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April 2014
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Cuban Gamers

Cuban Gamers / Yoani Sanchez
Posted on April 16, 2014

One, two, three and start your computers. The sounds of the
microprocessor fans will be heard all night. When the sun comes up the
ashtrays will be overflowing, the coffee cups empty, and there will be a
winner. They are the Cuban gamers, passionate about video games and
engaged in their own tournaments.

For years Leo has been number one in his neighborhood on the Dota 2
game. Developed by Valve Corporation, this pastime mixes strategy, the
appeal of role-play, and personalized maps. A rush of adrenaline keeps
many of the Island’s young hooked on the screen. First they train with
several friends to reach a level where they can compete against
higher-ranked players. This is the case with Leo, who has already
reached expert status.

“Most difficult is finding a local place with the facilities for each
tournament,” this gamer says. Recently at Havana’s Maxim Rock movie
theater they started a new national Dota 2 tournament, but its start was
delayed for weeks in the absence of a place to develop the teams.
Meanwhile, the obsession doesn’t stop. The alternative networks that
connect computers–both wired and wirelessly–allow the exercising of
sight and mind for the big combat.

Within a real Havana is hidden another that only the initiated can
access. For these players, everyday reality is a place where they barely
spend a few hours. In their cosmogony–made of kilobytes–they become
heroes without concerns about the collapse of public transport or the
scarcity of food on their plates. Their mission is to defend a fortress,
guard the “ancestors,” and defeat the enemy forces. It doesn’t matter
how long it takes, the game is the most important thing in their lives.

Where Leo lives they have already formed a team of the best. They are
five young men between 17 and 25. “I met some in high school,” but the
others he found through an “intranet” they have in the building. After a
few hours of watching them play, it seems they barely speak among
themselves, there are only victory cries when someone manages to defeat
the rival heroes and collect a considerable amount of gold.

“I prefer he be involved in this because the street is really bad and
there are a lot of risks,” says the mother of Ivan Gonzalez, one of the
members of this strange quintet. The president of their Committee for
the Defense of the Revolution also looks favorably on this activity to
which the young men devote so much time. He says, “As long as they’re
playing these little games, at least they aren’t putting posters out
there and getting involved with the gusanerías*,” and he reinforces it
nodding his head.

At the level where Leo, Ivan and the rest play there are is still no
betting with real money, but if they reach the “professional leagues”
there will be. “I need more RAM memory on the machine, it’s not enough
now,” says Frank, another member of the gamer group. Each one has a
computer, assembled from parts which are obtained in the informal market
or brought in by some relative from abroad. The quality of the
technology greatly determines how far they can progress in the big leagues.

Living to play

Some of the self-employed detected a niche market in this passion for
videogames. Along with 3D movies, throughout 2013 sites appeared to hold
Dota 2 tournaments and other computer entertainments. When the
government attacked the movie rooms, these places also fell into
disfavor. A very few still operate illegally, but only for select and
trusted clients.

Javier has one of these underground sites near Via Blanca and rents it
by the hour. “I rent the whole space with ten machines so two teams can
face off, and if they want some non-alcoholic drinks I have that on
offer,” he explains, while showing an old garage adapted to the new

Each month he develops at least one tournament in the capital. Where it
will be held travels mouth to mouth among the interested. The
participants can enjoy raffles where they vie for allegorical posters,
T-shirts and stickers. The so-called “lan-party”–pronounced
lanpary–helps them share clicks and strategies among the youngest, and
even with kids. The generational continuity of gaming is guaranteed.

Others offer data packets with updates and new configurations which are
renewed each week. Among the best distributors of video games in the
whole capital, Yampier is a standout. His list is made up of more than
1,700 titles and includes everything from the classics to the most
current. Reliability, stability and discounts for regular customers are
the key ideas written on the first page of his catalog.

Yampier is lucky because he works in a department of the Ministry of
Communications and Information Technology where he can download anything
from the Internet, with a bandwidth most Cubans can’t even dream of.
“From time to time I also play, but no longer with the same passion as a
few years ago,” says this young man, who is also one of the country’s
leading developers of Android applications.

The meeting of the warriors

It’s Friday night at centrally located G Street. On a corner there’s a
group of young people who great each other with fist bumps or just a
touch of forearms. They speak little, just monosyllables, but they
understand each other well. One mutters an address and selects a gang of
players. Another, with pronounced dark circles, joins with the gamers
remaining. There is only one girl in the whole group. “See you there,”
is the last phrase heard before they disperse.

Around midnight the battle begins. Everyone is seated at a keyboard,
short breaths become a chorus of clicks filling the room. Reality,
sweat, the reproaches of their parents, are all left behind. They seem
to shake off the apathy that accompanies them during the day and their
eyes shine, some even crack a smile. They have already entered the
country of their passions.

This night Leo has returned to be the captain of his team and direct
their strategy. He has a ruthless style and “his troops” follow through
the virtual map with respect and submission. About six hours later the
victorious warrior shouts, “Ahhhhhh!” and the whole group joins in
celebrating their triumph. When they hug they are sweaty, satisfied,
like soldiers in an army who have won a historic, definitive battle.

It’s time to return to reality. The exhausted gamers return to their
homes on foot or try to catch the bus, sleepy eyes half-closed. When
they get to their respective houses they go straight to the refrigerator
to put something in their stomachs, and then fall into bed. When then
sun sets again they’re already ready for the next game.

*Translator’s note: In current American English this would probably
translate as “the worm community” — “gusano,” or worm, being the favored
epithet for anti-government types.

Yoani Sanchez, 14 April 2014

Source: Cuban Gamers / Yoani Sanchez | Translating Cuba –

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