CAPTURE THE FLAG

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Reading Time: 3 minutes

by Karon Lui 

Hours earlier, the Financial District was buzzing with the business of the day. But tonight, the bankers, brokers and traders who filled the sidewalks around Bay and King streets have clocked out. Replacing them are 400 students eager to transform this concrete sector into a corporate playground.

I arrive in front of the TD Canada Trust Centre, where the pavement overflows with teenagers here for tonight’s game — a downtown round of Capture the Flag.

“We’re taking back the space that’s ours,” the game’s organizer, Kevin Bracken, says. The 18-year-old political science student at the University of Toronto is a Long Island, NY native who brought the game to Toronto after hosting two Capture the Flag matches in New York this summer.

Bracken and co-organizer Lori Kufner, a 19-year-old U of T student studying sociology and anthropology, have been behind Toronto’s subway parties, a downtown Easter-egg hunt, weekly games of tag around the city and July’s Capture the Flag tournament in Kensington Market.

Most of the players learned of the event through blogs, e-mails and word of mouth.

“It’s fun to get away with running through the streets,” Kufner says of the urban gaming phenomenon.

The crowd cheers as the game hosts appear with the flags — a flag of Sweden and a flag of Iceland.

A single security guard from the TD building stands by, watching the 400 players and a loud whistle calls the start of the game. With 10 minutes to hide our flags, we disappear deep into our territories.

“Be advised the group has split up,” the security guard radios. “It is not a protest; they are playing a game of capture the flag.”

Though most prefer to travel on foot, some use skateboards, others ride bikes and one guy even shows up on a motorcycle. Metropasses and Rollerblades are also permissible to track down the enemy.

On Adelaide Street, 17-year-old Green team member Rob Allen zips by on his bike in pursuit of three Blue members.

“I jumped off my BMX and the bike kept on going and it slammed into a parked car,” Allen would recall later. “I kept running and when I came back the valet was waiting for me, but I managed to argue my way out of it before he could get my name and number.”

I tag along with five guards on the Blue team as they march towards Union Station in search of a suitable spot for our flag. The corner of York and University is where the Swedish flag will fly tonight.

Cars whiz by on Front Street, but the same can’t be said about the action during the first hour of the game, with the occasional solo attack from the Green team being abruptly halted by a Blue guard.

But the sound of footsteps from above turns our attention to a Green opponent entering a small construction site from just a few feet from the flag. With the lights from the Fairmont Royal York shining behind him, the silhoutte knocks over equipment trying to balance on top of shaky scaffolding. A giant wheel crashes to the pavement while our guards stand and watch.

Blue team member Sam Wright sneaks under a metal fence and climbs up to confront his opponent. We watch the hazardous cat-and-mouse game until the Green teammate jumps more than 10 feet to the ground, where a rusty nail cuts into his forearm — the first casualty in this war.

“I hope you had your tetanus!” my teammate cries after him.

The area is now surrounded by 50 Green players, sitting on ledges and benches like crows in a Hitchcock film.

Then, without notice, the Green army bursts into every direction, distracting the guards while others head for the flag. Blue reinforcements respond efficiently, tagging everyone within seconds.

It seems the game could be headed for a tie, with players catching their breath. That is, until a Green player dashes out from the shadows and seizes our flag. Blue guards chase him down Front Street, narrowly missing oncoming traffic, but the thief disappears without getting caught.

Soon, rumours are running high. Word on Front Street is that the Green team offered $20 to a homeless man to capture our flag.

“The ring leaders of this ‘fuck attack’ owe us a round of bears,” 20-year-old Blue guard John Kupetaneas announces.

Bracken declares that the game could be extended because the capturer crossed boundary lines after snatching the flag, but most players are exhausted and return to the TD building, win or loss.

As Brackman and Kufner thank the 400 participants, they also announce that Bay Street Capture is their final organized game.

“We’re hoping that someone would pick up the game next year so that we could play. But it was a wonderful turnout,” Kufner says.

“It went pretty well, though no one capture the flag legally — except the homeless guy,” Bracken adds.

As the crowd quickly disperses into the sleepy city, our two hosts and a small group of friends head to Chinatown for a late supper. Shortly, thousands of commuters will return here in the morning, oblivious that for two hours, the Financial District was our playground.

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