Baang! You're Dead 

Clan leaders Ricky Menjivar and Vinh Bui are out for blood. Their battleground: Korean-style cybercafes across the East Bay. Their deadly game: Counter-Strike.

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And they can loathe him all they want, because Ricky and his Triads dominate the Next Level. To prove it, he calls for a new game pitting everyone else in the place against the Triads' first string, which includes Ricky (SataN), Jonathan (Audigy), Lawrence (Fear), Michael (Maku), AJ (cRONI-X), and Anthony (S1ipKno7). "These are my boys!" says their leader, goading the competition. Ricky selects his favorite map, Inferno, for the match and sets his boys up as the terrorists. It'll be six against thirteen.

The counter-terrorists assemble their forces. Apart from a couple of stray clan members, most of the players are unaffiliated. Some of them have notable Counter-Strike nicknames: fucking alcoholic dumbass, {ANal}Cronicrectalleak, {ANal}RacoonOrgySexPistol, El Dweeze, MuppeT-FuckeR, and PuppyCock.

ANal is a clan ID belonging to the two guys in their late twenties, who haven't yet retired their adolescent senses of humor; the moniker is shorthand for Anal Necrosis and Liberation.

The gamers gear up. Counter-Strike players are allotted money for deeds from previous rounds. This cybercash goes to characters who've slain an opponent, saved a hostage, or planted or defused a bomb. It can be spent on new weapons and equipment, all of it modeled after real-world military gear. Counter-terrorists can buy M4A1 rifles, Heckler and Koch MP5-Ns, and flash-bang grenades. Terrorists have access to much of the same weaponry, plus a few typically terrorist-style weapons such as the ever-popular AK-47.

There's a flurry of keystrokes as everyone races through memorized purchasing combinations. Ricky's fingers fly across the keyboard: "B, 1 3 4 6 1 3 4 1 ..." Within seconds, he's packing an AWP sniper rifle, a silvery Deagle, a couple of high-explosive grenades, and full-body Kevlar.

Battle as they might, however, the Triads get their asses handed to them in a basket. They're good, but no way can they beat a force twice as large. "Man, thirteen on six is tough," Ricky says afterwards. "I don't even think Rival could handle that."

He's talking about Clan Rival, based out of San Jose. Rival plays for Rivalution LLC, a company that operates a string of cybercafes of the same name, including two in San Jose. These guys are hard-core. When players join, they sign legal contracts binding them to the clan, a sort of gaming noncompete clause.

Ricky and his Triads, they're just a bunch of guys playing games. Rival is a serious business. The clan plays for money, and money only. It's slated to fly to Korea in September to compete in the World Cyber Games, clashing with top Counter-Strike clans from around the world for some $80,000 in prize money.

After the shock of losing wears off and an unmitigated free-for-all ensues, the Triads go back to talking their usual shit. There's an explosion and a Triad shouts, "Suck it!" Another player laments his own death: "Damn, dude! Fuck, I had, like, no life left! How'd you not die?"

His opponent curses back. "Fuck you! Owned!"

Ricky is uncharacteristically quiet. When he's truly one with the mouse and keyboard, he stops talking trash. His wrists slink around the table, mimicking the movements of a DJ. In the zone, Ricky doesn't just shoot at his opponent; he nudges the ammunition towards them. One hand moves his character, while the other works against the mouse pad to give his shots the right amount of English -- a minute twitch of his wrist makes the difference between a flesh wound to the leg and a fatal round to the head. When Ricky's using all his stuff, he can go for round after round without getting shot. His score spirals up and up to 32 and 4: That's 32 kills, 4 deaths.

He's a god.

You won't ever hear that from Vinh Bui. Vinh is the leader of the Triads' archrivals, the Hollowmen, a clan that reigns over CyberGlobe Cafe, a PC Baang in nearby Concord.

CyberGlobe is a shoestring operation compared with Next Level. Tucked behind a barbershop in the hidden alcove of a Trader Joe's-powered strip mall, it consists of a long, white, rectangular room with black-light ballasts in place of the standard fluorescents. Swinging saloon-style doors block off the cash register and coffee machines, while Japanese-paper walls separate the server and tech room from the gaming area -- a ten-foot-wide corridor containing some two dozen PCs, each with its own black table, speakers, and headphones.

Angelo Macugay and Francis Bayutas opened this place on a lark. Angelo was about to purchase a bunch of computer systems for a training center when the salesman suggested he look into starting a PC Baang. Francis, Angelo's neighbor, had just moved to the United States from the Philippines, and he told Angelo of Filipino malls in which entire floors were filled with ten to twenty separate Baangs, all of them packed with young people.

So they teamed up and opened CyberGlobe, the mom-and-pop of the East Bay Baang circuit. On a weekend night, it's tough to get a seat. And despite the cafe's long list of available games, it's a good bet that on any given night, every last computer will be running Counter-Strike.


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