The World Cyber Games

    “In an unsurprising upset, Korean champion Lim Yo-hwan wears the crown of Greatest Starcraft Player On Earth 2002. The American Starcraft Team was unavailable for comment as they stopped playing Starcraft about four years ago. Also, no word yet on where Korea placed in the Zaxxon competition.”

    This year’s World Cyber Games have just finished, held again in South Korea. For those of you who don’t know, the World Cyber Games is the Olympics of computer gaming. Players from all around the world compete in their own country for the right to be in their own national team for one of the events. The winners go to Korea for the finals. With 462 players from 45 countries competing, it was a true international event, and with the prize pool in the hundreds of thousands, you would think this competition would be considered the major yearly event by gamers around the world. So why the sour grapes and dismissive tone in the quote above?

    Perhaps it?s because the writer (an American) was disappointed in the performance of his team this year. While the US placed lower this year than they did last year, since it’s a yearly event you would not think is such a tragedy. This year, Korea came top, followed closely by Russia and Germany. This marks an improvement over last year’s placings, where Korea ran away with the top place. This time, things were tight at the top. Next year, we may even see a different country heading the table.

    You would expect that for a game to be chosen as an event at the World Cyber Games, or any of the similar but smaller, events held in other countries, it would have to fulfill a few criteria. It would have to be popular around the world, network playable, stable, balanced, and a recognisable icon of computer games. In addition, the games should be over in a reasonable amount of time, and provide the observer with a clear result. Starcraft fits the bill very well. Who cares how old the game is? The inference above would appear to be that the Koreans have chosen Starcraft as that is the only game they can win at. I won’t bother to answer that. I find the quote above quite mindless and inane, but it served one purpose; it got me thinking about the World Cyber Games, which in turn led to me writing this article.

    I came across the World Cyber Games quite by accident as I walked past a Baang in the city centre. There, on the entrance wall, was a flyer advertising the pre-qualifying round of Counterstrike, with the winners going to Sydney to compete for a place in the national team. Whoever did make did not do that well, as Australia did not manage to pick up any medals this time around. Yes, the tournament gives out medals. It also has a prize pool of $300,000, donated by sponsors such as Intel and Microsoft. So, while it’s not the largest sporting event out there, it is not the smallest either. The prize pool is equal for all the games, except for Counterstrike, which pays out double money at every prize level except one.

    The World Cyber Games has six “events”, these events being different computer games of course. I did not notice any of the entrants competing in more than one event, but I’m sure it must be possible. Each of the tournament’s six official games comes from a different developer. The games being played at this year’s games were AoE II: The Conquerors (Microsoft), 2002 FIFA World Cup (EA), Unreal Tournament (Epic Games), Counterstrike (Valve), Q3A (id), Starcraft: Brood War (Blizzard). A fair gamut of modern computer games, I would have thought. FPS games make up half the events, but that is only to be expected. Such games lend themselves naturally to competitive play, and matches can be played quickly. While my RTS-playing friends prefer Cossacks to anything else, its 8-hour game length does not lend well to competition. Similarly, the RPG genre is not one that really suits this kind of contest. In all, it’s a fairly wide field. I should also not that the only game above that was not in the 2001 Games was FIFA 2002. Last year, the game was FIFA 2001. I skillfully predict that next year will see the appearance of FIFA 2003, and probably Unreal Tournament 2003 too. This lack of change indicates that the organisers are happy with the current layout of games, and see no reason to make any major changes, either to the titles chosen or to the mix of genres.

    However, this lack of change also indicates stagnation. Without the addition of new events, the tournament can only expand so far. No mass sports even has a fixed list, the Olympics, for example, changes it’s events line up between each Olympiad. If the World Cyber Games does not expand, it will surely be overtaken by another event.

    I’m sure you are all thinking of one or more games that could be included in any future World Cyber Games layout. I’m all for keeping the existing lineup, as it makes it easier to compare a country’s performance between events, but I would like to see future lineups expand to include other games and indeed other systems added. After all, why limit the event to only PC games? Let’s be honest, none of the games in the current line up will still be there in 10 years time. Newer games will come along that will be more fitting to base events around. Just as Starcraft and Age of Empires 2 provide better RTS events than Warcraft 2 or Dune 2, in a few years time, there will undoubtedly be more fitting RTS games to include in the line up of events. I’d also love the see things widened from simple one-on-one play, to involved team-based games like Battlefield 1942, but here I’m showing my personal bias in favour of such games.

    For now, though, Korea remains the obvious place to hold an event like the World Cyber Games, because Korea is the most advanced country in this regard, bar none. Today, around 10 million Koreans have broadband access, making them far and away the world’s leaders in this respect. This compares to 6 million American who have broadband access, and the US population is over 5 times as large as Korea’s. Unlike other countries, the Korean government understands the critical importance broadband has to play, so they are investing billions to ensure that everyone in Korea has broadband access (that’s 1Mbps) by 2008. Now they’re not doing this out of regards for us gamers, the entertainment side is just a happy side effect for us. Already the prevalence of broadband in Korea has had noticeable effects. Many were surprised to learn a couple of years ago that the MMORPG with the largest player base is not Everquest, but Lineage: The Bloodpledge, a game that was not available outside Korea at the time. It is still the number one online-only game in terms of subscribers, with over 2 million players.

    With all the plaudits that Korea deserves for its broadband deployment, the World Cyber Games will be limited in growth if it stays in just one country. If it were to stay in Korea, it would never expand beyond a prize pool of about $10 million. Now that’s a lot of money when compared to today’s figure, but a pittance compared to other sports. Make no mistake; this is a sporting event watched on (Korean) television by thousands today, and millions around the world within 5-10 years.

    This kind of event does not need a whole country wired to host, just one city. There are certainly other countries can mange that, even today. The World Cyber Games could easily rotate between Korea and other countries. Right now it’s a small, yearly event, one that many cities in Europe and the US would be willing and able to host. Moving between cities like this would greatly enhance the status of the event.

    For now, it remains an event based in Korea. It has worldwide coverage though. Keep an eye out in your locality, see what happens with the qualifying events for next year’s World Cyber Games. Perhaps you have what it takes to represent your country at this level. The World Cyber Games website also has a wealth of information for the more research-minded among you. You could even contact some of this year’s participants, and ask them how they felt about their participation.

    Make no mistake, this is the wave of the future. There will be a major “sporting” event involving computer (and here I include consoles) games within a decade. And by major I mean 1000+ competitors, millions of dollars, and extensive TV coverage. This event may be the World Cyber Games, or it may not. It could well be that someone else will come along, and simply be better and putting on and promoting this kind of event. In the meantime, the World Cyber Games is the premier gaming event right now, so I recommend you get involved, either in this event, or the one that will knock it off its pedestal.

    Disclaimer: The Ninth Circle was written by Lorelorn (David Kay) and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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