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Wednesday, April 9, 2008 12:42 pm

Game boys

Local Xbox champs to defend title in Big Apple

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Chris Dickerson, Jason Adams, Christopher Peper, and John Garske. Dickerson, Peper, and Garske are members of team “HOLY Alpha”; Adams is a friend.
PHOTO BY AMANDA ROBERT

Like many little boys, Christopher Peper was scolded for playing too many video games. “I just remember my mother telling me, ‘Put that video game down and do your homework. That’s not going to do you any good,’ ” he says.
But now the 36-year old Hickox Apartments manager credits his years of practice with giving him the opportunity of a lifetime. On April 18, Peper and three other adult gamers will board a plane bound for New York City as part of an all-expenses-paid trip to the Ultimate Mercenary Tournament. Their mission: to defend their title as national champions of Soldier of Fortune Payback, a first-person “capture the flag” action game played on Xbox 360. After clinching the No. 1 spot during an online tournament last month, Peper and company — who have dubbed themselves team “HOLY Alpha” — will battle for the $2,000 grand prize and final bragging rights against No. 2-ranked team, Six Feet Under. To prepare, Peper and his teammates — Chris Dickerson, a private-duty nurse, and John Garske, a retired bricklayer — practice five or more hours daily in the “dungeon,” a dimly lit room in the Hickox Apartments’ basement. They’ve filled the space with five televisions and tons of Xbox equipment, including headsets with which they can communicate with each other or with opposing teams by way of the live software. “We’ve played with everybody. We have all 50 states covered, England, France, Korea,” Peper says. “You can hear people talk, so sometimes the language barrier comes into play and throws you off a little bit.”
The members of Team HOLY Alpha also use headsets to converse with the fourth team member, Michael Carbaugh, an electrician who lives in Columbia, S.C. After a few years of playing together, Peper and Dickerson met Carbaugh online and invited him to join their team. They’ll meet him in person for the first time next week. So far, Dickerson says, the gaming craze hasn’t caught on in Springfield, so usually the team plays with the 30-or-so other members of their “clan,” a group of players from around the world. To establish anonymity and to have some fun, Peper says, they all go by such pseudonyms as Dr. Deacon, Cerealbuzzkill, and Brother Merk. They have high hopes that they’ll win the Ultimate Mercenary Tournament, Peper says, especially because they have put in the time and effort needed for tournament-style games. They’ve already competed in one large-scale event in Chicago, where they finished 24th of 78 teams. They’ve also mastered other Xbox 360 games, such as Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon. Dickerson adds that the members of Team HOLY Alpha represent the difference between video-game players and gamers. “A video-game player is someone who enjoys playing but doesn’t really put the time and effort into doing it to go pro,” Dickerson says. “A gamer is a person who’s ready to step up to that next level and compete with the world’s best.”
The Ultimate Mercenary Tournament, hosted by the Global Gaming League and Activision Inc., will be held on April 19 and 20. It will be televised on Voom’s GamePlayHD channel on Dish Network.
Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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