Wednesday, May 03, 2006

GAME ON: eSports and such

For my Game On column last month (ie April) I did a feature story on local cyberathlete Justin Summy. The city desk liked it so much they took it out of the Arts section and threw it out onto A1, which was nice.

Sorry in advace for the lack of photos. If I get time later I'll see about posting the pics of Summy that went with the story.

Anyone who claims video games are a waste of time has never talked to Justin Summy.

Video games have allowed Summy, 21, of Grantville, to travel to France, Spain and China.

Fans send mouse pads and other items in the mail for him to autograph.

He's part of an online team, CompLexity Clan, which has its own manager, a staff and a sponsor that provides a monthly salary.

Summy, you see, is a cyberathlete, one of hundreds of young adults who have turned an electronic hobby into a viable sports career, touring the globe, competing in professional tournaments and garnering tens of thousands of dollars in prize money.

One recent tournament, for example, netted CompLexity $40,000 in prize money, with Summy taking home $8,000.

The idea of playing video games competitively for a living — much less watching such a contest — might seem laughable, but it's a movement that has grown considerably over the past decade. Such tournaments already draw a huge following in such countries as South Korea and China, where tournaments are regularly broadcast on TV.

Now e-sports are set to become the next big thing in North America.

"It's an incredible new trend that's just starting to show rays of light," said Angel Munoz, the founder and president of the Cyberathlete Professional League, the NBA of the e-sports world. "It's the next phenomenon in sports."

To underscore his point, Munoz said when he launched the CPL in June 1997, only 300 people attended the first tournament.

Now, an average of 5,000 folks attend tournaments from around the United States and the globe. More than 1.1 million people watched last year's World Tour Grand Finals on MTV while the sport has garnered notice from media outlets such as "60 Minutes" and Time magazine.

"Everybody has woken up to the reality that this is a huge new trend," Munoz said. "It's on a collision course with mass media."

In many ways, Summy is riding high on the wave, as CompLexity Clan is one of the top-ranked teams in North America. The group has won such notable competitions as the Global Gaming League Transatlantic Tournament in New York and the Electronic Sports World Cup Championship in Paris.

Summy had been active in soccer and baseball in school when he discovered the computer game "Counter-Strike." He quickly took to the competitive aspect of the game.

"The only difference [between "Counter-Strike" and other sports] is it's not as much physical activity. It's more like playing a game of chess, more of a mental sport. You're outthinking your opponent," he said.

"Counter-Strike" is a tactical, team-based, first-person shooter that pits a group of five "terrorists" against a group of five "counter-terrorists." The game is won when one side is eliminated or a particular objective has been met, such as rescuing hostages or defusing a bomb.

One of the most widely played games online, "Counter-Strike" has become the game that most professional and amateur leagues use in tournaments.

Once Summy took a shine to the game, he started playing on low-level teams with friends. Slowly, he began to be recognized as a better player and was able to join higher-ranked teams and start competing on the tournament level. He estimates he has been playing professionally for about four years.

Most video game tournaments are three-day events, with one to two matches each day. Matches are split into two halves, with about 15 rounds in each half. Each round runs a little under two minutes, with matches lasting anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.

To stay on the top of his game, Summy practices with the rest of the Clan from 6-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. They practice in the evening because the other members of the team are scattered around the country (one lives in North Dakota, another in Miami) and it's easier to find other people to play against at that time.

Steve Summy, Justin's father, marvels at his son's success in a career that might seem a bit odd to outsiders.

"Watching him online is amazing," he said. "It's like watching the Super Bowl. ... This could blossom into a big-time money job."

Yet Summy's professional gaming days might be over soon. In fall, he plans to set aside "Counter Strike" for a while and attend Harrisburg Area Community College.

He's not sure what he'll major in yet, but says it will definitely be "something with computers."

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


At 5:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had missed this article. Well done.

Angel Munoz, CPL


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