KASOTA -- Justin Fox didn't expect the developers of "World of Tanks" to host an event so close to his home.
The Owatonna man had played "World of Tanks" ever since it was released on the Xbox 360, and he continues to play it on Playstation 4. When he heard "World of Tanks" makers Wargaming.net had planned a stop at a tank-driving business in Kasota, he knew he just had to be there.
"I was really, really surprised," he said.
That reaction was what Wargaming.net staff were counting on Saturday at Drive A Tank. The first stop of their second annual "Let's Battle Tour" drew more than 1,000 people from across the country and internationally.
"We have a deep passion for our games and our players," said Jake Neri, head of player experience -- North America for Wargaming.net. "We believe our games are nothing without these people, who put in a lot of time and energy, and get a lot of enjoyment out of our games."
There was plenty to enjoy at the event. Gamers could take advantage of 40 stations set up to play "World of Tanks" on PC, PS4 and Xbox. There were tanks on display and even a few tanks and armored personnel carriers available for people to ride.
Of course, no tank-related event would be complete without a good old-fashioned car crushing, and Drive A Tank delivered by running over a car at one point Saturday evening.
That's par for the course for Drive A Tank Owner Tony Borglum, who said he had never run such a large event where people could ride tanks for so cheap.
"It's definitely interesting," Borglum said. "It's a pretty unique opportunity."
A "World of Tanks" player himself, Borglum said having real-life experience with tanks will give gamers a new perspective on their online battles.
That's what many people wanted to see. Ilya Yunchya and his family came from Blaine to check out the tanks in part because he and his father bond over the game. Yunchya's family comes from Belarus, the country where "World of Tanks" was developed, and his father served in the Belarusan Army.
"I was really excited," Yunchya said. "Me and my dad have played for so long, we were happy to come to this event."
Abe Nebel, of Stoughton, Wisconsin, brought his older sister EmmaRuth along to the tour stop in Kasota. Abe has been playing "World of Tanks" since 2013, and said he didn't want to miss out on the chance to see real-world war machines.
"I wanted to see actual, operating tanks," he said. "I've seen the ones that are stationary, but this seemed like a good opportunity to check out working tanks."
Although not a gamer herself, EmmaRuth said she really enjoyed the event and may start playing "World of Tanks" as a result.
"I'm not very good at them," she laughed.
"World of Tanks" was released as free-to-play online in 2011. The game has grown popular around the world, spawning multiple titles such as "World of Warships" and "World of Warplanes." "World of Tanks" has since moved onto mobile devices and video game consoles, including a Playstation 4 release last year.
Millions of users have played the game since its initial release. Wargaming representatives say more than 180 million registered users have played "World of Tanks."
The company put together its first "Let's Battle Tour" last year to celebrate the game's success and to gather players from around the U.S. together. That tour hit larger cities, but players requested more military-themed activities for this year's tour -- hence, the event at Kasota's Drive A Tank.
Wargaming plans to host two other Let's Battle Tour events in Conneaut, Ohio, next month and at the USS Lexington in Corpus Christi, Texas, in September.
Yet the first stop proved a fun experience for gamers like Fox, who was really, really excited to ride in some of the vehicles at Drive A Tank.
"How often can you normally say 'I've got proof I rode in a tank?'" Fox said. ___
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