It was a dark, dingy basement. Wires and LED lights bounced off every uncovered surface. There were four women in a room that was bursting at the seams with about 300 men. The men played, the women looked bored. Testosterone was bouncing off the walls and free Red Bull did not help.
As a player struggled to master the controls of Xbox 360 to play Need for Speed: ProStreet, a youngster, who looked about 14, muttered under his breath: “Doesn’t even know how to play.”
The right-hand corner of the room suddenly burst out in cheers—even in the virtual world, cricket had the most spectators. Amidst the excitement, adrenalin and camaraderie, the only thing missing was a breath of fresh air. The mob spilled into the alley—a colleague was approached by a middle-aged woman fascinated by the crowd. “It’s a gaming tournament,” my colleague explained. The woman looked bemused, nodded and went back to her groceries.
Gamers flock to tournaments and LAN parties where they get to flaunt their skills (Photo by: Aarti Basnyat / Mint )
For outsiders, all this makes little sense; for committed gamers, it can be a matter of life and death.
Inside the room, the Delhi elimination rounds of the Vixture gaming tournament proceeded without a break, and total prize money of Rs50 lakh was at stake—more than any other gaming tournament to date.
Anyone who owns a computer, or even just uses one at work, has dabbled in gaming in one form or the other: You may have killed scores of Nazis in a Wolfenstein session or held the office record at Solitaire. It is this variety that makes gaming one of those few activities that can be indulged in complete solitude or with a raucous group of friends. The basic requirements are simple: a computer with a decent graphics card, the game itself and the patience to play for hours. Everyone can do it, but there are those select few who make it their second life and strive to beat their last highest score.
“The first game I ever played was Contra at the age of four or five,” says Anand Krishnan, aka Arenaline. Sulabh Puri, aka Megadeath, is another gaming enthusiast who has even made a career out of it—he writes for the magazine Living Digital. Puri started professional gaming six years ago at the age of 18; before that, he was just a “casual gamer”. His clan is called Omega Assassins.
“A clan is normally a group of five or more people. I chose the name Megadeath because I thought it would be intimidating to my opponents, and Omega I found when I was flipping through the dictionary,” he says.
But not every clan is fixed, as Vishal S. Kumar, a freelance graphic artist who has been gaming since 1997, says: “Our clan is very liquid, we used to be called the Anarchists but since then many changes have happened. We create clans depending on the tournaments or games we are playing.”
Another important side to being part of a clan or a gaming community is LAN parties. Gamers hook up their computers into a LAN, or a Local Area Network, and face off each other in team and solo games. “It’s actually just like a few guys hanging out and having beers at a friend’s place, except we also play a lot of games,” says Kumar.
The most popular games at parties right now are Counter-Strike and War Craft III. “Counter-Strike is the most popular game in Delhi, India, and probably the world,” adds Puri. Counter-Strike, or “CS” to aficionados, has two teams of players—terrorists and counter-terrorists, facing off in urban and military environments where the good guys try to kill the terrorists and defuse bombs, rescue hostages and so on. The clothing, weapons and scenarios are remarkably authentic and the game is just perfect for testosterone-charged gamers.
An even bigger version of the LAN party is the BYOC (Bring Your Own Computer). BYOC events are normally organized with support from electronic companies or companies such as Microsoft and EA Games. “Our last event was a 24-hour marathon where we had 154 gamers participating,” says Ashish Gupta of Xtreme Gaming. BYOC events, unlike LAN parties, which are just for friends, are local competitions where teams go not only for the prizes but also their reputations.
Ardent gamers also work towards the popularization of gaming in India. Puri set up his own sitewww.therespawn.com in 2005, which caters to game reviews, discussions and other insights not only into gaming, but also anything to do with electronics.
Signing up at these forums or going to the nearest branch of Reliance World are easy ways to get into the gaming communities, but most gamers advise going to a competition. “Gamers can be very territorial and choosy about letting people into their groups. But at a competition, they can recognize your skills, and hence it’s easier to make friends,” says Kumar. Make sure you get plenty of practice at home first, though.
Skills, competition and bonding keeps these gamers addicted to their game. “The high that comes from playing against a person and the competitiveness of the game keep me hooked,” says Krishnan.
Where to get all the dope on local clans and tournaments
The finals for the Vixture tournament are in Mumbai, at World Trade Centre, 13-15 June. Visit ‘www.vixture.com’ for details.
The next BYOC in New Delhi, organized by Xtreme Gaming, on 21 and 22 June, is at International Youth Centre, Chanakyapuri. Call Ashish Gupta (9818235964).
Stay updated on all the latest gaming news, tournament schedules and game reviews at these websites:
• www.gameguru.in: In-depth reviews of the latest, coverage of gaming tournaments and even an opinion poll. This site has everything divided into easy sub-categories such as casual gamers, first person shooters, driving and even hacks.
• www.xtremegaming.in: The first thing you notice on this site are pictures of the last BYOC. This site is a resource for those looking to participate. They also have a gaming academy where you can learn how to organize events or even ask for a seminar for parents worried about their child’s obsessive gaming.
• www.therespawn.com: This site offers you reviews, a pretty good discussion forum and even a place where you can buy cool gaming accessories. It does not limit itself to gaming and covers all forms of electronics, such as phones and laptops.
• www.live2own.net: With complete coverage of gaming events, reviews and an events calendar, this website has a little something for every gamer. And if you want to know how to throw a grenade properly, this is the site to learn that technique.