Investor's Business Daily
Wednesday, January 2, 2002
Section: A - Page: 6

Don't Be Afraid To Innovate
From Hobby To Career

When Angel Munoz was a child, his father said to him: "When you go to a park, do you ever see a statue of a critic? It's the innovators who are recognized. Don't compromise your dreams because of what people tell you."

Since the late 1990s, Munoz, now 41, has been following his dad's advice. He left a comfortable job as an investment banker and in 1997 turned his computer gaming hobby into the Dallas-based Cyberathlete Professional League. Today, the league's primary partners are Intel and Logitech.

Each year the league sponsors "live" computer game competitions in which more than 3,000 "cyberathletes" in 30 countries take part.

Reaching For The New Breed

What's a "cyberathlete?" It's a word Munoz coined "to describe my vision of a new breed of athlete, unrestricted by the limitations of natural laws and a master of the virtual competition arenas created by computer games," he told in May 2000.
"If you go to the root of the word 'athlete,' you'll find that it's Greek for competitor," Munoz said in a recent interview. The pro-gamers who compete at league events use the keyboard and mouse to control their players on a large-screen, video-projected playing field - and they earn big bucks when they win.

"What makes (cyber-gaming) a sport is action, precision and practice," Munoz said. A person off the street, even one who's played computer games at home, has slim to no chances of besting gamers at a league event.

Munoz said he took a "calculated risk" when he founded the league. "I had grown tired of spending all my time investing in and financing other people's ideas," he said. "I knew I wanted something else, so I listened to my inner voice and looked into" computer gaming.

He researched the idea of a professional league by talking with amateur gamers who'd visited his Web site, He found a community of people who used the computer in their work and play, who'd only competed online and who appeared to crave "live" social contact.

"Hell on earth is to have an idea and not do anything about it - then to see someone else do it, and five years later it's a major trend," Munoz said. "I decided I was going to create an opportunity for people to use high-tech tools and games and meet live to engage in cyber sports."

Munoz has learned a lot about turning a hobby into a business. The two biggest lessons he shared:

-Trust your gut. When he launched the league, Munoz saw gamers using the Internet to compete with each other, but he wasn't convinced that the future of gaming was going to stay online.

"I was thinking, 'People are human, they need social contact and eventually they'd grow tired of communicating through computers and see them as a tool rather than as a way of life," he said.

He began sponsoring live events, and found that gamers were ready to travel significant distances.

-Don't let your ego blind you to trends. "I had to let go of things I thought were important for the sport and allow the feedback from the industry and from the trends to guide the business," he said.

Linda Stockman-Vines
Copyright 2002 Investor's Business Daily, Inc.