- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Terms like “40 GB WD Raptor” and “ATI Radeon X800XL” may not be widely used in the sporting world, but a new video game competition to air on satellite television is seeking to make the lingo as ubiquitous as “touchdown” and “home run.”

DirecTV this weekend will tape the Championship Gaming Invitational, a two-day event featuring some of the world’s best video game players competing head-to-head for $200,000 in prize money. The company plans to present the competition as a full-fledged sporting contest, with the players treated as athletes.

“We were very conscious to associate video games with sports,” said Steven Roberts, vice president and general manager of DirecTV. “They have many of the same elements … both are very exciting, and the action is very compelling.”

The Invitational will take place inside a renovated 16,000 square-foot airplane hangar at the former Treasure Island Naval Base in San Francisco. DirecTV plans to broadcast the event using seven high-definition cameras and Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound. The competition is a precursor to the Championship Gaming Series, an entire season of competitions to be broadcast by DirecTV next year. The four-hour broadcast will air in August and will be produced by Mike Burks, who won 11 Emmys for his work with Fox Sports.

But in packaging the event in a way that’s similar to the NFL, Major League Baseball and the NHL, DirecTV begs the question: Is video gaming a sport?

“Unquestionably, it’s a sport,” Roberts said. “The players train like athletes, and their commitment to excellence is no different. These guys have the same qualifications that Peyton Manning has on the football field or that Wayne Gretzky has on the ice.”

If nothing else, this weekend’s competition underscores how gaming has clearly evolved from the stereotypical image of college students battling each other on 12-inch televisions in their dorm rooms. Games like Halo 2, Gotham Racing 3 and Battlefield 2 have millions of devotees, many of whom compete in tournaments around the world and online. IGN Entertainment, a sponsor of this weekend’s event, owns a network of video game Web sites that record more than 35 million visitors each month.

CompLexity, whose five members specialize in a game called Counterstrike, travels more than most diplomats, making trips to Paris and Los Angeles and competing in a three-week-long tournament in China in the past year. The group is considered one of the top gaming teams in the world and sees this weekend’s competition as a chance for big exposure.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Jason Lake, founder of compLexity, one of the teams competing this weekend. “Professional gaming has gained a lot of strength in the last couple of years. We’re excited to see what [DirecTV] has in store.”

Some gaming advocates have even pushed for gaming to be included as a sport in the 2008 Olympics, arguing that video games require similar skills as traditional sports like shooting and archery. Entrance into the Olympics seems unlikely, but entrance into the mainstream could be a real possibility.

“You have a lot of people who would argue that you’re not dunking a basketball or throwing a football 50 yards,” Lake said. “I’ve often argued that for a new digital age, why not have a new digital sport?”

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