You stride into the great hall and eye the throngs of worthy opponents, some of whom have crossed oceans to be here. You — and this strange brotherhood gathered here — possess amazing skills. Your fast-twitch reflexes are as finely honed as a race-car driver’s. And your ability to function without sleep would be the envy of any med-school resident. You are probably under 30 (like mathematicians, your kind peaks at an early age), and almost certainly a male (combat being what it is). You are a silicon stud. A keyboard cowboy. A joystick Jedi. And this is what you do: You play computer games.
Welcome to Dallas, where 2,000-plus gamers from more than 60 nations have assembled to do battle in the Pentium 4 Processor Summer Championship — five days that could be billed as gaming’s Super Bowl. A thousand computers, 10 miles of wiring, and rows of tables are crammed into the darkened ballroom of the Hyatt Regency — it’s NASA mission control meets church bingo hall. The lure of gameplay — and the $100,000 in prizes — is irresistible, even more enticing than the Britney Spears concert down the road. Says a 16-year-old from San Antonio, ”It’s like being in a mall with an unlimited amount of money.”
The event is run by the Cyberathlete Professional League, whose founder, Angel Munoz, 41, wants to take it into the realm of big-ticket sports. ”We’re only five years into this sport,” he says, ”and already gaining interest from TV networks. And people are paying for spectator passes to the events.” In fact, gamers dream of a future in which they compete for Olympic gold.
This summer’s championship involves five-player teams competing in the popular military-themed shoot-’em-up Counter-Strike. A Swedish team, Schrot Kommando, is an early favorite. (Sweden, it seems, is something of a gaming powerhouse: Last December’s tournament was won by countrymen Ninjas in Pyjamas.) Like Olympians, Kommandos take their training very seriously: 18-hour-a-day sessions in Stockholm under the strict tutelage of a former gaming champ. Team member Harvey ”Xenon” Migotti even has a custom mouse.
”My parents didn’t take this seriously,” Migotti says the night before the final round, ”until they saw that I was making money.” Migotti, 19, will enter college this fall — though he vows never to abandon his dream of becoming a pro gamer — and he jokes about blowing prize money on ”booze and cheap girls.”
Twenty-four hours and countless mouse clicks later, Migotti and team claim victory. All of Sweden rejoices. (Okay, we made that last part up.) Who knows? Perhaps one day gamers will battle one another in arenas filled with cheering crowds. Right now, the pumped-up Kommandos accept a $25,000 check before a cheering crowd of peers. A reporter asks what they’ll do with the money. Migotti, obviously forgetting his boasts of the night before, says it will go toward college.