Game Boys

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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."

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.

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson