Up front, Fro’s Hideout is your average, everyday biker bar — a place where posters of bikini-clad women adorn the walls, a pool table sits invitingly by and the drinks on special go by names like “Angel of Death” and “Brain Aneurysm.”
In back of the joint, though, the 38-year-old owner has taken to dealing with guns.
Specifically, a pair of plastic rifles attached to a sizable video game machine.
That would be Big Buck HD, the iconic, deliciously redneck bar video game that involves aiming faux weapons at a large, high-definition screen and gunning down as many virtual deer and elk as possible.
Steven Campbell, who opened Fro’s in 2002, is one of the world’s best at this.
“Working in a bar, that’s my advantage,” said Campbell, who Saturday will compete in the 2013 Big Buck World Championship in Chicago, the third straight year he has qualified. “I get to practice after hours.”
Since acquiring the bar’s first Big Buck machine back in 2003, Campbell slowly — and mostly anonymously — has honed his shot, mastering the game’s various incarnations while establishing himself as the alpha dog among his bar’s clientele.
At least when he has a plastic gun in his hands.
It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, that he realized a national forum existed in which to showcase his odd skill set. Not only a national venue, but one boasting a $15,000 payday for the overall winner. One can buy a lot of bottle openers with $15,000.
This tournament is about redemption as much as anything. In his first go, also in Chicago, Campbell admits he went in a little too cocky, and it cost him. Last year, in New York, he drank too much beforehand, a victim of the all-you-can-eat-and-drink accommodations.
That’s why, in preparation for this year’s edition against 63 squinting gunmen, he has implemented what amounts to a two-pronged training regimen.
First, he’s taken to turning Fro’s jukebox up full blast while he practices — the better to prepare him for the loud, boisterous conditions that mark the tournament.
Second, while honing his skill, he’s made sure to drink a lot of alcohol — the better to replicate the level of inebriation he’ll most certainly be experiencing Saturday.
“When you get free food and drink up there,” he explained, “it’s hard to pace yourself.”
Mightn’t it — given the, ahem, big bucks, at stake — be wise to simply refrain from consuming alcohol altogether?
“I don’t know anybody that doesn’t play when they’re drinking. I don’t know if you
do it. The whole point is to party.”
He is particularly wary of the contingent from Minnesota and Wisconsin. Unlike in Kansas City — which has only a couple of suitable machines, forcing him to trek to St. Louis for stiffer competition — northern bars are apparently chock-full of Big Buck machines.
“And it’s so cold there,” he said, “that there’s nothing to do but drink and play.”
Folks from the north also tend to spend a lot of time live hunting, which Campbell suspects can’t hurt on the Big Buck. Campbell has slung a real longarm just enough to know it’s not his thing.
“Real hunting’s too easy. Too boring. And you can’t drink as much when you’re real hunting.”
Out in the woods, two shooters aren’t shoulder to shoulder trying to first pick off the antlered ones on the same screen. “When you play double-gun, it’s anybody’s game.”
On the eve of the big shootout at the bar known as 1st Ward at The Chop Shop, Campbell insisted that the world championships will be more about camaraderie with the friends made there and a good time than anything else.
Before leaving for Chicago, he was deciding how to dress for the event, ruled by fashion largely camo and orange hunting garb. At a table inside Fro’s, he pondered his choices, briefly considering his camo shirt emblazoned with his bar’s name or his black dress shirt decorated with skulls.
In the end, however, he settled on the KU shirt he wore when the Jayhawks won the 2008 NCAA title in San Antonio.
Who knows? There’s shooting and then there’s shooting. And maybe some of that Kansas magic will come in handy Saturday.
“Maybe,” Campbell said, “I can win
a world championship.”