Richard “Dr. Gonzo” Lewis shares his derailed train of thought with the wider world in his regular column feature, Gonzorreah.
01 Jun 2009
It was just another night in what had been dubbed “The Zboard House” as if it was some kind of reality TV show. During the course of the Championship Gaming Series event there’d been more than one party back here, weird mixes of the contenders and the people who just saw the event as a way to get some free money, sat up drinking at all hours. I was covering the event for the CGS website, some of my first salaried work in e-sports and while I was keen to do a good job, I’d spent most of my nights here, sleeping on the pull out sofa bed like a derelict in the midst of a divorce. There was a premise for that also. Somehow I’d ended up manager of Zboard just before what was, on the surface of it, the single biggest thing to happen to UK CS:S. Each morning I’d wake up to find a room full of strange faces and have to stumble across a floor full of empties just to fix up some coffee in the hope that it would sober the guys up in time for our games. Where big John “Gandofini” Johnston was concerned I’d be slipping some whiskey into his morning coffee to take the edge off a crippling hangover. It was, after all, just the way he liked it and it was the least I could do as “the gaffer”.
Winding down with some of the many visitors to the Zboard house
Tonight had been a quiet one though, which was odd given that we had cause to celebrate. We’d beaten 4kings a day ago, something most people hadn’t given us a hope of doing, and off the back of that result earlier in the day had been told we’d be going to the television studios in London. We’d been the first CS:S team named to be going and it felt that we were within touching distance. Not that I was going to get anything out of it at all except maybe the kudos of being the guy who fixed the coffee for the mighty Zboard… If they were drafted I’d be without a team and ultimately, as Ben “ben0” Balcombe was pretty much the lynchpin of the sponsorship, without an organisation also. Yet I’d known these guys for a long time, ever since my first I-series when I was totally green around the gills and David “jaFro” Davison took me around Newbury, introducing me to players from teams like Auxilia and CSA, people that, despite fanboy’s assertions otherwise, were just regular guys who liked a beer and just so happened to play a fledgling game to a decent standard.
Hell, it was only the i-series just prior to this that we had all witnessed some kind of terrible atrocity, closer to a murder than anything else… It had been a savage end to a typical night out. David had basically found a huge padlocked fridge in the hotel we were staying in which had a large part of the hotel’s alcohol supply in it. We had knock-out stages the next day and had uttered the immortal line “we’ll just have a quiet one”. When we stumbled across this treasure chest, with not a member of hotel staff in sight, we were in something of a quandry. The lock wasn’t firmly secured, the bottles inside smiling at us through a gap of maybe a couple of inches. David re-assured us, in classic Welsh logic, “Don’t worry lads… Look, I can get my hand in that gap. So they must want us to take some of these, or they’d have locked it up proper.” After a good ten minutes trying to fish some bottles of WKD Blue out, mainly for Kyle “fataL” Mardel and Nathaniel “tiLs” Tilsley, he got bored and simply ripped the fridge door off altogether. We took the contents of the fridge back to the rooms and proceeded to enjoy a night on the -hotel removed for both legal and obvious reasons-.
The good humour and bravado was cut through pretty quickly when we heard an altercation outside from the nearby bar, that was clearly having some sort of late function. Nothing like watching two drunks fight after a few drinks… And with our vantage points chosen we sat back to watch the fireworks, but instead got something none of us had reckoned on seeing when one guy slashed the other’s throat open with – depending on which newspaper you read the next day – a jagged piece of glass or a knife. There is nothing like the sight of extreme violence to sober you up instantly and the lads were kept by police to give witness statements until about five in the morning and told they’d likely get called up for the trial. I tried to take some sting out of the situation by joking with Ben that maybe Zboard would pay for it… He didn’t see the funny side. We went into those i31 knockout stages after a night of trauma no-one would believe and still finished third, the last podium finish for a Zboard team at an I-series. We also never got called back for the trial.
After events such as these how could I begrudge any of the players if they were successful? The way I saw it anyway with me being a CGS employee we’d be out in the thick of it together anyway, so it would have been the best outcome for everyone. It wasn’t unthinkable either… 4kings were still reeling from the loss of Richard “ritch” Gibbs prior to the event and hadn’t looked settled with their replacement. We’d lost in Overtime to Dignitas, who were really hitting their stride after a shaky start, but had only lost to the quick thinking of Sam “RattlesnK” Gawn who had grasped the CGS rule-set in a way we hadn’t… Buying 5 AWPs and 5 Aks with the 10k starting money single-handedly won them that overtime round when they were got the guaranteed doorbangs. But he’d taught us something and we felt that little bit more wiser and equipped to get revenge when the opportunity arose. Infused had some players that we respected – none less than Jack “Callisto” Mason, who we messed about for the best part of a week when trialling for a fifth for the CGS, before settling on Gandofini – but we just felt we had the measure of them, even though we weren’t taking them lightly. Perhaps more importantly, people were on our side with the community all showing us a lot of support.
