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2, Issue 2
November 17, 1999
The Brave New World of Online Gaming
competitive gaming. It sounds so simple, doesnt it? People
go online, and play competitive computer games. But when you factor
in the people, organizations, egos, and money involved, the world
of online competitive gaming gets very complicated.
heart of online gaming are the people who log on every night and
hangout playing whatever game they play with their friends online.
You can find them on ladders like the Online
Gaming League, on services like HEAT.NET,
and playing in online tournaments. What is it about gaming that
keeps them coming back, upgrading their computers to make them
better at the games, shelling out wads of cash for the fastest
possible Internet access, practicing for hours on end to get that
perfect rocket jump?
are the gamers who have earned the tag Professional
or Cyberathlete. They have made something of a career
out of winning tournaments both online and off, and are now sponsored
gamers, paid to play. There arent many of these people,
the most well-known being Dennis Thresh Fong, but
thousands are trying to join him every day, every time they start
up a match. A few years ago Thresh seemed as amazed as everyone
else that he was making a living playing games. Now its
just part of a days work. What is the life of a Professional
gamer really like?
started a few years ago, when this curiosity popped up on the
horizon. It was called the Professional
Gamers League, and for a small fee, you could compete in their
online league over a gaming service called TEN. The league finals
would be held live, with finalists being flown in to compete.
And there would be prize money for the winners. Not just prizes,
or a new computer...this was a chance to win cold hard cash. Theoretically,
the PGL pointed out, if you won every "season" (the
idea being there would be four a year), you could live off of
the leagues. Hundreds of people signed up and competed in the
events. But TEN wasnt exactly the best of services, and
paying a fee to play was restrictive to a good number of people.
People stopped paying attention to the PGL, to the point that
their last event came and went without many noticing. Then TEN
shut down, or turned into POGO.com,
an entirely different kind of online gaming service, and certainly
not one that would run servers for games like Quake (the
game most commonly used in these events).
flew about the PGL being closed, about it not being possible to
run a business doing these events. loonygames spoke with PGL Press
Secretary Garth Choteau, who assured us that the PGL is not, in
fact, closed, and that they will even be at Comdex this week with
sponsored players Kornelia, Sybek and K9-Gloucester playing Quake
III: Arena in the Acer booth. The league itself is currently
on official hiatus, and the PGL is looking at a number of
prospective partners, presumably other online gaming services.
The PGL is, by league design, dependent on online gaming services
to provide servers for their games to be held on. Will the PGL
find a suitable partner? Or will the PGL be forced to change format
competitive gaming organizations use different formats. The Cyberathlete
Professional Organization, the PGLs chief competitor,
recently awarded a $10,000 prize at the Frag
3 last month. At that event, CPL Founder Angel Munoz announced
the largest prize yet to come, $40,000 to be awarded to the first
place winner at an event to be held in Los Angeles. i2e2,
launched by former PGL and CPL founders Joe Perez and Frank Cabanski,
is taking yet another approach, seeking to hold events both professional
and amateur, as well as online and off. To look at
this in the coldest way possible, these organizations exist to
make a profit off of people playing games they didnt create.
To make money off of gamers. Is it really possible?
about the companies making these games? id Software jumped into
the competitive gaming ring this past summer with QuakeCon
99 (held entirely offline), and Microsoft recently gave
two Harley-Davidson motorcycles away at a MechWarrior 3 tournament
(held both online and off). Microsofts
Gaming Zone is a study in how to run a ultra-successful online
gaming service, but not exactly the premiere place for serious
competition (but if youre looking for a mean game of Hearts,
its the best around), the MW3 tournament aside. Starcraft,
Total Annihilation, Half-Life, Tribes, Age
of Empires...all these and more have been used in competitive
gaming events. With the Dreamcasts multiplayer capabilities,
other games may soon be entering this arena, bringing other types
of gamers with it. How do all of these developers feel about companies
starting up to organize people playing their games?
there is also the issue of bragging rights. How do you really
know who is the best player, when so many different formats are
being used? Will someone, some organization, create a standard
for ranking online gamers?
is the most important question of all. What effect will all this
ranking, paying out, and partnering have on the gamers themselves?
We pretty much take for granted the ability to jump on a server
and play without a rank or registration. Is that time nearing
know the answers to the questions raised here. But this column
will seek, if not to answer them, at least to explore the complicated
issues surrounding them. At its most fundamental level, online
gaming is about you and me. I am a gamer. I like being able to
play, competitively, online. I like the rush I get when Im
winning a game of Quake, and nothing is like the hopeless
despair of losing a hard-fought match. Its a wonderful,
exhilarating experience, and what fuels all of these companies,
all of these organizations, all of us. Ultimately? We all just
want to kick some ass. Its the fact that we need so much
structure (and cash incentives!) to do it that makes it so interesting.
to think I know the online gaming world fairly well at this point.
This past year, I co-organized the Female
Frag Fest '99, an all-female Quake 2 tournament sanctioned
by the CPL, and I am a member of the Quake clan PMS.
I also currently play on the OGL ladder (Quake III open
division), and have participated in a number of other ladders
and tournaments, including the PGL. So while I try to answer these
questions, I will be doing it, not only from the perspective of
a researcher and a writer like everyone else, but also as a former
tournament official, and a gamer.
add this. Online gaming is a very confusing, very complicated
issue. I've pretty much laid out what I intend to cover in this
column. If there is anything not mentioned here, any organization
worth looking into, something confusing, please let me know. Online
competitive gaming is ultimately about the gamers, and this column
will be the same.
Stephanie "Bobbi" Bergman needs to come up with better
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