By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
The Event's founders apparently didn't understand the nuances of LAN party etiquette. When you challenge a clan, Vassil claims, the challenged clan plays for free. About 9 p.m., the gamers from SFL follow Vassil's lead and begin to haul out monitors, keyboards, and computers. They don't stop to say goodbye. They don't shake hands. They just leave.
Katona smiles over the incident. "Yeah, we got owned," he admits, his accent emphasizing owned. "Those guys were good." He then waxes philosophically about Counter-Strike: "Sometimes you die quick, sometimes you die slow, but you always die."
Will the same hold true for his business?
Katona and Vincent Garcetti met in high school and later studied information technology together at FAU. Garcetti, a handsome Italian-American with dark features and brown oval eyes, will finish his degree this year. He doesn't have any lofty post-college expectations. In fact, he fully expects to join the ranks of the college-educated unemployed. Like Katona, Garcetti sees the Event as a way to build a business out of his love for gaming.
Last year, the two friends began to approach possible business partners for their venture. They had the know-how and the time; they needed someone with the money. Katona and Garcetti initially pondered creating something like Hammond's PC baang. But friends Patrick Sander and Kristy Warren, who are business partners in a mortgage company, didn't want to make the type of investment necessary to buy dozens of computers and rent retail space in a strip mall. So another friend, and subsequent business partner, suggested a compromise: Run LAN parties and attempt to gain revenue through sponsorships. "That's where the money is," Sander says.
Their goal is to gain a large enough following of gamers to move the Event to a convention center that would accommodate thousands of players. Those numbers could then attract sponsorship money from Intel, AMD, nVidia, Alienware, and other technology companies.
So far, things aren't going as planned. Bawls has been the only company to offer backing. The beverage company agreed to send a free case of the guaraná drink for each party. Sometimes it comes; sometimes it doesn't. The Event's business partners also expected to grow by 50 percent every two months. That hasn't happened either. They have yet to attract more than 35 gamers per party. The monthly $525 from admission payments barely covers expenses.
Sander, who put up money to buy networking cables and power strips, isn't sure how long he can keep going. Each party, Sander's job is to "collect the money" and "be the responsible adult." After eight of them, the 36-year-old acknowledges the customer base is elusive. Few kids know the others by more than a handle, and most are so paranoid or secretive that they refuse to give Sander even an e-mail address.
"It's an expensive sport with kids who have no money," Sander says.
"That's not a very good demographic, is it?" I counter.
"Yeah," Sander replies, walking outside into the balmy evening to get away from the ceaseless sound of gunfire, "I've slowly found that out."
It's 10:20 p.m., and LAN party aficionado Peter Willis has had enough. He places his mouse, speakers, and headphones into a backpack, then slides the keyboard into the rear net pocket; it sticks up above his head like a Samurai sword. "As LAN parties go, this wasn't that great," he snorts in disgust. Because of the Event's server limitations, only one game could be played at a time. To Willis, that's a recipe for a loser LAN party.
Katona walks over to say goodbye. "You should play with the full version of the games," Willis says. "The demo versions are limited. You can only play one map."
"Well, you know, it just takes so long for everybody to install the full version," Katona explains.
Garcetti walks up to the mike as Willis picks up his computer. Ten gamers remain. "Is everyone ready for Icy World?" he asks, then looks around. "Icy World! Icy World! Icy World!"
Willis shakes his head loathingly. "Counter-Strike, Counter-Strike, Counter-Strike," he says, just before pushing the door open on his way to the parking lot. "Everybody wants to play Counter-Strike."