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Gamers of the world unite

For someone who has such a key role in the planet’s biggest gaming tournament, Joe Moss sure plays it cool. Here are the questions he answered while ignoring an earthquake.

For someone who has such a key role in the planet’s biggest gaming tournament, the World Cyber Games, organizer and executive director Joe Moss sure plays it cool. As a matter of fact, during this interview with ComputerUser, San Francisco-based Moss hesitated during an answer, announced that he was in the midst of a fairly robust earthquake, and then finished his thought. Such is the dedication of a born tournament organizer.

Started three years ago in Korea, the World Cyber Games has grown quickly. In 2003, the Grand Final, held in the Olympic Park in Seoul, hosted more than 700 competitors from over 50 countries. Those were just the top gamers–local events, semi-finals, and finals drew an estimated 300,000 worldwide. In October, the 2004 games will be in San Francisco, and Moss believes that this could be the year that really puts the WCG on the map. As long as there are no earthquakes, that is.

How did you get involved with the WCG?

I was doing some consulting with early stage start-ups in the Bay Area, and as I was doing that, a friend from Samsung (the biggest sponsor of the WCG) hooked me up with the games.

I had always loved games growing up, and as I got older, I didn’t have the time to play them as much, but I stayed interested n the market. It’s such a dynamic and innovative market; you don’t see many industries that combine innovation, creativity, and fun the way that gaming does.

Tournaments seem to be springing up more and more throughout the world. How have you seen tournament play change in the last few years?

What you’ve seen in competitive gaming is a real validation. There’s an explosion of folks doing these tournaments, and it’s growing very quickly. Last year when I started at WCG, there were just a few big tournaments, but now there are so many cropping up, and I think that’s because there’s a huge demand for competitive gaming and the structured environment it brings.

How is the WCG different from these other tournaments?

In terms of size and worldwide scope, we’re in a leadership position. Beyond that, the WCG really emphasizes participation and the total digital culture. We’re not focused on just finding out who the number one player is, although that’s part of the process. It’s more than that, because the larger events like the semi-finals, finals, and Grand Final tend to be more of a celebration of games rather than just a tournament.

These gatherings become social events where you see exhibitions, entertainment, and cultural exchange. The games are at the core of it, but there are all these things surrounding them. It follows the Olympic model, where you have athletic competition at the core, but a great deal of social, cultural, and entertainment activity happening at the same time.

Will holding the WCG in San Francisco, rather than somewhere else in the world, change the games in any way?

I think it will bring the event to a new level. The city was chosen for several reasons. Firstly, San Francisco is really the gateway to the Pacific, so it was a natural tie-in with the Korean roots of the event. Also, it’s the center of high-tech and the videogame industry. Something like 40 to 50 percent of all videogames come to us from the Bay Area, so it really makes sense to hold it here.

The WCG are growing so quickly, as is gaming itself; why do you think games have become so popular?

I think that what you have is a generation of people who have grown up on videogames, starting with my generation and the early games, and now about 60 percent of people play games at some level. So, you have this huge population with a huge interest, and games are an important part of their lives.

Also, games are more than something that people do to kill time. You see it in advertising, movies, even celebrity athletes talking about who’s the best Madden player. They are becoming ingrained in our culture. So, I think competitions started years ago with people playing each other at LAN parties or online, and as games get more mainstream, the competitions do as well.

How else do you see gaming changing in the next year?

I think that next year will be another very exciting one for the gaming world. I’m really looking forward to the continued innovation in video game development, as well as the hardware that keeps pushing the envelope of what these games can do.

I will be watching the console races closely. It will be very interesting to see how the console leaders’ online strategies take hold this year, and how the game developers take advantage of that. I think that in 2004 we’ll see multiplayer online console titles rivaling some of the most popular multiplayer online PC games. In addition, we may see one game genre in particular benefit from the development of online console gaming–sports games. Sports games have traditionally been associated with consoles, while online gaming had traditional been the realm of PC games. In 2004, I believe we’ll begin to see an increase in online sports gaming through the console platform.

The WCG have an Olympic feel, complete with a cute mascot, metal pins that people can trade with one another, and cities bidding for host status. Why the comparison with athletics?

In many ways, the WCG is filling a void for all these gamers, just as athletic competitions fill a void for serious athletes. Just like the Olympics provides an international stage for athletes, and the X Games provide a stage for the sports of a new generation, the WCG is providing an international stage for people to participate in and demonstrate a new form of sports, which is gaming.

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