EDITOR’S NOTE: Steven “Surprise” Uray, one of the great COH players of our time, recently returned from the World Cyber Games national final in Los Angeles, Calif., and has quite a tale to tell. I freely admit that this material isn’t directly relevant to COH, but as any editor worth the title knows, you never pass up posting good stuff if you can help it. Surprise’s account of his experiences, which we will release bi-weekly for probably a month or so, is sharply written and deeply personal. I am sure all RTS gamers will be able to relate, and see much of themselves in the people he captures with each keystroke. — Corkscrewblow
“I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.” -– Hunter S. Thompson
“This is it, lets do it man,” I thought to myself as I shut off my alarm clock. I was already instantly awake at 6 a.m., despite getting only a few hours of anxious sleep. It was time to leave for the World Cyber Games USA national final, an overly dramatic name for a video game tournament. I had spent the past few months preparing for it, and I was glad it was finally time to play. I felt ready to redeem myself for an embarrassing 0-2 loss at my previous WCG event, the Pacific regional qualifier. A few hours later, I found myself in the back of a cab, wind blowing through my hair and Pendulum playing in my headphones. I felt a little like a rock star racing along a highway toward the Wilshire Grand, the hotel hosting the WCG and its 200 competitors for three nights. I grew more excited as downtown Los Angeles drew closer, with its huge skyscrapers glinting in the sun. We passed by the Los Angeles Convention center, where the “E for All” gaming expo was about to begin.
WCG was a part of this convention, and I hadn’t realized just how big the event was going to be until I saw the place: it covered almost two entire city blocks and was even larger than the Staples Center, where the LA Lakers play. Downtown LA looked very hip, with tall, proud buildings, wide streets and bright lights.
The rock star feeling I had died instantly when the cab stopped and I looked at the pay meter. This 20-minute cab ride cost me $50. The middle-aged Indian cab driver began begging me pitifully to pay him in cash. This display shocked me, but I felt sorry for the guy enough to give him the money. I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t get a receipt; I figured he planned to pocket the money instead of giving his cab company their cut.
I was cheered up again as soon as I walked in the hotel, it was perfectly air-conditioned, with brown marble floors and rich carpeting. An upscale Korean restaurant was to my left and a classy bar was on my right. I was briefed on how the tournament was going to work by David, the WCG administrator who had set up a registration area on the hotel floor. I received a shiny “E for All” pass with my name on it, with “WCG Gamer” directly underneath.
I waited in the lobby for around an hour, thinking of strategies for my game and also watching people as they passed by. The people here for “E for All” were blatantly obvious. They were almost all white or Asian boys in their late teens, either too skinny or too fat, struggling to carry their bags and all looking seriously out of place in a four-star hotel more accustomed to rich, international businessmen. Each game played in WCG had its own community, and the members of each mostly kept to themselves. I was the first person to arrive for Command & Conquer 3, and didn’t have anybody to meet yet.
I soon got a call from Lazerflip and Crunk, the first C&C players to arrive besides myself. From now on, I will refer to these guys only by their aliases in the game, to give them a measure of privacy. They were up at registration, talking with David. I didn’t want to interrupt and sat down at a nearby couch. This gave me a little time to study the people I had known for months online but had never met in person – until now.
Lazerflip was a white guy, around 5’6” and 150 pounds, with short brown hair and reddish stubble on his face. He was a veteran gamer and this was supposed to be his fourth and final WCG. He walked confidently and didn’t seem nearly as lost as the other gamers wandering around the hotel. He was infamous for his nearly anarchist political beliefs, his womanizing and his general tendency to party, and party hard. Lazerflip was a pretty smart guy; he scored a 2200 on his SAT and claimed to have an IQ score topping 140 (genius/near-genius level).
Nevertheless, he was attending community college because of a devastatingly low GPA, and he had a tedious day job at Arby’s. I consider Lazerflip a cursed soul, his seemingly limitless potential canceled out by the girls, drugs and other sins in his life.
Crunk was around 180 pounds and was at least 6’2”. He had green eyes and a buzz cut, and wore polo T-shirt, jeans and dress shoes. He later told me this was all he had lying around right before his flight, which was apparently his preferred time to pack. He had a serene look on his face and was constantly smiling an easy smile, unfazed by the excitement around him. He was known for playing our game almost exclusively “crunk” (meaning under the simultaneous influence of marijuana and alcohol). He had only recently given up this habit due to his new job: working for a National Guard hotline while spending his nights working on his college degree.
They walked over to my couch after registering and we greeted each other, sat down, and generally made small talk. There is an unmistakable awkwardness to any meeting between gamers who’ve known each for months online but have never met in person. “Online” friends are still a relatively new social concept, and I think everybody has to reconcile the person standing right in front of them with the mental image of the person they built previously. The initial social clumsiness died quickly however, and conversation began flowing easily. Lazerflip told me he hadn’t slept the night before because of some strange inability to sleep in other people’s houses (he stayed the night with Crunk). We decided to drop off our bags in our rooms and find some lunch. We met a large group of Starcraft players whom Lazerflip knew, and they were also looking for food.
One of these gamers, Idra, was living in South Korea and being paid a salary to play for a programming team there. We found a mall about a block away that was almost entirely underground. It had three circular levels, all open-air with expensive boutiques. Anyone wanting to go down or up a level needed to walk to an escalator inconveniently placed on the other side, and the food courts were on the lowest level. I figured this was a clever ploy to force mall-goers to walk closer to shops.
NEXT TIME: Surprise gives up his usual pre-game health regimen (avoiding caffeine, alcohol and sugar) the night before his first match, choosing to down greasy chicken wings and 40 oz. bottles of beer. How will our champion fare on his big day?