10 October 2004--The cameras waited, poised on giraffe-neck poles above the swarm of heads. "When are they supposed to come out?" one correspondent whispered to another. The question turned out to be unnecessary--a swell of applause worthy of the Beatles in their heyday announced Team3D's appearance on the scene. "Is it McCartney? Is it J.Lo?" a newscaster boomed into his mike as the five anointed ones strode into the press tent at the World Cyber Games in San Francisco. "No, it's the 2004 World Cyber Games Counter-Strike gold medalists!"
All the hubbub aside, there was something anticlimactic about Team3D's in-person arrival. The United States' Salvatore Garozzo, Dave Geffon, Ronald Kim, Kyle Miller, and Johnny Quach--all but one too young to toast their victory in champagne--are better known for their take-no-prisoners gaming personas than for their unassuming real-life ones. Like the other competitors at last week's Cyber Games, they are firmly established as formidable in their field. Any player who hopes to be selected for this annual Olympics of the international gaming world must survive a series of regional and national weeding-out competitions.
The 30 000 fans who crowded into Bill Graham Civic Auditorium during the 6-10 October event cheered for players with slick handles like "Ksharp" and "Volcano" as they battled it out in world championship tournaments of six PC and two Xbox games. The games included the PC games WarCraft III: Frozen Throne, FIFA Soccer 2004, and Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, as well as the Xbox favorite Halo.
Many players seemed overjoyed just to be there; the competition to reach these elite finals was stiffer than ever, signaling the zooming popularity of three-dimensional and first-person shooter games around the globe. An unprecedented US $400 000 in prizes, put up by big corporate sponsors like graphics chip maker Nvidia Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif. and South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co., enticed more than 1 million gamers worldwide to participate in the initial rounds. The field was winnowed down to just 650 for the final showdown, which took place in the United States for the first time this year.
The chosen few provided audiences with such compelling onscreen action that seeing who was orchestrating the video gymnastics on the auditorium's giant projection displays was sometimes like watching Oz walk out from behind the curtain. Manuel "4KGrubby" Schenkhuizen of the Netherlands, the cold-blooded strategist who annihilated all comers to take the $25 000 top prize in the WarCraft III finals, turned out to be a baby-faced teenager with a shy smile. "It could have gone the other way, but I'm very happy to have won," he demurred after his victory over Korea's Hwang "WelComeTo" Tae-Min.
That's not to say the disconnect between the players' online and off-line personalities made their feats on the competition floor any less impressive. The marquee event, by all accounts, was the $50 000 Counter-Strike final--the only championship match to pit national teams against each other rather than individuals. The two teams left standing after elimination rounds were the United States' Team3D and Denmark's Titans, and the rivalry was intense. Spectators unfamiliar with the game's format faced a tough learning curve; the challenges of making multiplayer games accessible to crowds were evident as the onscreen action switched confusingly from one player's vantage point to another's. The adrenaline-fueled announcers, gamers themselves, helped out by explaining the rules: the team assigned to the "terrorist" side had to plant a bomb in a certain area and the "antiterrorists" had to blast away their defenses in order to defuse it. Before long, their madcap commentary ("He was sitting in wait like a tarantula back there!") had even gaming philistines cheering with every kill and wincing with every botched strategy.
Team3D took command early on, surprising the Titans with a few ambush attacks, but the momentum shifted after a few rounds as the Titans got into their stride, chalking up one spectacular six-kill streak. Fans wearing "I Wouldn't Be Caught Dead With Motherboard Audio" T-shirts fidgeted on the edge of their seats as the face-off went into triple overtime, which ended when the United States came up with the kill in a final one-on-one shootout. "We got a key round, they got a key round, and we managed to come out ahead," Team3D captain Geffon breathlessly explained to reporters after it was over.
Given the atmosphere, certain follow-up questions were just inevitable. Someone shouted, only partially tongue-in-cheek, "Would you guys ever consider forming a boy band?" Geffon opted to play it straight. "We don't sing and dance that well," he said. "We just play video games."
For complete results of the games go to http://www.worldcybergames.com/pressinfo.