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Toting double plasma rifles, Mildenhall’s Ian Baker (game name “Crazed War Pig”) yells to his teammates in Saturday’s “Halo 2” tournament, played online across Europe between six teams.
Toting double plasma rifles, Mildenhall’s Ian Baker (game name “Crazed War Pig”) yells to his teammates in Saturday’s “Halo 2” tournament, played online across Europe between six teams. (Ben Murray / S&S)

MILDENHALL, England — The gunfire in the game room of RAF Mildenhall’s Bob Hope Community Center is so heavy that James Coleman is literally yelling at the screen, a mix of curses, yelps and cries of glee that rise steadily in volume and pitch as the game nears its end.

Flanked by three teammates in the throes of Saturday’s “Halo 2” tournament, Coleman is desperately hunting a man from Spangdahlem who has just thrown several grenades in his shorts and evaporated, moving to a new firing position.

It’s a situation that has become so frantic and agitated Coleman so severely that a man with the game name “Crazed War Pig” has to tell him to calm down.

“Chill out, dude, breathe,” advises the teammate, Ian Baker, an RAF Lakenheath resident. “Breathe, James.”

Seated amid the scattered jetsam of a video game tournament — pizza boxes, soda bottles, random electrical gadgets — the four are engaged in the colorful and competitive world of online “Halo” tournaments, a periodic marathon of virtual death and mayhem that brings Air Force bases together four times a year.

“Halo,” for the uninitiated, is a first-person shooter game in which an armored-up soldier called “Master Chief” hunts down enemies from a league of hostile aliens on distant planets called the Covenant.

In tournament mode, four-man squads of Master Chiefs, armed with automatic weapons, grenades, rocket launchers and an arsenal of borrowed alien guns, duke it out in multi-tiered arenas. The first team to score 50 kills on their opponent wins the round. Teams play best-of-three matches in a double elimination tournament; the winner gets mostly bragging rights and a sense of satisfaction.

Wired together from bases across Europe and including Turkey and England, teams from six air bases engaged in Saturday’s tournament: Spangdahlem and Ramstein in Germany, Mildenhall and Croughton in the U.K., Aviano in Italy, and Incirlik in Turkey.

In Mildenhall, the home team is almost a Hollywood construct of a unit headed into battle: a calm, confident leader named Bobby Schmedeman (aka “Fear Lawless”); a jittery, caffeine-fueled aggressor; the boastful, overconfident brute; and, of course, the quiet one.

In warm-up matches against online opponents, the foursome looks unbeatable, scything through other Halo squads with merciless efficiency.

But when the team from Spangdahlem that calls itself Brickhouse materializes for a showdown in the vacant, futuristic industrial park that is the setting for the first round, things change immediately.

Brickhouse goes straight to work on the U.K. team, and curses start flying around the game room as the bodies fall.

“[Expletive] battle-rifle-toting freak!” yells Coleman (game name “Drezzek”), the jittery one, as he goes down.

The reference is just one of many in the quirky lexicon of “Halo” players that also includes the well-used phrases “newb combo” (a lethal plasma pistol/battle rifle combination), and “I got sword.”

Talk among players is like that of hardened vets storming a city.

“Everybody up here on me,” Baker says, trying to organize an assault.

“Don’t go in there alone,” Coleman warns.

“I always go alone,” says Baker, with a touch of gravitas.

As Saturday’s tournament gets rolling, Ramstein and Spangdahlem appear to be the teams to beat, marching through the winner’s bracket while Aviano and Mildenhall suffer first-round losses. Clawing back through the losers’ bracket, the Italy-based team eventually works its way back up to face Ramstein in the finals, remanding Spangdahlem to third place in the process.

In the end, the Italy-based team won the final, with Ramstein second and Mildenhall fourth and the Croughton and Turkey squads brining up the rear.

The next Air Force “Halo 2” tournament is scheduled for late winter.

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