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November 14, 2007 > Gaming with the pros

Gaming with the pros

The "best event at Irvington" was "off-the-charts fun"

By Justine Yan
Photos By Douglas Ellenberg

On Friday, Nov. 2, a "gamer's" dream rolled into the parking lot of Irvington High School. The XFX team bus was making a stop on its tour throughout the American Southwest.

That night, students basked in the presence of professional gamers. The chance to meet world-renowned gamer, Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel, was the highlight of the night to many. Fatal1ty talked about his life as a full-time professional gamer, and stated the importance of school and mathematics in his career. XFX team members were open to one versus one Counter Strike: Source (CS:S) challenges, and Fatal1ty sat down to play Nintendo Gamecube with students. Beside the CS:S action, students played Super Smash Brothers, Mario Cart Double Dash, Super Mario Strikers Soccer and other games.

In addition, a cameraman was on site to film for a reality TV series.

Irvington High School freshman, Alexander "Mauisnake" Ellenberg was the youngest star. Alex has been playing video games all his life. Last February, he began to play a tactical game featured in competitions around the world - Counter Strike: Source. This 14 year-old practices CS:S an average of two hours daily and has clearly shown his competitors that age does not determine skill.

About a month ago, Alex won third place at an XFX qualifier tournament, and was spotted by XFX Team Manager, Justin Loresco, who was impressed by the young competitor's skill and perseverance.

"Alex was playing against a really good gamer, and Justin came up to me and said, 'This is the game I want to watch," said Douglas Ellenberg, Alex's father.

Still, because Alex has not yet reached the age of 18, he was not allowed the opportunity to compete for a spot on the XFX tour bus. Instead, the XFX team decided to visit him.

XFX is a global presence in the entertainment industry, and a division of PINE technologies. This year, it has launched the XFX Challenge, a three-phase campaign to find the best amateur gamers in the country and transform them into the XFX team. The five most popular gamers, along with two other gamers chosen by XFX for their skill, tour the southwest United States in the XFX tour bus. One gamer from the XFX team competes at each stop to defend his or her spot on the bus, during the "King of the Hill" tournaments. The final members of this team will have an opportunity to attend the Championship Gaming Series (CGS) World Championship in December and the CGS Pro-Gamer Spring Draft in 2008.

On Oct. 20, Clint Johns, mentor of Irvington's High Tech Militia (HTM) Club, received a call from Douglas Ellenberg, who had himself just been contacted by Justin Loresco. Loresco wanted to include Alex in the filming for the Pro-Am XFX Team Reality TV Show, which will eventually be broadcasted on the G4 gaming channel. The tour stop at Irvington High School was planned - a LAN party would be held at Irvington as a sort of "exhibition," which would be filmed for the reality show.

This opportunity was almost too good to be true for club members. Tarry Chen, president of the HTM club, said his first reaction to the news was, "Wow, you're messing with me right?"

"I was excited and scared at the same time...Historically, we've spent two months preparing for our LANs," said Johns.

After two weeks of intense preparation by a completely new HTM crew, Irvington was ready for the XFX tour bus to drive into the front parking lot. Prior to Nov. 2, HTM club members met daily to ensure that tasks were completed. Fliers were made and distributed throughout the school; club t-shirts were designed and printed; rooms were secured for the event; and sponsors were acquired with the help of Douglas and Joline Ellenberg.

The main sponsors for this LAN party were XFX and G8. Other sponsors include: Seagate, Petra's Tech Shop, Bawls, In-n-Out, Chipotle, McDonalds, Danger Den, Steel Series, Patriot Memory, Ohana's Hawaiian BBQ, Jamba Juice, Cold Stone Creamery, Antec, nVidia, and Fatal1ty.

Students and professional gamers alike immersed themselves in the positive atmosphere. "That game's awesome!" said Fatal1ty, when a student invited him to another game of Super Mario Strikers Soccer.

"Most of the students I talked to said the biggest highlight was playing the pros: Fatal1ty in Quake 4, XFX in Counter Strike: Source. You just don't get that opportunity every day," said Ellenberg.

The event was also infused with an educational talk, given by three representatives from nVidia. The prospects of graphics processing in computers, as well as its influence over the medical field, and the corporate, design, and entertainment industries were discussed.

Filming was done during Fatality's talk, the XFX team's Q&A session, and during the five versus five competition between the XFX team and Irvington's top team. In addition, Johns' room became the filming site for the tour members' video diaries.

"It was an interesting experience to have film crews in places that are traditionally used for classrooms and conference rooms," said Johns.

Cameras snapped in front of concentrated gamers' faces, and Yazan "clowN" Ammari, a professional gamer on the San Francisco Optx team, announced the student matches against the XFX team. Alex was nicknamed the "Robot" and "Alex version 1.0," as students crowded around the computers.

The night also included raffle prizes, a canned food drive, and a cardboard creativity contest, sponsored by Petra's Tech Shop.

"The overall atmosphere was definitely positive and fun. The attendees had a great time... I have to say the LAN was a great success," said Tarry Chen.

When asked what Alex is aiming for, outside of the computer screen, Ellenberg responded, "It won't be until his late teens or early twenties that he'll know what it takes to take on gaming as a career, but he likes it and he will put in the time and effort."

That day, the XFX team invited Alex to a ride on the XFX Tour Bus, which would be followed by a VIP luncheon.

Even with such an impressive start to a possible gaming career, Alex remains a high school student. "We make sure he does all of his homework before or after practice. We have a deal," said Ellenberg.

After holding such a LAN party, room 104 at Irvington High School will never be the same. Students walked away with signed PCs, consoles, mouse pads, and shirts, as well as an experience to remember, and a taste of the pro gamer's life.

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