Game Boys

What do you get when you mix guaraná, computers, assault rifles, and explosives? A fragger's paradise.

But the venues haven't yet blossomed in South Florida. Kathy Hammond, a Boca Raton business consultant, is a pioneer. A friend from Los Angeles gave her the idea for the Coral Springs location last year. "Have you heard of these PC baangs?" she asked Hammond. "They're huge here."

Hammond, a pretty 46-year-old who walks with long elegant strides, talks with the strike-while-the-iron's-hot enthusiasm of a New York stock trader who just downed her third café latte. "As I started looking into it more, I saw that [the baangindustry] was completely untapped in the United States," she says. "I went out to L.A. and went to several game rooms and thought, 'Hey, this is what we need in Florida. '"

Hammond opened PCBaang! in January. Her stepson helped decorate the walls, which are painted black and adorned with neon lights and pseudograffiti. Along each side of the room, kids sit in cushy leather chairs that face computer screens. A shelf juts out from the desks to give players easy access to keyboard and mouse. On a shelf above the desk, speakers blare to create a symphony of gunfire, grunts, and explosions.

Peter "PsyPete" Willis, Joe "Yuri" Sagginario, and Krisztian "NecroPhilic" Katona (top right) play Counter-Strike (top left) at late-night, caffeine-fueled LAN parties (bottom)
Colby Katz
Peter "PsyPete" Willis, Joe "Yuri" Sagginario, and Krisztian "NecroPhilic" Katona (top right) play Counter-Strike (top left) at late-night, caffeine-fueled LAN parties (bottom)

That Hammond's business is smack in the middle of Broward's sprawling, traffic-gnarled suburbia is no accident. "We're surrounded by five area high schools," Hammond says, speaking loudly over the tap-tap-tapof terrorists' AK-47s and the clunk-clunkof shotgun shells hitting the computer-generated ground. "That's 25,000 children."

The gamers attracted to PC baangs are younger than the ones who play at Katona's LAN parties. Most of the kids Hammond sees are teens and early teens. All prepay their $3.25 per hour, assumedly with Mom and Dad's money. But Hammond adds breathlessly: "We're not baby sitters."

At 5 p.m., Hammond yells out to the adrenalin-pumped kids: "Can I have everybody's attention, please?"

Her young assistant screams out behind her: "Everybody turn your speakers off. Speakers off, please."

The sound of gunfire dissipates quickly, but the kids continue playing. "OK, everybody," Hammond says, "it's time for the drawing." When PCBaang! opened, Hammond started a raffle to give the first customers an opportunity to win a new AMD Athlon computer system like the ones used in her PC room. "The winner is going to be selected by a very special guest," Hammond continues. "This is Trevor from the New Times newspaper."

On the spot, I reach into the bag and select a card. Across the top of the orange piece of paper, in hurried handwriting, is a scribbled name.

"John Schwartz," I announce. "John Schwartz."

No one moves. No one makes a sound. Hammond looks around curiously.

Then, immediately to her left, she spots 13-year-old eighth-grader Schwartz and two friends playing Counter-Strike. They hadn't heard a thing. "John," Hammond says, lifting the headphones from the boy's ears, "you won."

John spins around in his chair and hangs the headphones around his neck. "I won?" he asks, his mouth gaping open. "I really won?"

The Coral Springs PCBaang! is the model for dozens more that Hammond would like to open across the state and the nation. If she can keep the chairs filled for eight hours every day, her PC baang could pull in more than $350,000 annually. Although Hammond won't divulge information about her financing, she claims she's close to opening a second location in Boca Raton and will expand statewide in coming months.


Close to 8 p.m., the Counter-Strike tournament between Katona's Philic and Vassil's SFL is about to begin. SFL lines up on the west side of the room, while Philic sits scattered on the other side. The level chosen is Train Depot, which requires the terrorists to plant and detonate a bomb inside a terminal while evading, or killing, all the counterterrorists. Katona's clan needs to put on a good show.

SFL starts out as the counterterrorists. It isn't pretty. Vassil's clan clears rooms with grenades and charges alleys in unison with the precision of a Navy SEAL team. Katona, Garcetti, and their Philic teammates are mangled and sniped before even approaching the bomb site.

After round 12 of Counter-Strike, the clans switch sides. Katona's players become counterterrorists, Vassil's terrorists. It's already a 12-0 slaughter. Vassil, wearing shorts and a V-neck white T-shirt, folds his arms together and turns to me. "The Event is old, man. It's hurtin'," he says. "When we get in the car, I'm going to be hearing it. 'I can't believe we dragged up our computers for this,' they'll be telling me."

Katona's team doesn't fare better as counterterrorists. Round after round, Vassil's SFL puts Philic's players in pools of blood -- dropping down from trains, guns blazing, throwing grenades in unison, sniping from rooftops. Less than 45 minutes after the challenge begins, Philic is humiliated 24-0.

Katona rises from behind his computer, his World War II helmet on his head and a look of disappointment on his face. At the same time, Patrick Sander, Katona's business partner for the Event, walks over to Vassil and reminds him that he and his players need to pay $10 per head, the discounted rate for those who come in clans.

That sets off Vassil. He walks away. "No way, man," he says. "I'm not going to make my guys pay. It's not right. They left their own LAN when these guys made the challenge. If we challenged them to come up to Boca, we wouldn't ask them to pay."

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