THE ASSASINS Members of the ATE gaming team are stars in the circuit
In this weekly series, we portray incredible, desperate and even very sane groups. This week, Ketan Tanna travels to the parallel worlds of hardcore gamers
The wars are raging. Across the country, from hundreds of homes and cafÃ©s, young boys, and some girls, are battling each other in perilous mazes. To survive here, one must kill. And to kill is an art that is not within the reach of everyone. Twentyyear-old Ray, or in another duller world, Amar Ratnam, narrows his eyes. He is getting ready to strike. The console does not move in his hand. The eye of the bird is all he sees. He then shreds a â€œterroristâ€ to bits. R4ID, Ritz, Impale and Mike join the attack and blast more terrorists into plasma debris. â€œI need to have a sense of control. For charting my path and removing obstacles, whatever they may be,â€ Ray says, sitting in an unremarkable cyber cafÃ© in Santacruz.
The boys are characters in a team game called Counterstrike. They buy weapons and ammunition and then they kill anybody who is not part of their team. The players are cast as terrorists or counter-terrorists. Every player has unique attributes and the ability to upgrade his gear after he successfully completes a mission. Ray and his team, which is called ATE (Accuracy, Teamwork and Experience), has won all the four major gaming tournaments in India including Electronic Sports World Cup, Kode5, World Cyber Games and World Game Master Tournament. These are competitions spread out on vast halls where teams and individuals battle one another in chaotic computer games.
Ray and his team members, famous in the gamer community of Mumbai and beyond, initially used to play with different teams. It was during a friendly match last year at a gaming cafÃ© that the five decided to hook up. Their chief rivals in the city are Team Wolf, D5 and DW (Disturbed Weasels). Ray does not think much of Team Wolf (â€œthey cheatâ€) but concedes that D5 and DW are rivals who have to be respected. Team Wolf could not be reached for its comments.
All these boys, aged between 16 and 20, are part of a larger gaming community. A community that spits fire and abuses each other during contests (even team members are berated when they botch up). But otherwise most of them are friends who go out to movies or have coffee over hookahs or just observe girls keenly. The blood and gore is only in the realm of the virtual universe.
In the campuses of the Indian Institutes of Technology, gaming is believed to have assumed the elements of insanity. The student of IIT Powai, who recently committed suicide, was an obsessive gamer, according to his friends. Following his death, Anil Chawla, an alumnus, said in an open letter to the director of IIT Powai that the Institutes need to accept the gaming craze as a very serious issue. He also said that the director of IIT Chennai is rumoured to have stated that he was less bothered about porn than game addiction. IIT Chennai turns off its server from 1 am to 4 am so that students stop gaming. Bharat Raj Agarwal, a finalyear undergraduate student in the Department of Aerospace Engineering, IIT Powai, says, â€œGaming influence in IIT is all pervading as everybody has access to computers.â€ Admitting that his grades were affected during the second year when he gamed night and day, Bharat says that gaming, despite its dangerous magnetism, also offers the fun element in the harrowed lives of IITians.
The gaming community in Mumbai congregates in various cafÃ©s that have good connectivity, or meets online. Every month, a gaming cafÃ© hosts friendly contests. Friendly before the game starts and after it ends. During the actual game, it is war. There are prizes at stake. Sometimes the prize is just a couple of hundred rupees or a couple of thousand or maybe just a graphic card or small gizmo. But the war is a passionate affair. In these places that boys inhabit, nobody ever says, â€œCome on, itâ€™s just a game.â€
Gamespace in Matunga, Hakone in Powai, Netfrag in Nerul, Private Eye in Andheri, Joylab in Churchgate and Energy in King Circle are some of the most popular cafÃ©s. Some of them have dedicated rooms where teams have space and privacy to hone their skills. Some gamers have also started their own sites, like reinforcement.com and frag-shack.com, with online games and message boards where gamers discuss their world and lives.
It is believed that in Mumbai there are 150 to 200 professional gamers and thousands of amateurs. It is a fast, transient world where nobody stays on top for long. By the time a gamer hits the early 20s, he is considered over the hill.
A common grouse among the community here is that parents always frown on their passion. As parents are wont to do, they remind gamers all the time that there is no future in gaming. However, some parents do feel proud when their kids win contests and are even sent abroad by companies to participate in international tournaments. But in such competitions, Indian gamers do not match up to the best in the world. National champions are often knocked out in the preliminary rounds when they go abroad.
Binoy Shah, 22, one of the members of a larger gaming community, was once considered among the best in Quake 4 (a game where earthlings defend themselves against aliens). But it has been over a year since he moved on and joined his fatherâ€™s business. Moving on was inevitable because according to Shah, gaming is just not paying in India.
Twenty-four-year-old Peter Fernandez, a retired gamer, says, â€œAbroad, people donâ€™t laugh at you when you say that you are a full time gamer. Gamers make decent money there, which is not possible in India.â€ The top international players make around $1 million per year. There is hope though. With more software multinationals wanting to hawk their products in India, the number of tournaments is rising. Prizes are modest still. But gamers say they see good times coming. TNN