Learning from Gamers: NY Times

Who is the Champion of Video Games? And what can we learn from them in terms of cognitive ability? From the NY Times

Virtual Stars Compete for Real Money


Published: December 6, 2005

Fatal1ty and Vo0 stood on opposite sides of a darkened theater while an announcer boomed their introductions to an appreciative crowd. Their faces magnified on giant overhead monitors, the two stared straight ahead while artificial smoke swirled around them. They met at center stage and shook hands before starting what the announcer called their "grudge match."

Forum: Gaming
The victor of the match, which took place in mid-November at the Nokia Theater in Times Square, left with $150,000, while the loser earned $100,000.

Despite the size of the purse, the two rivals weren’t athletes, at least not in the traditional sense. They were cyber-contestants, and their match, which was broadcast on MTV and followed online by thousands of fans, took place in a violent videogame called "Painkiller."

The event, dubbed the World Tour Grand Finals, was one of 10 contests in nine countries organized by the Cyberathlete Professional League, or C.P.L. In the last year, the tour has given away $1 million in prize money. The C.P.L. is one of several leagues worldwide attempting to turn a popular pastime into a spectator sport.

At the showdown between Johnathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel, 24, and Sander "fnatic.Vo0" Kaasjager, 20, about 200 young men — and women — in their early-20’s and late-teens, some wearing Fatal1ty T-shirts, gathered around the stage.

After a brief countdown, their match began. Sitting across from one another, separated by their computer monitors and wearing headphones, the two were motionless except for their left hands, which lightly tapped their keyboards, while their right hands executed a series of precise jerks on their mice as they guided their red and green characters through a virtual world.

The monitors above them showed the action on their screens: a race through a world of rocket launchers, machine guns and grenades as their characters made perfect 180 degree flips and hit targets with precision aim. The action was so fast it was hard to follow. Two play-by-play announcers, known as "shoutcasters" in the gaming world, tried to add tension and plot to the dizzying blur of explosions, blood and of course, explosions of blood.

The contests, each lasting 15 minutes, were scored with a tally of each player’s kills, or "frags," against each other.

Mr. Wendel, the best known of the gamers, did what his fans have come to expect and dominated Vo0 in four straight matches.

"There’s a reason why they call him Fatal1ty," one spectator explained as Mr. Wendel dispatched Mr. Kaasjager in a hail of rockets.

Mr. Wendel, like the 31 other competitors who qualified for the finals, lives the adolescent dream of making money by playing video games. But unlike the other competitors, many of whom still attend college or high school, Mr. Wendel plays full time and has acquired a superstar status in the computer gaming community that he has turned into a business.

His five championships in different video games recently prompted Fox Sports to label name him the second most-feared athlete behind boxer Mike Tyson. (Others on the list include the competitive eating champion Takeru Kobayashi and Ed Hochuli, an N.F.L. referee.)

This year Mr. Wendel has earned about $600,000 in licensing fees and another $231,000 in tournament winnings. In trying to turn video gaming into a sustainable, professional venture, he and his licensor, Auravision, Inc. of Woodland Hills, Calif., have also spent $50,000 helping other gamers attend gaming events around the globe.

"Johnathan is the cyber-statesmen and ambassador of gaming," said Mark Walden, marketing and licensing director for Auravision. "He represents the name and face of the emerging digital lifestyle."

Mr. Wendel, who will be featured on an episode of "60 Minutes" on Jan. 8, currently has endorsement deals for a motherboard and a soundcard, is selling his own branded mouse pads, and is working on a book deal. Mr. Walden says that he hopes to have Mr. Wendel endorsing a complete line of computer parts in the future.

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