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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After a few minutes, Ricky seems more at ease. He doesn't talk shit. He doesn't get pumped up. He and his clanmates discuss Rival's tactics and study their moves as the pros practice on CyberGlobe's server. Ricky talks strategy with his brother, switching rapidly from English to Spanish to Italian -- more discreet that way.

As game time nears, Ricky rallies his troops for a final pep talk. Words don't seem to help: His boys look nervous, confused, scared. Then Francis calls out the next round. "Clan Rival! Over here. Triads over there!" He points down at the long line of computers, each one facing the opposite direction of its neighbor.

The clans get fifteen minutes to practice. Ricky sets up a server, and the Triads join him to hone their sniping skills. Ricky is showing his fear now. The Q button allows a Counter-Striker to switch quickly between main weapons, and Ricky uses it like a crutch, constantly swapping between his beloved Deagle and the AWP sniper rifle. It's a twitch he can barely control, done for no reason other than to alleviate his nervousness.

Some Rivals appear on Ricky's server, not joining the scrimmage, but watching, floating invisibly above the action, sizing up the opponent.

Francis calls out the final warning. The battle map has been chosen. It's Inferno, Ricky's favorite. The Triads stand and stretch. Ricky runs to the bathroom and lo and behold, the Hollowmen are standing behind his chair, waiting for him upon his return. "What starts with 'R' and ends with 'icky'?" calls Vinh. "Ricky!" his clanmates respond. It's a backhanded cheer, but the intent is honest: The defeated Hollowmen are rooting for their archrival in the face of near-impossible odds.

The match begins. The Triads are counter-terrorists for the first twelve rounds. They split up and attempt to cover the two bomb sites on the map, to keep them out of Rival hands. En route to its destination, Ricky's squad encounters the enemy. He quickly opens fire, dropping two Rivals with headshots from his Deagle. He then takes three rounds to the chest and falls dead. S1ipKno7 avenges him by taking out the remaining two Rivals at the site. AJ and Audigy hold their ground at the second bomb site and stay alive long enough to win the round. The Triads are up, one to nothing.

Spire stands behind Ricky, "If I were a betting man, I'd bet on Triads," he says. Ricky laughs. "I wouldn't," he says.

As the next round commences, Ricky pulls his boys to the closest bomb site to set up an ambush. After waiting for almost a minute, they realize the Rivals have gone to the second site. The Triads bust ass for the second location, but it's too late. The familiar words pop up on the screen: "Someone set us up the bomb."

The Triads split into two teams to surround the Rivals, who open fire and scatter Ricky and his squad with a burst of grenades. The round becomes a war of attrition that ends with only S1ipKno7 and SataN standing. The charge is still ticking, though. Ricky finds the bomb behind a crate and begins defusing. It's down to the wire, but he pulls it off with ten seconds to go, winning the round.

Up two to nothing, the Triads are giddy with potential. Ricky tries to curb their jitters: "Okay, let's keep cool," he says. "AJ take two, John and I'll take site one." The soldiers head out.

As Ricky arrives at the doorway to the first bomb site, his eyes widen. He screams a falsetto cry of terror as five grenades land in front of him, S1ipKno7, Fear, and Audigy. There's nothing they can do. In their rush to escape, they bump into each other and clog the doorway. The grenades detonate, killing all four. Now, all they can do is watch as AJ and Maku are stalked and slain by six Rivals. To add insult to injury, AJ is knifed rather than shot, a supreme display of skill on the part of Rival member Prophecy.

It all turns to shit from here. The remaining ten games in the set go to Rival. The following set -- in which the Triads are terrorists -- ends prematurely as Rival wins its fourteenth straight game, eliminating any chance of a Triad comeback. Ricky and his boys are crestfallen. "We won two!" he shouts, trying to salvage his team's battered egos. But the damage is done. The Rivals go on to win the tournament, largely uncontested.

A week later, Ricky loses Audigy and S1ipKno7. "They wanted to take a break," says the leader. "They're no longer Triads. But it's no big thing. There are hella folks waiting to join Triads. We already replaced them."

There are indeed "hella" players looking for clans. As time passes, the older players lose the dexterity required to stay good, and the young up-and-comers burst onto the scene likethe latest female gymnasts. "In about six months, you're as good as you're gonna get at Counter-Strike," says Spire of the Hollowmen. "It takes six months to learn everything you'll ever learn. I'm 21. I'm too old now. There are twelve- and thirteen-year-old kids who kick my ass now. They just have the hands to be faster than us."

Ricky won't give up on his talents so easily. "Every Thursday, baby! We Triads practice every Thursday after work," he says. "I'm here almost every other night. We gotta practice our grenade tactics. That's why Rival beat us. We don't use our grenades right. We played Hollowmen last week though. We beat 'em, four out of five rounds. Hollowmen ain't got shit."


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