Just hangin': Fun with Yu-Gi-Oh!

I love an adventure, so the other day I wandered into a place I’d never been before to discover a phenomenon I never knew existed. At The End Game Center, I found a few dozen kids— I’m guessing they were between 10 and 15 years old— sitting in pairs opposite each other at church social hall-style folding tables, dueling. Their weapons weren’t swords or pistols, but trading cards.
It was Yu-Gi-Oh! tournament night at The End, where “Young Bloods” and “Masters” come to indulge their competitive urges in what I have come to learn is a hot, modern version of neighborhood street games.
Tucked away in a quiet storefront behind Pizza Hut on 29 North, The End calls itself “Charlottesville’s Premier Gaming Headquarters.” In addition to selling all the equipment and accoutrements for playing elaborate combat card games like Magic the Gathering, Lord of the Rings, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Pokemon, and the table-top strategy game Warhammer 40,000, the store gives kids— and in this case the term “kid” is defined very loosely— the space to gather and play.
And gather they do. Parents drop off their young competitors (it’s no surprise that they’re mostly boys) as if this were a friend’s house. Some kids come here everyday; even more make this a regular weekly routine. Pairs of players come together— maybe they’ve met before, and maybe they haven’t— and start activating magic cards, summoning monsters, and going into attack mode. Others hang around talking strategy, trading cards, and checking out the competition in preparation for the next game.
It’s the sort of informal, communal atmosphere that owner Peter Leiher wants to encourage. He’s stocked a refrigerator with snacks and frozen pizza, a microwave to heat them up, and bottled juices and sodas to wash them down. Kids pull them out as if they were at home, and wander across the room to the counter to pay for them… eventually.
Leiher, a former professional Magic player who loves the gaming environment because of the interesting people it attracts, offers free instruction for all the games. His store hosts tournaments, leagues, and trading sessions every day of the week. The End also has four interactive X-Box stations where up to 16 competitors can play the fantasy video game Halo together.
“You can’t do that at home,” Leiher boasts.
Well, not at my home anyway.

The End is open Sunday-Thursday noon-8pm, Friday noon-10pm, Saturday 10am-10pm. Kids can come in to play, trade, or just hang out for free. Some leagues and tournaments have minimal fees. X-box costs $6/hour, $15/2 hours. Call for schedule or to reserve the X-box station. 722 W. Rio Road. 973-2205. theendgamecenter.com.