Zboard with their player shirts before the televised event
So we were just having a quiet one tonight and it was a team night only at the apartment. Ben was in his room with the lights turned off trying to take his mind off the fact that we were staying a stones-throw away from about eight night-clubs. David was out on the balcony talking to one of the many girlfriends he’d been juggling of late, Gandofini was in the kitchen cooking up one of his many “traditional” Scottish recipes. tiLs and myself were getting stuck into a Chinese takeaway and Kyle was watching Gandofini cook and was complaining about the general standard of cleanliness in the house since we’d all been living together. It was something that I don’t think was such a real issue, but we had been boot-camping in the same house for two weeks before the CGS even started. Here we were three weeks down the line and nerves had been shredded, temperaments were raw, and people had head’s like those chocolate oranges – tap them in the right place and they would fall into pieces.
You know how it is… It’s what that causes prison riots, military beatings, petty vandalism passed off as “pranks” in university halls and the many other outbreaks of sporadic violence that erupt whenever men congregate and have to live in each other’s pockets. There will always be something that is considered “over the line” even if everyone spent their time shuffling around with their backs to the walls, palms flat and avoiding eye contact. It was always the little things that caused the biggest reactions. And despite some close calls, we hadn’t done too badly… Sure, Ben and Nat had squared up to each other leaving a bar after Ben brought everyone’s drinks through apart from Nat’s. David and Nat spent a few days walking on egg-shells after the Welsh warrior got the latter’s Armani jeans covered in blood after some wild-west style bar brawl kicked off. David and Kyle had a couple of nights of cross words when Kyle hid David’s condoms after he had pulled and brought back a girl to the apartment… These situations usually dissipated by the time the next night on the town came around, bonds reforged after a day spent playing in GM games against teams all trying to take away a potential salary.
The one area of concern had been between fataL and Gandofini… Gando had always been seen as Auxilia, a team that had a friendly rivalry with Zboard despite the fact that as far as I could tell they hardly ever LAN’d because of John’s jobs on the oil-rigs. Kyle had been in every Zboard team to date and was all too happy to give a bit of needle to the new guy. But as far as I could tell it wasn’t too serious or the kind of thing that would bother anyone who got to know him. Besides, most of us were from working class families where insults and foul language were generally mashed together to form terms of endearment. So, mid cooking, when Kyle called John a “fat Scottish cave-dwelling c**t” I thought nothing of it. Just more of that “banter” that was holding us together. I didn’t even think anything of it when a red faced Gandofini started laughing hysterically and pretending to throw a large kitchen knife at Kyle. Just another night in the Zboard house. I kept digging into my Chinese cursing myself for letting tiLs pick what we were watching on TV.
Kyle “the one area of concern” Mardel
Something it’s probably worth mentioning about John Johnstone… He is a big guy, an outer layer of fat disguising the muscles underneath, and is someone who in his work on the oil rigs as a rough-neck is no stranger to putting himself in harms way. He’d be intimidating were it not for the fact he was always smiling, drinking and telling stories in some barely intelligible Dundee accent that had earned him the nickname “Mumble-fini” in the house. But even as the horseplay with the knife came to the end the trademark grin had gone… Kyle, on the other hand, was grinning, quite pleased that he had wound him up after what he saw as major crimes against his person – namely leaving dirty washing in the hall and not doing the washing up. I think it was the grin that did it.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw John lumber and lurch across the tables and chairs and grab Kyle by the scruff of his neck before unleashing an open hand slap with his massive right hand across Kyle’s face, before bringing it back in the same motion for a back-hand, the kind pimps dole out in Blaxploitation movies. The landed with loud cracks that scared even the silence away and the whole scene froze like some kind of gaming nativity.
My jaw dropped open and noodles spilled out but I couldn’t even say anything. Ben had heard the commotion and stumbled out of his room to see what was going on. Nat just kept staring at the television not wanting to be the one that shattered the stillness. Kyle was just looking up at John wondering what the fuck had happened and John was breathing heavy after the kick of adrenaline had been tempered by sudden realisation of what had just happened. And we all sat there thinking if we just ignored it, the situation might go away. I think it was David, outside of the stasis in the living-room, that broke the spell by saying to his girl “I think I’d better go… John just killed Kyle.” From there a whirlwind of shit tainted everything and it passed by in one long nauseating brown blur. It was the beginning of the end.
