By Jessika Bella
Special to digitalMASS
Chances are, you're headed to another holiday party this weekend.
But a talented few are forsaking the buffet dinners and drunk
coworkers for a weekend of adrenaline-wracked fragging in Dallas.
Professional League Tournament began there yesterday and runs
through Sunday, drawing 512 of the world's top gamers, including a
handful from Massachusetts.
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Grigori Jevdokimov, soft-spoken sophomore from Endicott College,
will be there, even though he should be studying for finals. Dana
"Indio" Shetterly of North Adams is taking a couple of days off his
job at BFI to see if he can be one of the top 64 Quake
3 fanatics to share in $122,000 in prize money. And 14th seed
Paul "CZM" Nelson of Framingham thinks he might have a shot at first
place in the one-on-one competition, even though the field includes
teammate Jonathan "Fatality" Wendel, champ of the recent CPL Europe
tourney and winner of more than $100,000 in prize money this
"We are at an embryonic stage, but we think that we are growing
at an exponential rate that is unheard of in sports," says CPL
founder Angel Munoz. After a quiet start in mid 1997, the CPL is
making a big splash this year with a high-profile slate of
tournaments, picking up where the dormant Professional Gamers League
left off. The CPL has lined up sponsors eager to showcase their
hardware under the extreme conditions of competitive gaming: for the
Dallas event, Gateway
is coughing up 160 1.4 gigahertz Pentium 4 computers, NetGear
is providing $30,000 worth of switching equipment, and the whole
shebang is being strung together with 4 miles of Monster
As the heaps of equipment might suggest, the participants are
predominantly and predictably male. But the sisters of Lara Croft
will be there too. Female first-person shooters are encouraged to
play in the general competition, but haven't yet cracked the top 10
percent of players. So, Munoz says, "We had to manage the
demographics." While Munoz says he feels uneasy about offering a
separate women's category, he also admits that the female-only
events are the most watched. "There is an entertainment quality to
watching two women basically duke
it out ."
Ahem. But as with the much-maligned sweet science, people have
been asking if competitive gaming indeed constitutes a sport. With
sponsorships, prize money, and stars that trot the globe a la Tiger
Woods and Pete Sampras, the trappings are there, but gaming
maintains its image as the geeky pastime of a bunch of armchair
gunslingers. "There's a lot of stigma to it still," says Munoz.
Could it be the lack of overt athleticism required? Then again,
think archery, or maybe curling. Give humans any task, and someone
will take it to an absurd level of achievement. Remove any practical
application, and it becomes sport (either that, or one of Martha
Stewart's many pursuits).
Munoz's favorite analogy is to auto racing, which he calls
"another technology-based sport." While absent the risk to life and
limb, gaming capitalizes on the same sharp reflexes and pinpoint
control. Besides, says Munoz, "what's missing in reality we present
virtually" -- large projection screens at this weekend's event will
emphasize what the gamer is seeing, much like a camera positioned on
a racer's helmet.
Paul Nelson likens computer gaming to chess, for its strategic
nature and for the "killing" that takes place. Nelson, a 16-year-old
high school junior, had to have his parents sign a release
allowing him to squeak under the age restriction for mature-rated
games. However, he dismisses any negative impact the grislier games
might have on his youthful psyche. "If you have a firm enough grasp
on reality you don't have to be worried too much about being
affected by these games," he says briskly.
Of greater concern to Nelson is how he'll adjust to LAN-based
play, which lacks the delay inherent in the Internet-based arena.
Grigori Jevdokimov might have an even bigger adjustment to make. He
says his connection at school is so bad that sometimes he gets up at
5 a.m. to play and even then is sometimes disappointed.
Gamers don't necessarily have to go far to overcome technological
hurdles. Check out your local LAN
party . David "Rooster [3D]" Crowell, founder of 3Demons
CyberArena, says that at party
number 5 , to be held this February in Framingham, earlier
bandwidth bottlenecks will be eliminated with a fully switched
network. LAN parties are a growing phenomenon, and while the
competition is still pretty healthy, Crowell says that "people from
all walks of life are involved in this stuff because it's just a lot
Even in the upper echelons, money hasn't poisoned the atmosphere
as it arguably has in more established sports. Some gamers I spoke
to said they'd be happy simply to recoup expenses at this weekend's
tournament. Paul Nelson says that, if anything, he's playing for the
recognition. "I don't even think about the money, to be honest, when
I'm playing. I'm just playing for the title."
Jessika Bella Mura is the digitalMASS Culture Columnist,
writing about the local cyber-culture. Jessika can be reached at