Gamers building community in eastern New Mexico

Alisa Boswell: Freedom New Mexico Steve Deleon, owner of the Sports Angle, sells some Yu-Gi-Oh! cards to two Yu-Gi-Oh tournament players, Kay Arguelles, left, and Lynn Salazar, Friday afternoon. The Yu-Gi-Oh! tournaments are held every other Saturday at the store.

Alisa Boswell

The term gamer isn’t just for athletic endeavors. It can also apply to friends in a friendly table battle.

The term certainly applies when it comes to collectible card games, which bond many throughout eastern New Mexico.

Two of the largest collectible card games are Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic: The Gathering. These games, and others like them, feature players battling each other with characters and weapons designated on the cards. The more powerful cards are also the rarest.

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Jonathan Lopez of Clovis volunteers at Sports Angle in Clovis to serve as a judge with the Yu-Gi-Oh! gaming tournaments.

Lopez said he used to play a Pokemon card game but after some friends introduced him to the Yu-Gi-Oh! game, he has stuck with it ever since.

“It’s pretty much being able to hang out with friends and more or less, being able to come up with new strategies,” Lopez said of playing the game. “I’d say one main thing I like about the game is I’ve met a lot of cool people through playing the game and made a lot of lasting friendships.”

Lin Drake of Clovis runs and judges the Magic: The Gathering weekend tournaments and has been playing the game since 1997.

“It has a lot of history. Probably more than 2 million people have played the game worldwide,” Drake said. “My best friend from high school got stationed here at Cannon Air Force Base and his dormmate played the game. Pne day, I told him, ‘Teach me how to play.’ From then, I was hooked.”

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Drake said what he loves most about gaming and tournaments is the open and accepting environment.

“I like building decks and coming up with ideas, but most of all, you can walk into any group, and you’ll be accepted,” Drake said. “Magic gets frowned upon as being nerdy but they’re a tight knit group of people. It’s a very social game.”

Bobby Pitts of Portales is president of The ENMU Gamers, a gaming organization at Eastern New Mexico University.

Pitts said he used to play World of Warcraft and now plays Warcraft 3 and Magic: The Gathering, which he has been playing for 10 years. Though Pitts aims to, he has yet to attend a Clovis tournament. However, he has built a solid circle of players in Portales so far.

“We’re a little community. We get together,” Pitts said. “That’s why I created this student organization was to meet other gamers.”

Pitts said his gaming group does not have meetings but holds their own competitions and tournaments about once a month each semester. He said last semester, 60 to 70 people showed up to tournaments to either watch or play.

“It’s very true that we are very close, partially because of stereotypes against us (as socially awkward and nerdy), but (also because) you sit down and start playing a video game or something and you start talking and sharing interests,” Pitts said. “That’s kind of what makes it a close-knit community, sharing a common passion.”

Steve Deleon, owner of the Sports Angle, said he sees a lot of passion in the gamers who come for the weekend tournaments.

“It’s all taken very seriously,” Deleon said. “I’ve seen guys come in with little figurines that are their lucky charms while they play.”

Deleon said once he realized the passion for the two card games, he set up tables in his store to accommodate tournaments.

“They enjoy that cause they just love the game,” Deleon said. “And I love to watch people have fun.”