Game On

Young warriors gather for battles in cyberspace

As they huddle over sandwiches at Subway, it's plain to see Team Forsaken's members are not your older brother's creepy friends down at the mall arcade. They're all handsome in a fraternity boy kind of way, wear baseball hats, play soccer and hockey, and kiss girls -- or claim they have, anyway. For reasons known only to adolescent males, they enjoy bonding by constantly humiliating one another. And although none of them seems truly homophobic, they are eager to prove their heterosexuality by labeling anything or anyone strange as "gay" or "a fag."

"Driving down here we listened to comedy CDs like Robin Williams," says David Funk, an 18-year-old from Houston who founded Team Forsaken two and a half years ago. "It was really funny."

Team Forsaken takes a break.
John Anderson
Team Forsaken takes a break.
CPL founder Angel Munoz says today's gamers can 
earn big money and prizes at tournaments.
Mark Graham
CPL founder Angel Munoz says today's gamers can earn big money and prizes at tournaments.

"Not as funny as you getting hit by something," quips Brandon without missing a beat, and the Forsaken boys chuckle.

David, who is known strictly as Funk, got started with Counter-Strike after he injured his wrist and could no longer play his first love, baseball. A tall, moon-faced blond with a soft voice, Funk led his team as far as a World Cyber Games event in New York City (based in Korea, the WCG is much like the Asian twin of the CPL). But soon after returning from the Big Apple, they disbanded. Funk says he wasn't getting enough respect from some of the other players.

In an online interview for a gaming Web site, Forsaken team member David Jones explained that "fellow clan members like to mess around with Funk, it can be funny at times but people don't realize he's a living thing too and I'm sure if they were in his shoes they would have taken 20,000 pills already."

But a year or so ago the team regrouped with Funk after fellow players promised they'd changed their ways -- although how serious they are remains to be seen. Other members of Team Forsaken include 17-year-old Sam Spitzer from The Woodlands and 18-year-old Mario Cebolao from Houston, who couldn't make it to the Austin CPL qualifier because he was on vacation. Forsaken recruited Denton-based Mat over the Internet.

As the boys eat, they discuss their morning at the tournament. Mat complains that they're "playing like ass," despite having developed a new strategy at Whataburger the night before. In addition to having a fast food dinner, the boys spent the evening before the tournament going to see Terminator 3. Then they retired to the Exel Inn, where teammates say Stuart spent much of the night taunting them by sticking his rear end in their faces while they were watching television.

"I've seen more of Stuart's ass than girls' asses," sighs Mat.

The blond, deeply tanned Stuart is one of the most animated members of the group, and he enjoys showing off Team Forsaken's signature move, which involves resting a hand on a wall and gently thrusting one's pelvis back and forth.

"It's guaranteed to get the girls running in under five minutes," he says, grinning.

Stuart is starting at Clemson University next year on a soccer scholarship, so it's clear he doesn't spend all his time gaming. According to Angel Munoz, founder and president of the CPL, athletic, all-American, pelvis-thrusting boys like Stuart are the new face of video games.

"It's shocking to see the type of person who comes to the events," says Munoz, an investment banker who specializes in high-tech companies. "They're well-adjusted men with good communication skills from stable families. It's not what you would expect."

According to Munoz, the average competitive gamer is a male between 17 and 24, from a middle- to upper-class background. Because of the competitive nature of the games, most are quite athletic and in good shape from participating in other sports. Although whites dominate gaming, Munoz says it's slowly gaining popularity in ethnic communities, too.

When Munoz founded the CPL in 1997, he was riding a wave that was just beginning to build. Computer gaming caught fire when the Internet exploded, and it was different from the days of going to the arcade or plugging in the Atari. In games like Pac-Man and with systems like Nintendo, players mostly competed against themselves to earn points and become the high scorer. With first-person shooter games like Counter-Strike, gamers play the game on a digital map as if they were inside another world, and they compete online against players in other states or even countries.

"I can tell you how many people are playing Counter-Strike online right this second," Munoz says, checking his computer. "84,889 are playing online. And that doesn't count gaming centers."

Gaming centers are for players who want the excitement of action surrounded by others -- they're a phenomenon that caught on quickly on the West Coast in the late '90s. Gamers can have LAN (local access network) parties at the centers, where they play together at one location. LAN parties can also be BYOC (bring your own computer) and held at people's houses or rented spaces. BYOC LAN parties often involve computers that have been modified to be extra-fast, or to include colorful cathodes that make a boring PC look much more interesting.

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