It is Saturday afternoon in Rockville, and the boys are furiously fighting terrorists.
"Atta boy. Atta boy," one says when a maneuver goes well.
"What's happening? Why are we so slow?" another growls after a setback. Occasionally a keyboard is slammed, a profanity uttered and a shaggy-haired head is hung low in frustration.
The terrorists they're battling are digital, but their passion is real. And that, says Michael Feldman, is exactly why there's so much money to be made in the computer gaming industry.
Feldman doesn't design or sell games, but he's hoping to cash in on the $7.3 billion market just the same. He and a group of investors are launching a chain of "gaming centers," to bring players out of their basements by offering them a communal space to play on the latest equipment.
"There's a thrill in being able to look at the person next to you and say 'Ha, I beat you,' " said Feldman, president of X3O Emerging Technologies. "Kids don't want to be sitting at home in their rooms."
After a friend mentioned the concept, Feldman, an information technology professional by training, fell in love with the notion and spent two years preparing to launch the company.
The first X3O center, which opened in May, is a modern space at the corner of a strip mall. Twenty-three personal computers line sloping walls painted a deep blue and lime green. Couches and oversized beanbags provide resting spots for spectators, while the gamers sit in cushy executive-style chairs.
The goal was to create a distinct but easily replicable design, Feldman says, referencing Starbucks, master of that concept. On a recent weekend, 40 teenage boys -- and one girl -- crammed in to compete in a marathon Counter-Strike tournament.
Young men, Feldman says, make up the core of his customers, but he wants to attract mature gamers and women as well.
The center charges $6 an hour -- $5 for members who pay a $25 annual fee -- and sells refreshments to supplement its revenue. (The libation of choice: an energy drink in a fancy blue bottle called Bawls.) Most of the gamers come in at night and on weekends, so X3O converts to a more sedate place on weekdays -- offering companies and organizations a computer training facility.
Feldman plans to open five more X3O centers around Washington in the next two years. So far, 200 gamers have signed up for memberships, including 19-year old Nick Fitzsimmons, leader of a Counter-Strike team who estimates he spends 25 hours a week at X3O.
"It's really good to build up the team as a group. If you mess up, you see who you're letting down," Fitzsimmons said.
Remember Teligent, that splashy wireless company that was -- and then was not -- going to revolutionize the telecom industry? Well, it's back.
The company vanished after the bust in May 2001, but First Avenue Networks, the Charlottesville company that bought Teligent's assets in a January all-stock deal worth $150 million, plans a return to the neighborhood as it moves its headquarters to McLean.
"The key resource we need access to is talented, experienced people, and they exist in abundance in this area," said Dean M. Johnson, chief executive of the publicly traded company.
Teligent was founded in 1996 and quickly became one of the area's most prominent telecom companies. The Vienna firm gobbled up wireless spectrum around the country and aggressively touted itself as a replacement for local phone networks. At its peak in the spring of 2000, Teligent had 3,400 employees. With stock trading at $100 a share, its market value topped $4 billion.
But the telecom implosion sent Teligent quickly into bankruptcy and eventually liquidation.
First Avenue's executives say their strategy differs from Teligent's in that the company is selling services to other wireless carriers, rather than directly to businesses and consumers. And it's smaller than its predecessor. The new firm has just 25 employees.
The baton was passed at the Northern Virginia Technology Council this week as John C. Lee IV took over as chairman of the organization.
Lee, founder and chief executive of Fairfax-based Lee Technologies Inc., took the reins from Sudhakar V. Shenoy, who became known for his affable ways and uncanny ability to drop the name of his company -- IMC Inc. -- into any sentence he uttered in front of a crowd.
Lee, who was inducted Tuesday, said he'll focus on revamping NVTC's committee programs, integrating the organization further into the community and bolstering its resources for entrepreneurs. He also intends to broaden its reach nationally and internationally and add another 200 people to NVTC's roster of 1,050 members.
The organization will also continue to lobby for government policies that benefit technology companies in Northern Virginia. And for that reason, Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) both showed up at Tuesday's meeting to discuss some of those issues. (Expect NVTC to come out swinging against the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure initiative, which could take thousands of military jobs out of the inner counties of Northern Virginia -- potentially causing government contractors to follow suit.)
NVTC President Bobbie Kilberg said Lee brings to the position "a strong management component and the ability and desire to spend a lot of time with us."
The job is usually a two-year gig, but Kilberg and staffers persuaded Shenoy to stay on for three. And what lies ahead for Lee?
"It's two years, though Bobbie hasn't really looked me in the eye and told me that. I'm hoping it will be two years," Lee said.
Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every Thursday. Her e-mail is email@example.com.