West Coast Wrap

East vs. West in ultimate cyber death match

Photo by Jeanne RiceIn September 1996, LA rap star Tupac Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas. Six months later, East Coast rapper Notorious B.I.G. was shot in his car in what many saw as retaliation for Shakur's death, the violent coda to a deadly feud between East Coast and West Coast rappers.

On April 11, the digital violence flared as a similar rivalry played out in the computer gaming industry. At Game Square, a Fountain Valley game store, players sat hunched over PlayStations from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., intent on defeating their rivals from the east, who were hunched similarly over PlayStations at the Comfort Inn in Concord, New Hampshire.

The teams, who were recruited from local players on both coasts, competed for high scores on 10 PlayStation games, including Gran Turismoand Tekken 3. Due to computer difficulties, the results of the tournament were not immediately available. But Walter Day, who was overseeing the contest for Twin Galaxies, an organization that tracks video-game scores, finally put the numbers together later Tuesday night, with the aid of a hand calculator and two mathematicians. The final result: California romped all over New England, beating the East Coast team's cumulative score by nearly 900 points.

The video-game contest was the first to pit the coasts against each other since the infamous 1982 matchup between North Carolina and California, in which the Left Coast whomped its rival's ass. New Hampshire team captain Ken Sweet conceived the video-game challenge as a way to reclaim his coast's tarnished reputation, saying he decided to "take away California's crown."

Judging by this tournament, he has a long way to go. Both teams agree they have the makings of a classic rivalry on hand.

"It should make for a great rivalry between the two regions, which I consider to be the current video-game powerhouses of the U.S.," Sweet said.

"They're a good team," OC team captain Andy Chan said. "In the future, we'll probably have more contests with them."

The bitter hatred is self-evident. And unsurprising. The seemingly innocuous contest can be seen as merely the latest outlet for a seething cesspool of rivalry between the East Coast and the West Coast in the computer industry, in which the Golden State consistently comes up trumps and the Easterners slink away, muttering vows of revenge.

Take the Computer Bowl, a silicon-intensive affair in which teams from the rival coasts compete to see who knows more about obscure acronyms and other industry detritus. Last year's competition, which raised money for the Computer Museum, marked the fourth consecutive year the West Coast crushed its eastern rivals, after a rocky start in the 10-year-old competition when the title careened back and forth between the two teams. Early East Coast victories prompted some California team members to speculate that their rivals simply had more time to sit around and practice.

Then there was the recent ugly fight over the Webbies, the glamour-drenched online equivalent of the Oscars-without the anorexia and million-dollar dresses. The ceremony is traditionally held in San Francisco, but this year, New York launched a determined effort to wrest the coveted ceremony away from Silicon Valley and lure it to Silicon Alley. New York Mayor and Commandant Rudy Giuliani dangled promises of Radio City Music Hall in front of event organizers. But ultimately, despite New York's best efforts, the Webbies stayed in Frisco.

Clearly, the computer industry's deadly internal war hangs heavily over the heads of tournament organizers. When I asked Sweet if the rivalry would add spice to the contest, he replied, "I hadn't really thought about it, but now that you mention it, yes."

And Chan has big plans for the future. He envisions a world in which kids can grow up to be professional video-game players, a world in which kids want to be the next Dennis Fong, the next Ken Sweet, even the next Andy Chan, with the same hopeless longing with which they now want to be Michael Jordan (or Dennis Rodman, for the cross-dressing ones). "I want to make media-console gaming into a sport," Chan said. "One day, hopefully, it will become big."

There's already some of that going on: Fong, the Mark McGwire of professional gaming, has won cash galore and even a Ferrari for his expertise with the fragfest Quake. But big money may only make things worse. At the Alley to the Valley conference in March, the competition for venture-capital funding between New York firms and their San Francisco rivals was so intense one expected to see blood on the floor by the time it was all over.

The big electronics show E3 is coming up in LA next month. Let's pray for peace.

Pray with Wyn at machineage@mediaone.net.

 
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