Video game players are today’s new-age athletes. So why doesn’t anyone know that yet?
Think Vince Carter’s hops are impressive? Wait until you see a pro cyber-athlete, a gaming god who shocks even the games’ creators, rocket-jump five times higher than humanly possible. Unfortunately, North American’s aren’t really impressed by people sitting around pressing buttons. But that could soon change.
In Asia, video gaming is considered a true sport, with three cable networks devoted to tracking tournaments and results. Players can earn more than $500,000 a year from sponsorships and tournaments like the World Cyber Games, often referred to as the Olympics of cyber gaming. Some gamers can’t walk down the street without being stopped for their autograph.
Despite our lagging behind, the gaming revolution really started here in North America. According to Angel Munoz, founder and president of the Cyberathlete Professional League, small groups of people would gather in someone’s basement, dragging and setting up their computers into mini-networks so they could compete with friends. “I was really amazed by the fact that these people were really in it for the competition. They were there to beat down their friends,” says Angel, who attended many parties (referred to by gamers as LAN parties or local area network parties) before launching the CPL.
Back then, only one person at a time could play a game. There was no interaction. Now, it’s common to go online and play against people from all over the world. Most games have their own websites where players can send emails or leave messages on bulletin boards that developers will read and often respond to; they have come to appreciate the players who often end up revolutionizing the games they create.
“I remember the first time I saw someone do a rocket jump, which was never envisioned at ID Software (the creators of Quake),” says Angel. “Some gamer did it. To strafe jump, to bunny jump…all these techniques were created by gamers, advancing gaming to another level.”
Negative stereotypes of the “pasty, white guy in the basement” have hurt the gaming community, but things are getting better. “The perception of the geeky gamer is disappearing,” says Patty Chung of Samsung, the corporation that sponsors Canada’s best video game player, Quebec born, Guillaume Patry. “Some of these kids could be models,” she says.
At 21, Guillaume has become one of the top StarCraft players in the world, recently coming back in a best-of-three match to claim bronze at the 2003 World Cyber Games. Guillaume’s friendly smile and easy-going style coupled with his talent at the keyboard and fluency in Korean, has made him one of the most popular players there, home to perhaps the most dedicated video gaming audience in the world. Over 20,000 people have already signed up for his fan club, yet he could walk down the streets of Canada unrecognized: a celebrity unknown in his own homeland.
Cyber gaming mirrors the early days of pro golf. “There is clearly a challenge to get people to understand video game competitions, unless they’re actually involved in the gaming,” says Eric Rollman, CEO of the Global Gaming League. Eric believes, like golf, capturing the personalities of the players themselves is key, and in doing so “the path will be paved for the Tony Hawk or the Tiger Woods of video gaming to start to make their way into the public eye.”
Eric is confident that cyber gaming could easily become mainstream, creating a new generation of cyber celebrities. During the 2003 Gravity Games, the Global Gaming League held a massive tournament, attracting audiences of 25,000 people, which is why Samsung sponsors Guillaume, hoping he will be the one that introduces the sport to the mainstream audience.
“This is a $30 billion per year business,” says Eric, “and at this point, no true superstars have emerged. Could players make $1 million a year? Absolutely, without a doubt.”
Canada’s Best Video Gamer
Born: June 19, 1982
Where: Beauport, Québec
Game of Choice:
Star Craft: Brood War
Sponsor: AMD (Computer Chip Manufacturers)
What makes you a good gamer?
Strategy is not everything, you need a really fast hand. You need to be able to adapt to your enemies and you need to love the game because you’ll need to practice a lot.
How is gaming like real life?
We really have to be efficient in what we do. We have to do only the most important things.
Why did you move to Korea?
To make a living out of Star Craft, which is kind of a dream for a guy like me.
What do you do for fun?
Work out, watch movies and play poker.
Star Wars series, LOTR trilogy, Matrix (only the first one, the second one is just so retarded).