By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
As soon as the CPL administrator cuts the lights, the boys' goofball natures disappear. They're in game mode, their eyes set on the screens and their faces stoic.
"We're live," says Welch.
Immediately, Forsaken starts getting its ass kicked.
"What the fuck are you doing?" yells Stuart, as the faraway sound of explosions echoes from his computer.
"Just shut up, shut up!" answers Mat, slamming on the keyboard and jerking his mouse around as his legs jiggle nervously up and down.
"Oh, God, I'm blind, I'm blind!" someone yells, as computer monitors fill with on-screen white smoke from a grenade set off by ExS. While a player is blind, he's almost useless.
Funk's playing is especially off, and his teammates excoriate him loudly as he makes excuses. The boys, who moments ago were joking with one another, are now very pissed at each other and their playing.
ExS, on the other hand, is running smoothly, as if their five bodies were sharing one brain.
"Come on, guys, we can do this," says one ExS member, and they quickly rack up round after round until they win the match 13 to 3. Now they just need to win more match and they'll take the whole tournament.
Welch announces a ten-minute break, and a nervous Brandon tells the Forsaken guys to get together and figure out what's going wrong. But it's a rare teenage boy in the mood for a therapy session. Instead, David storms out for a smoke while Mat announces to no one in particular, "Everyone's missing their fucking shots!" Funk wearily suggests to Sam that they do some one-on-one practice, to which Sam quickly and quietly responds, "I don't want to play Counter-Strike."
Out in the hallway, an ExS player advises that Forsaken shouldn't yell at Funk, because "it only makes his playing worse."
The boys brood separately, then venture back into the room when it's time for the second match. They must win this one, or it's over.
"Let's do this, guys," says Brandon, trying to get upbeat.
"We're live," Welch says, as the room goes dark again.
Something has happened to Forsaken during the break -- although it's probably a mystery to them just what that is. But they win the first round in seconds. Brandon cheers loudly.
Bam. They win another round. And then another and another.
"With my magic ," sings David in a strange voice, and he jerks around as if having a seizure. A few of his teammates laugh. It's starting to feel better inside the gaming room. At least for Forsaken.
One, two, three, round after round makes it under Forsaken's belt. They got scared, and now they're getting revenge. They win ten rounds in a row and are suddenly only three away from taking the match. But then, out of nowhere, ExS starts winning again. It's 10-1 Forsaken, then 10-2, then 10-3.
"Come on, guys, let's put an end to this right now," begs Brandon, closing his eyes.
10-4 Forsaken, 10-5 Forsaken, 11-5 Forsaken. Back and forth the score moves until finally Forsaken takes the 13th round and wins the match 13-8.
"We're going to CPL, baby!" announces Brandon, jumping up from his seat. The Forsaken guys cheer -- but not too much, of course, because that would seem gay.
While the teams shake hands, Welch invites Forsaken to come outside to get their pictures taken in the lobby. It takes some coaxing before the boys will put their arms around one another.
While posing, the boys entertain the question of how long they'll keep playing Counter-Strike.
"Until Funk dies -- probably in the next few days," announces David with a smirk. Funk rolls his eyes.
Stuart answers that he'll probably play until college, which means only for a few more months. At an earlier tournament, he had denounced players "in their thirties and forties, when they've got beards and shit" as a little bit sad. Like they were trying to hang on to some kind of extended adolescence.
"You get worse with age," Funk had added. "Plus, you have to get a full-time job, and you have a wife, normally."
In all their self-consciousness, the members of Team Forsaken seem to realize that there are only a few precious years in your life when society will allow you to humiliate your friends publicly, shake your ass in other people's faces, wear baseball caps at all times and play video games for hours on end. They seem to understand that the time for these things is now, and that soon -- for better or for worse -- it will be time to move on.
But not yet. After the photographs, the guys get their gear together. It will take them three hours to get back to Houston in Funk's Camry -- although probably longer than that, because the members of Team Forsaken have decided that Funk drives like a woman. As Funk begins to explain that he doesn't want to get a speeding ticket, David hollers "Shotgun!" and in a minute they're all traipsing out to the parking lot carrying their backpacks and their half-empty bottles of Mountain Dew.