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UI freshman an amateur professional laser tag player

BY BEN SCHUFF | SEPTEMBER 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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Steven Czechowski started playing laser tag for fun as a young kid at friend’s birthday parties.

But the Elk Grove Village, Ill., native’s passion for the game evolved by his junior and senior years of high school, when the now University of Iowa freshman started playing competitively in local tournaments.

“I’ve always had a competitive nature,” he said. “I figured out I was pretty good because I would always get first or second. But then, when these guys came who were better than me, I was like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. There is something that I don’t know.’ ”

“These guys” that Czechowski saw were paid members of the laser-tag center he played at — Laser Quest in nearby Hoffman Estates.

What caught the 18-year-old’s attention was a different, more developed style of play that included lots of quick movements, back bends, and holding the gun sideways as well as shooting sideways.

Seeing that there were better players than the “normal, average bunch,” Czechowski’s interest was piqued. He talked with the general manager of the Laser Quest location, Joe Duffield, about becoming a member and joining the Hoffman Estates team. Having seen Czechowski come to the location frequently — the high-schooler went about three times per month — Duffield knew the then junior was a skilled player.

Laser tag is scored by earning 10 points for every opponent’s sensor a player hits, and Duffield said average players score maybe around 400 to 500 points per game.

What was making Czechowski stand out was how much more he was scoring than other players he was playing with and against.

“He was consistently scoring 300 or 400 points above everyone else in the same game,” Duffield said. “The fact that he was able to almost double everyone else on a consistent basis was why he actually started to stand out to me as … top-tier player.”

Czechowski struggled when he first started playing with the other members at Laser Quest. He recalled routinely scoring 2,000 points against “walk-in players,” but his scores dropped significantly when playing against the other team members — sometimes even finishing with negative points.

“They taught me the different ways to shoot, how to tilt your body, how to move around corners so that people couldn’t tag you,” Czechowski said.

Czechowski proved to be a quick learner, though, and he and his team placed fourth at his second tournament.

As he gained experience, fellow Laser Quest members invited Czechowski to compete with them at tournaments in places such as Colorado. Though Czechowski said didn’t want to make the long trip, he continued playing locally.

His close friend, Ethan Robisch, teamed up with him in their first two tournaments. Robisch, a freshman at University of Illinois, remembered their first tournament together because of a moment after his friend placed 12th.

“The entire arena started chanting ‘Funny Bunny’ — that was Steven’s code name — because it was a big deal for someone to score positive points in his first actual tournament,” Robisch said. “He placed in the top half, and it was completely unprecedented that someone would do that well on his first time out.”

Czechowski said he plans on playing when he is back home during breaks, and his current goal is to participate in Laser Quest’s national tournament next year, the North American Challenge.

“It would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” he said. “You’re with a bunch of guys who have passion and excitement for the same thing as you. It would be great.”


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