Big John “Gandofini” Johnston in action
Despite my best efforts as peace-keeper, there was no joke or piece of aged wisdom that could take the edge of this situation. By now Kyle was in his room, stood bolt up-right, with his fists clenched and staring at himself in a mirror like a scene from Taxi-Driver. John said he didn’t want to stay in the apartment any more because “Kyle’s a fucking psycho, ken? How do I know if he’s gonna stab me to death while I sleep or not?” so we agreed it’d be best if he made the long walk through Birmingham City Centre to my hotel, a nice surprise for my room-mate and editor Max “Goodeh” Silver. We sent Gandofini into the hall to wait for me and then Kyle burst out of the room and started smashing up the Zboards we’d been given to use at the event by our sponsors. Ben, being loyal to the Zboard brand to such a degree he considered those keyboards his own children, reacted badly to his and quickly jumped on Kyle’s back and put him in a rear naked choke, the best I’ve seen executed outside of the UFC Octagon.
Ben had totally snapped, the pressure of the three weeks giving him some ridiculous strength boost that meant the hold he had on Kyle was locked in to the point where not even David and myself could break it. In the end Kyle, unable to breath, blacked out… There was a split second where he just lay there, not breathing and there were nervous glances around the room in case we’d just witnessed our first murder, with i31 very much in our minds. Ben was oblivious to just what he’d done – “he’s faking it” he said as he dusted himself off. But he wasn’t and it felt like an eternity before Kyle started breathing again, choking and spluttering as his body readjusted to having access to oxygen again. Needless to say Kyle made the smart decision to get out the house before someone else had a go, but he didn’t go quietly, nor was he interested in anything I had to say.
After working out some anger by smashing Gandofini’s mouse to pieces he then smashed an iron through the living room wall screaming “I AM IRON MAN” as he did it. It left a huge hole in the wall that David spent the night filling with toothpaste so we wouldn’t lose the deposit. After that Kyle wandered off into the night. John and me went back to my hotel and stayed up all night working through a bottle of Bushmills and lamented what had just happened:
“You know it’s all over now don’t you Rich…” He said to me between slurps
“Look man, shit happens. I reckon it’ll all be sorted by tomorrow morning.” I lied.
“I’m back off home tomorrow mate. No point sticking around now.”
Even though I spent most of the night trying to convince him to stay, I couldn’t dispute neither the reasoning nor the desire to go home. After all, it was the kind of secret that was going to come out and we’d had it drilled into us since day one that behaviour was as important as playing ability. Michael “ODEE” O’Dell himself had said to me “I for one won’t work with piss-heads.” I needed to get hold of Kyle and try and get him to keep a handle on it, but no-one knew where he was and even after a bottle Bushmill’s I knew that wandering the streets of Birmingham in the small hours was likely a bad idea.
Kyle had slept outside of the Omega Sektor venue and was there huddled in the doorway when everyone started turning up for the morning’s action. He told each of the General Manager’s what had happened, the staff at the venue, Redeye. It was bad enough that there had already been “spies” watching what we were getting up to outside of the event, reports of our nocturnal life-style being fed back to the GMs who were curious to see how serious we were taking the opportunity. And we were serious, but we didn’t want to compromise the fun aspect of it all. Why shouldn’t we be partying? And fuck the logic of it all… It was the quiet night at home that had sparked the problems that had just ended any chance of us getting picked up. Well, that and Kyle’s reaction, but as he said to me many months after: “Right then and there, I was happy to throw away my chance of a salary just to get back at those two fuckers.”
The most awkward and downbeat bus journey ever?
After it went public we sat in the Omega Sektor bar, nursing some beers before the coach was due to take us to the television studios. We’d been summoned there because the TV people, the General Managers and everyone had got wind of the likelihood we were all going to go home. Paul “Redeye” Chaloner told us that nothing was set in stone and we still had a chance to get drafted provided we could win our games and go the rest of the event without incident. “We all know what pressure you’re under” he said “and sometimes that can manifest itself in extreme ways. Just draw a line through it, because if you don’t go to the studios you’ll regret it for the rest of your lives.” And part of that made sense, even though we knew we had nothing coming our way and had to think about that all the way on the bus surrounded by the people that we knew were going to pip us to the glory.
No chance of redemption. No chance of salaries. No chance of a trip to Los Angeles. No chance to get to the Playboy Mansion and other such venues that the gamers and geeks can only dream of infiltrating. No chance to be on television. No chance to justify what we’d spent years doing to the parents, the girlfriends, the mates that all thought you were stupid. And no chance to win a share of half a million pounds in the biggest tournament that CS:S had seen. Those opportunities were crushed somewhere in the space between John’s hand and Kyle’s cheek.