SBJ/September 30 - October 6, 2002/This Weeks Issue

Samsung-backed event strives for Super Bowl status

This trailer, sporting sponsor logos, visits U.S. qualifying sites for the World Cyber Games.

In a day when kids just home from school are more likely to reach for a keyboard or joystick than a bat or ball, an organization funded by Samsung Electronics is trying to build the Super Bowl of PC gaming.

Competition is under way for the World Cyber Games, with U.S. qualifying matches being held at Comp-USA stores via a sponsorship by the computer retailer. The U.S. finals will be Oct. 5-6 at the Web2Zone Internet café in New York. Contestants compete in one of five PC-based shoot 'em-up or strategy games to qualify for the world championship Oct. 28-Nov. 3 in Korea.

"We're not ready to hold this in an 80,000-seat stadium yet," said Joe Moss, executive director of United Cyber Games Association, the organizer of the U.S. leg of the world's largest global video gaming championship.

Nonetheless, in only its second year, the event is beginning to resemble a big-time sports championship, and Moss said there's a possibility some of the finals will be televised in Korea. Event organizers claim that about a million gamers (the most jaundiced geeks refer to themselves "cyber-athletes") will participate in the tournament, now being held in 53 countries. The 500 competitors that qualify for the finals in Korea will compete for a $300,000 prize pool.

As the competition intensifies, it will bring with it all the trappings of a big sports event. In New York, for example, three blocks around Web2Zone's Cooper Square location will be blocked off and there will be a street fair, music, vendor booths and free gaming for those with laptops who want to plug in. Moss said Samsung's Times Square billboard will carry a Cyber gaming message soon.

Looking to position its PC and video hardware as leading edge and reach the "early adopter" audience, Samsung has traditional sponsorship elements on-site, such as signs and product placement. International Cyber Marketing, which stages the games, is primarily funded by Samsung. The hard-core gamer market is one many that tech brands want to tap into; Intel sponsors a rival tour and has local sponsorships of the World Cyber Games in other countries.

While Moss said some events actually attract cheering crowds, he acknowledged that his real mission is to grow the "sport" beyond its current base of basement dwellers.

"We want to bring gaming out of dark rooms, break down the stereotypes and make this a real event," he said. "I would get killed by these guys [playing PC games], but me watching them play is not that different from me watching a guy throw a baseball 90 miles an hour. I can't do that either, but it's fun to watch it."

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