam. It's something special, but at the same time it's gloriously understated.
All sentiment aside, this week truly was an absolute blast. Along with crew favourites such as 'Around the Map' & tackling Mount Chiliad in one of the toughest routes we've attempted (the rain certainly didn't help), we threw ourselves into chaos via bloodthirsty playlists & had the most chilled meet ever with the 'Bike & Hike'; variation was the spice of life for the All-Stars over the past seven days, and suffice it to say that whether we had 25 in a lobby or 10, this week was undoubtedly a HUGE success. We discovered the acidic reflux of Fizzy Yum-Yum, challenged the rules of social interaction with car-sex revelations, tested our stubborn determination with 6+ hrs of tackling the entire coastline of the map and, indisputably, come out of it with a lot more stories to tell and another cascade of experiences safely secured under our belts. It was, in short, one of the best weeks the All-Stars have ever had.
Thank you to everybody who attended our Festivities Week activities and for making it every bit as amazing as you guys. Here's to one year of awesomeness; let's bring on another!
I'll admit freely that, despite being genuinely enthusiastic about everything I'd planned for the All-Stars Festivities Week, the Bike & Hike was the event that I was most excited about. It was different to anything we'd ever done before as a group; although I'd had many a fun time cycling and hiking across Los Santos and Blaine County with a friend or two, having it as a crew meet somehow set the bar really high for me and made me anxious to get it right so that everyone could enjoy the experience of seeing the map from a slower, more relaxed perspective as much as I have done in the past.
It was clear from the start that we would have a small lobby; ten of us ended up starting our journey after a tense 45-minute attempt to get everybody in, but there was no doubt from any side that the size of the group would affect the meet in any negative way. There was an abundance of jokes, bunny-hopping, banter and silliness as we set off towards Mount Josiah, showing off our mad butt-wiggling skills as we cycled across the rough terrain we're so fond of, the warmth of an All-Star lobby as present as ever, not in the least bit lessened in the shadow of the larger lobbies we're used to dealing with. If I'm being honest - and I must, seeing as this is a blog - I probably prefer a smaller lobby; communication is so much easier with fewer people, especially as we tend to have multiple big personalities in one space at one time and often you find people talking over one another in their enthusiasm to be heard. This lobby had no such issues (despite aforementioned big personalities being present), all of us getting our turn to speak our piece and joining together in mesmerising harmony in laughter at the appropriate - and gloriously inappropriate - moments!
After a leisurely cycle down to the river (and naturally leaving a few members of the party with drowned bikes) we decided to head on over to Ammunation, full of purpose and with the best of intentions. All of us were aware of the devastatingly recent terrorist attacks in France and, after seeing one member sporting a parachute bag emblazoned with the French flag, we decided to rally together in support and purchase them for all of us to wear on our journey. Perhaps to some it would seem like an empty decision to make, much like a Facebook post or that Instagram selfie only your mother appreciated, but... well, it's a difficult thing to put into words. We weren't doing it to feel good about ourselves, some misguided way of thinking we were making a difference: empathy, it would seem, took hold of our little lobby and we found ourselves simultaneously gripped by the idea of doing something, anything in order to show our solidarity for those who weren't as we were - that is, safe, comfortable, content in front of our pixels. We adorned our parachute bags with a solemn acknowledgement that, although what we were doing wouldn't make a difference to anyone but ourselves, there were infinitely bigger things to care about than whether our bicycles were sand-deep in a river somewhere.
After a little more cycling, a foray into throwing ourselves around some rocks and a rather tough climb up to the top of Mount Josiah, we made our way down into Raton Canyon and left our bikes at the side of the creek in order to make the journey to the top of Mount Chiliad by foot. What could have been a rather dull hike with aimless conversation took an entertaining (and revealing) twist as we began to play 'Truth or Lie', a mini-game inspired by a UK television show whereupon we each took it in turns to tell one truth and one lie, throwing them out to the lobby for us all to decide which statement was a true story and which - as I'm sure you've worked out - was balderdash and chicanery. If the majority of the lobby thought the lie was, in fact, truth, the person spinning the stories won a point; admittedly I can't remember who the best liar out of the group was, but it was undeniably an entertaining way of passing the time as we climbed higher and higher. I, for one, revealed far more than I probably should have, but at least I can say with confidence that the people within our little group chalked my revelations down to teenage idiocy for the most part and would never use what I divulged against me. Never!
