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Cyberathletics: Is gaming a sport?

By Renay San Miguel
CNN Headline News

CPL's Winter Event
Some 2,000 gamers from 25 countries will gather in Dallas, Texas, this week for the Cyberathlete Professional League's Winter Event.

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(CNN) -- This week in Dallas, Texas, some 2,000 people -- mostly young men between the ages of 13 and 25 -- will exhibit heightened hand-eye coordination and reflexes. They will perform under pressure before an audience. They will try to elude their opponents. They will try to be faster, stronger and better.

But because all this competition, all this thrill of victory and agony of you know what goes on in cyberspace -- in the virtual arenas of the Cyberathlete Professional League -- it poses an intriguing question, one perfect for the technocentric new century: Is a video/computer gamer an athlete?

"It's a question that always comes up," said Angel Munoz, the league's president and founder. "It's obviously a little bit of an evolutionary step for most people to consider a computer gamer an athlete."

The 2,000 gamers who are registered to take part in the league's Winter Event at Dallas' Hyatt Regency Hotel through Sunday obviously have made that leap. The league says gamers are coming from 25 countries to take each other on in team and one-on-one competition in the PC games "Half-Life: Counter-Strike," "Unreal Tournament" and "Team Fortress Classic." At stake is $140,000 in cash prizes.

As with any other sport in the new century, sponsorships play a big part. The computer chip giant Intel, along with CompUSA, Nvidia and NetFire are just a few companies throwing their corporate muscle behind the Cyberathlete Professional League.

Munoz said that the league, now in its fifth year, is a private company and is in the process of securing more financing, so he wouldn't go into too many bottom-line details. But he would say that his organization is a "multimillion dollar company." "That's a definite reality, and we're profitable," he said. "I have a board meeting [this week], and I'm announcing that this year was a fantastic year for us. Next year, we already have contracts that will exceed revenues for this year."

Competitors tested their skills on the shoot 'em-up game "Counter-Strike" at the league's Summer Event in Dallas.

There certainly was plenty of corporate signage evident at this year's Summer Event in Dallas. I found enthusiastic and committed gamers who certainly believed they were athletes, as they used computer mice and keystrokes -- instead of baseball bats, hockey sticks or steering wheels -- to lead their cyber-representatives through the lethal mazes of the shoot 'em-up game "Counter-Strike."

True, there was no outward evidence of intense cardiovascular exertion. No possibility of major injuries, unless you count a possible career-ending case of carpal tunnel syndrome. There wasn't any real-life blocking, tackling, jukin' and jivin'.

"As radically impossible as it may seem to the average person that computer gaming could be considered a sport, it requires a closer look," Munoz said this week.

He pointed to other legitimate sports such as billiards, darts, curling (an Olympic sport, mind you), "when a sport really requires a certain amount of micro-muscular precision, where you don't need to engage your larger muscles. There are motor sports, where a driver sits in a car. That's a fantastic analogy between what we do at the CPL and motor sports. It takes incredible hand-eye coordination for each."

And next year, Munoz said, a potential television contract awaits, giving cyberathletes one more thing in common with their sweating, grunting counterparts in other professional sports leagues: the opportunity to showboat for the cameras.

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