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Fun and games?

At CPL tournaments, gamers are all business.

Stick two gamers in a room and, within seconds, one will ask the other: “Whatcha playing?” Translated, that’s short for “What game are you currently addicted to that you’d recommend so I can have as much fun as you’re having?” Until recently, my answer would have been “Dynomite!” from Pop Cap Games which, after months of endless play, saw my high score surge to a whopping 47,580. Is that good? I haven’t a clue. All I know is that it’s my personal best in a game I adore and one that has me by the joystick and won’t let go. I say hooray for PC gaming. Some men drink, some gamble, but when I’m tense and need something that’s fun and that takes my mind off work, I play “Dynomite!”

Make that played “Dynomite!” I have no time for “Snood”-like shareware these days…not since I became aware of the Cyberathlete Professional League, which bills itself as the “first organization in the world to advance computer game competitions to the level of a professional sport.” It’s too late for me to enter the CPL’s Summer 2003 Event on July 30. But I’ve got more than a year until the Summer 2004 Event. And my daily regimen has already begun: tricep and bicep exercises for stamina, wrist exercises to ward off carpal tunnel syndrome, finger exercises for quick, repetitive keyboard jabbing.

This year, 128 teams will compete in a bloody tournament of “Counter-Strike” cheered on by an audience of 3,000 crazed gamers who paid 20 bucks apiece to sit in the Dallas Hyatt Regency and whoop it up. Who will grab the gold–in this case, a check for $200,000? It’s anyone’s guess. Next year, however, it’s a lock. Psssst! Put your money on me and my buds, The Game Masters.

If you’re picturing cyberathletes as a bunch of pimply-faced teens sitting in the dark, scarfing up pizza, and fragging each other, know that the CPL isn’t child’s play.

According to CPL President Angel Munoz, “Most professional gamers practice five to six hours a day.” The top teams have full-time coaches who teach strategy. And they practice in gaming facilities where they hold scrimmages and watch taped replays to prepare for future matches. Serious contestants even find sponsors to offset tournament costs that can seem sizable to young cyberathletes–a $75 registration fee plus travel and hotel expenses.

Since this is America, sponsors are never that far away. Indeed, the CPL’s Web site lists corporate sponsors galore. The “official PC” of the event is powered by The Processor Of Champions, a sizzling Intel 3.06-GHz Pentium 4. And the explosions come courtesy of Analog Devices’ SoundMax audio cards via EV SonicXS 4.1 speakers. And, of course, they even have a drink manufacturer to quench the parched throats of all the trash talkers.

One thing’s for sure. At the CPL, no one’s fooling around. Even now, lots of serious folks are out there powering up their PCs, quenching their parched throats, and preparing to take me on in just…jeeeeez, 14 months! One of them may be Spyder, an avid “Counter-Strike” player and cyberathlete, who summed it up best: “Yo, you gotta make up your mind. Either you play for money or you play for fun.”

Fun? Forget that. Why would anyone want to play games just for fun?

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