All in all, there's nothing bad that I could say about our little Bike & Hike adventure. Perhaps at times people could have been a little less enthusiastic in their steaming ahead of the host, though this is in part down to me and my control over the lobby; I tend to be a rather overly-relaxed host, allowing people to do what makes them comfortable rather than keeping a tight hold over everyone and demanding that they follow me. The way that I see it, my meets tend to be impromptu and therefore require more of a dynamic approach to issues; there's always room for a little wiggle, a little mishap. Regardless of that tiny issue, however, the event itself was a damned joy to throw together, bringing with it a great little lobby full of interesting conversation, lots of laughter and more than a little creativity on all sides. Perhaps it was the novelty of it that made it such an enjoyable experience for me - and hopefully others - but whatever it was? It worked. I loved it. I loved every darned minute of it.
Needless to say, it won't be the last All-Star Bike & Hike I host!
As I'm sure is fairly obvious, I'm 101% stoked that we've reached that holy one-year mark of being in existence within the wonderfully dense world gifted to us by Rockstar; we started out as something so small, so infinitely personal that to see it stretching out and encompassing some truly amazing individuals - literally people from all over the world - is, in short, enough to leave me in utter awe. I can say with some confidence that our being an established crew with more color, creativity and community-spirit than most online groups could hope for in a lifetime is something I'll never quite get over.
We're not the only ones, either; there are other groups out there exactly like us who have genuinely taken the time to get to know the real people behind the headset. Skype calls are taken, photos are shared, phone numbers exchanged. These people, us, whoever else, we're living in a time where we don't need to be in tangible distance to one another in order to connect; yes, we've all admitted from time to time how much we'd love to be able to hang out as 'real life' friends do, but the fact that it's not a necessity and the fact that we all consider one another to mean something more than just a 'gaming buddy' is something pretty epic, at least from where I'm standing. Gaming community or not, the 'community' part is what stands out. It actually means something here.
I'll just get it out there: I adore the hell outta the lot of you. Let's freakin' celebrate the shit out of it, shall we?
One of the awesome things that I've found with this crew is that no matter what we're doing, no matter how many times we've done it before, no matter if it's almost startlingly familiar, it's always as if we're experiencing it for the very first time; the only real difference is that, lucky for us, we're better prepared. This is more than a little accurate when describing Day #3 of the All-Stars Festivity Week and a little meet we like to call 'Around The Map'.
The premise is fairly simple and exactly as the title suggests: we call in an off-road vehicle, meet at Vespucci Beach, take a few pictures and set off around the coast. The aim? Make it around the entire coastline of the map with as few destroyed vehicles as possible, all the while having as much fun as we can and working as a team to make it as pain-free as it could possibly be. The meet creation and hosting is executed by none other than All-Stars Commissioner Steve, a creative genius with the patience of a nun; since September 2014 he's hosted over ten Around The Map meets (hell knows how many meets aside from those) and, considering the length of time these particular meets take... well, he deserves a medal. Ten of them. Ten diamond-encrusted, solid platinum medals. We're talking five hours straight of off-roading, and that's on an easy day - tonight's meet, hosted in honor of our All-Stars birthday celebrations, went on for SIX hours, and if you don't think that's hardcore then you need to head on over and experience the road less traveled with us.
You'll LOVE it. We promise.
Tonight we had some newbies added to the line-up and, I've gotta give them a shout-out, they did bloody well and were absolute champs from the moment they arrived to the second they crawled away. At least most of us know what we're getting into (with myself, Steve and a few others from the UK staring desperately at our screens as the clock ticked over into 5am), but our newer members came enthusiastically into it without any prior warning that this meet was renowned throughout the crew for being an endurance event. Not everyone made it to the end (we started with nineteen & ended with eight), but for all the hours spent with us there wasn't one word of complaint, not a single moment of discontent. Huge props to all of you: you're gonna fit right in!
Hours later I find myself sitting here, sleep-deprived and not really sure what it is that I'm typing anymore, and I'm still grinning. We took a meet we'd done more times than Steve's 'accidental' explosive massacres (The Grenade Paradox) and somehow the lobby was fueled with as much laughter, sexual innuendo and good-natured banter as it would have been one year ago. Time hasn't made us boring to one another, the novelty hasn't melted away; instead we find ourselves far more comfortable, ten times more likely to say what we really mean rather than the cushioned, non-sexual version we perhaps would once have used, navigating some truly challenging climbs and all the while entertaining one another with a chilled, humorous, infinitely warm atmosphere that I have yet to find the equal of elsewhere. Perhaps whilst you're reading this you're thinking, 'yeah, well, MY crew is like that!' - I say good on you. Finding that group of people you feel at home with whilst destroying your fifteenth truck of the night and knowing that you'll walk away with an aching butt (from sitting down for so long, you dirty-minded asshats) yet not caring one bit... that's pretty fuckin' special.
To sum up... another fantastic meet with the All-Stars and yet another amazing event for our All-Stars Festivities Week! Thanks x 1,000 to Steve for his second-to-none hosting and to everyone who attended for making it such a brilliant experience.
NEXT UP: Pegasus Madness, tonight @ 10pm GMT! For more info, click the pic below!