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The Cyberathlete Professional League.

Founded in 1997, the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) has an ambitious goal: to make computer game competitions into a professional sport. Granted, it’s hard to imagine Jimmy from the block in his Counter-Strike tee-shirt posing for the cover of Sports Illustrated, but if the CPL has its way, in the future at least he’d be as well-paid as a pro athlete.

In the past six years, the organization has been tireless in crafting events that get sold out fast. Some may come for the thrill of competition, or to connect with fellow gamers, but it’s not hard to see why most of those tickets get snapped up: Past tournaments have featured cash prizes of up to $200,000. Plus, it’s hard to resist game-day treats from sponsors like Intel, NVIDIA, CompuUSA, and Hobarama, the maker of super-caffeinated BAWLS Guarana.

Also included with admission have been a computer-case competition, workshops, a giant spectator arena, and live music to boot. The zippiest action, of course, is on the floor, as teams take on classic multiplayer battles like Counter-Strike, Doom, and Quake. For those who crave sports-themed or newer games, the group recently announced an Xbox Live division as well. Love the games but hate your teammates, you say? To bolster its gaming-as-sport aim, the CPL has established an experimental Draft League, where teams can trade players or pick up free agents.

The CPL has been gathering members as fast as it sells tickets, tickets, with an amateur league (the feeder group for the CPL) of 100,000 gamers from around the globe. Membership in the CPL is invitation-only, and stands at around 5,000 gamers worldwide.

Although its summer tournaments will be held in Texas, the group has offices in Europe and Asia, and plans to continue its efforts at world domination. Who knows? That Sports Illustrated cover could be a reality sooner than you might think.

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