Field Notes: Meet Honolulu’s Competitive Gamers
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month we meet the guys who make money playing video games.
Photos: Aaron Yoshino
WHAT THEY DO
Last October, 40,000 people packed Sangam Stadium in Seoul to watch two teams compete for a $1 million prize. The event? The League of Legends world championship tournament, complete with rock bands, orchestra and fireworks. Multiplayer online gaming is huge worldwide, but nowhere bigger than South Korea, where Chung-Ang University even awards scholarships to top video gamers.
Honolulu’s equivalent scene lives primarily at a 2,100-square-foot storefront in ‘Aiea, run by Devin Wolery. With the help of a small, active core of employees, PC Gamerz puts on e-sport tournaments at his LAN Center. That’s LAN, as in local area network, which guarantees speedy gameplay by keeping the network small. That’s valuable in games where milliseconds mean the difference between winning and losing.
Tournaments are held at the ‘Aiea storefront, in the corner of the Ala Moana Microsoft Store and, twice a year, at Hot Import Nights. Teams of four or five sit next to each other, staring at high-definition computer monitors and shouting enemy positions in shorthand that is unintelligible to the uninitiated.
Wolery, 31 years old, with spiked hair and black-rimmed glasses, has been the driving force in building the local professional gaming scene. When he was 18, Wolery got kicked out of his charter school in Sacramento, Calif. for hacking into his school’s computers. He was unimpressed by their computer security. “The password was ‘charter’ spelled backwards,” he says. After moving to Hawai‘i, he started working 40 hours a week at Circuit City and spending another 40 hours a week playing video games. His father noticed, opened PC Gamerz and put Wolery in charge. Now, he’s running video-game tournaments that draw in a diverse group of 20-something-year-old men.
The most popular game, by far, is League of Legends. Wolery says players log 9,000 hours of the game each month at his store (compared to 1,200 hours for the next three games combined). In the game, players control one of dozens of “champions,” characters with different attributes and attacks. Five-man teams battle each other. It’s free to play, requiring only a computer and a mouse, but the game charges players to make cosmetic changes to their champions. The Wall Street Journal reports the game made $624 million off these transactions in one year.
Other popular LAN games include Halo and Call of Duty. Most gamers are familiar with games they don’t play, but serious competitors stick to one game. They have to. There’s too much competition, and too little time.
Reese Ajifu works six days a week at his parents’ tire company, and two days in after-school programs. He’s a hyper, talkative 22-year-old who plays League of Legends at least an hour or two on workdays. On Saturdays, he typically starts playing by 3 p.m., and won’t stop until the sun is up Sunday morning. His gamer tag is zomgra. Though he plays in local competitions, and wins, he says he’s just there for fun. “There’s no way,” he says, “to surpass those guys playing 8 hours a day.”
Tevin Agena is 22 and just started a full-time job as an automotive lube technician in Pearl City. Agena plays Call of Duty at least four times a week with teammates he met online. His gamer tag is Kraanqy (pronounced cranky). He estimates he plays at least 35 hours a week, in competitive matches. Since 2007, he estimates he’s won $9,700 playing Call of Duty in tournaments.
Zachariah Kalahiki, a 25-year-old Kalāheo grad who works at an AT&T store and a gym, plays Halo almost exclusively. He often uses the word “smash.” When he started playing, he would smash everyone in his neighborhood. When he’d play competitively, he’d smash strangers online. When he played his current teammate Blake for the first time, Kalahiki got smashed. It’s all good, though. At a Halo tournament at the Windows store, his team, Pacific Influence, handily beat a team called Remember the Attack on Teen Titanfall. His gamer tag is zeromus.
Noob: Also spelled n00b. A newbie. If you need it defined, you are one.
4shotting: Killing an enemy in Halo with the bare minimum of four bullets.
BXR: A glitch in Halo 2 that allows someone to melee attack twice, rapidly.
Quick-scoping: A shooting technique that takes advantage of the auto-aim feature, which allows someone with a sniper rifle to zoom in and fire a shot before aiming.