EDITOR’S NOTE: Steven “Surprise” Uray continues his series on his adventure to Los Angeles, Calif., where he faces some of the best RTS players in the world at the World Cyber Games final. This is a tour-de-force that smacks of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” Similar themes are explored: substance-driven soul-searching, shifting personal expectations, hopes being lifted then crushed, and true life lessons emerging from it all. I’ve even embedded a YouTube audio clip of the Steppenwolf song that defined the spirit of the 60s to accompany this excellent post. – Corkscrewblow
Lazerflip and the Starcraft players went to Quiznos, while I went with Crunk to Panda Express. We sat down next to a guy playing a piano for the mall’s guests, and I was surprised how quickly our conversation turned to gaming and gamers we knew in general. I felt pretty nerdy talking C&C strategies, but it also felt natural with Crunk. I wasn’t very hungry and Crunk was done with his two entrees before I was half finished.
Back at the hotel, we decided to split from the Starcraft players to go swimming and smoke some cigarettes. Now, I had decided to quit using all psychoactive substances two weeks ago to focus on gaming and have a clear head. Up until this point, I had been entirely successful except when I accidentally drank half a Coke (caffeine).
Now I decided this was taking it all a bit too seriously, and decided to smoke a little while I swam. While we were going to the pool we first met Judgepowr, who was to be my roommate for the trip. I had already met him at Pacific Regionals, where he handed me an embarrassing loss. He wasn’t very good at Command and Conquer, but he played well enough to beat me whenever I wasn’t at the top of my game. He was short, stout and dark-skinned, perhaps Hispanic or Arab, and wore broken glasses. After a few minutes of small talk, he announced he was leaving to put his car in his garage and disappeared. I was a little disappointed I wouldn’t get to play him here in group stages and get revenge.
The pool was smaller than I expected for such a nice hotel, but it was refreshing and also had a nice hot tub. Eventually we got cold and jumped in the hot tub. After a little while, we got hot and bored and dried off and smoke some more. I went with them back to their room, and generally got more bored with them for around an hour before somebody jokingly suggested we act like stereotypical black people and get fried chicken with 40oz beers. After we all laughed, we agreed this was actually a good idea and decided to walk around downtown LA on a search for chicken and 40s in the blazing daytime heat. It took three hours, but we returned from our quest flush with loot: 50 assorted chicken wings, three Olde English 40s and a six-pack of Bud Lite.
We’d barely gotten started before we got a call from Khufu, saying he wanted to meet us in the lobby. It was suggested he come to our room, so three people busy eating wouldn’t have to stop to meet one asshole in the lobby, but this rationale notion was collectively ignored. As we headed down to meet Khufu, Lazerflip explained that this is “just how Khufu is,” and I decided to relax and go with it.
Evidently, many moons ago, Lazerflip made a noble decision to save Khufu from himself and taught him about things strange and exotic to gamers, like how to talk to girls and how to “be smooth.” In return, Khufu helped Lazerflip become a better C&C player. Both guys knew they had what the other lacked, and seemed to accept that their relationship was built around this deal. I found the idea disconcerting, but I decided after some though that a deal can often be found at the heart of many great friendships.
One thing I’ve noticed is that when gamers who know each other online meet in real life, the strongest player tends to become the alpha male of the group. This seems to be the case even if the strongest players happens to be physically weaker than everyone else. The respect he gets for his online skills is carried over to real life by default. I was interested to see if Khufu would live up to this role in our group.
Khufu turned out to be tall, skinny and white, with blue eyes that held your gaze a little too long whenever you looked into them. He had dirty blond hair that was a little too long; strands of it were uncombed and shot off in random directions. This Napoleon Dynamite lookalike went with us back to our hotel room where we laid into the rest of the wings and beer. Khufu tried a little of our chicken but said it was too unhealthy for him to eat before he played. He expressed shock that we were drinking the night before our tournament matches. He talked with us for a few minutes and turned out to be a funny, chill guy, but he left shortly afterwards, dragging Lazerflip with him in search of healthier food.
This left me and Crunk alone in his room, where I soon made the first mistake of my trip: eating the spicy wings. We had nothing but beer to drink, so naturally I washed down every spicy wing with a swig of beer. Suddenly I looked down and saw that we were almost out of spicy wings; as side effect, I’d killed the 40 in less than half an hour. Having had no alcohol for months, I had no tolerance built up. I started feeling buzzed, then really relaxed and then numb. I realized I would need to start drinking lots of water to avoid a hangover in the morning, which would hurt my confidence going into the tournament.
Khufu and Lazerflip returned with a salad and hung out with us for the rest of the night. Somehow the conversation turned to girls, and I asked Khufu how that was going for him. He looked at me blankly and said, “When girls know you play a lot of games, they stay away from you, man.” He really looked pained, like he regretted his hobby. I felt like lecturing him and telling him that really it was his appearance and attitude that kept him from succeeding with girls, because at that point I believed it. It then occurred to me, through my growing stupor, that this would probably be considered rude, and so I kept my mouth shut and mumbled something in response.
The truth is, I guess something deep inside of me refused to admit that major social sacrifices were necessary to become a top-flight gamer – the kind of person that wins thousands in tournaments and has their name turned into a gaming hardware brand. I couldn’t figure out if Khufu had no friends left because all he did was game, or if he was into gaming because he already had no friends.
As I was sitting there, watching Khufu and musing about this fantastic player’s social life, I felt the alcohol really start hitting me – just waves of woozy force that sent my head wobbling slowly back and forth. I knew the longer I stayed in Lazerflip and Crunk’s room, the harder it would be for me to get back to my own and hit the sack.
By now I was so numb I felt like I was walking on pillows, but at the same time a tidal wave of nausea swept my stomach. As I stumbled out into the hallway, the lights seemed to spin in place and I actually remember staggering like a true drunkard, barely making it to my door. I slipped the room key into the door and when Judgepowr greeted me with a “what’s up,” I could only reply “I’m trashed” before collapsing in a pile on my bed, falling into a dreamless sleep seconds later.
That night I kept waking up to drink tap water, even though immediately afterward I’d take a piss to clear out the chemical remnants of the alcohol. Eventually the noise woke Judgepowr and he made some groggy, awkward jokes about how often I needed to pee and how long the urine stream kept going each time. When morning came, I felt much better but I decided it’d best split from my friends, get some breakfast alone and walk around the pristine hotel lobby to sober up and get in the zone.
I sat down in the hotel’s restaurant and grabbed a bowl of healthy-looking cereal and orange juice. I began listening to some really chill music and was feeling my focus and confidence come back. I asked for the check and to my horror, they wanted me to pay $20 for my cereal. Apparently, taking one item from the breakfast buffet table counts as buying into the entire buffet. I wasn’t hungry anymore and eating more food from the buffet would be pointless. I gave them a $20 bill and a look of contempt.
It didn’t put me in the best mood to play, but there was no time left to try any more mind-soothing Jedi trances.
NEXT TIME: Our hero enters tournament play against some of the best the world has to offer. He will taste excitement, hope, fear and something more… will it be victory? Or defeat? Plus — tales of alcohol, sexy young women in bikinis and other controlled substances await.