CES Wars

While the battle for the living room unfolded at the Las Vegas Convention Center, thousands fought and virtually died at the Stardust Hotel playing Valve’s CounterStrike for $100,000.

The ATI/AMD/Microsoft Windows XP Cyber X Games hosted 1700 competitors playing seven games for prize money: CounterStrike ($100,000), Castle Wolfenstein ($20,000), Quake ($10,000), Unreal ($10,000), Call of Duty ($8,000), Warcraft ($10,000) and America’s Army ($7,000). CounterStrike is the most popular and oldest of the games contested; most expect it to be displaced in the tournament world this year by either Half Life 2 or FarCry. To drive these games for the tournament, SuperComputer, Inc. provided 30 Opteron servers.

Six man teams from Norway, Sweden, Brazil, Denmark, France, England, Iceland, Canada, Germany, Turkey, Australia, S. Africa, Korea, Japan, China, Russia, Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the USA entered the tournament. Several consisted of professional players; they receive monthly salaries in addition to travel and entry expenses and product samples provided by sponsors and clubs. The top eleven seeded teams were from Europe. Sweden was the top rated team. All of the top players were in attendance including Spawn, Destruct and the hottest gamer on the planet, Fatality. A booth offered his clothing line and quite a few sales were in evidence.

More typical of the players on hand was Jonas Bollack, of the Berlin, Germany-based MouseSports team. He is an 18 year old Information Technology student and VB6 programmer. He started playing CounterStrike two months after its release. He then started playing at LAN parties with pickup teams, which evolved into the MouseSports team. They were then picked up by the Freaks4u sports management group, and they are now sponsored by Nvidia and Levicom, a European cooling and power supply vendor.
Jonas says a good team has to be able to read each other’s minds. The microphones they use for intra-team communication during a match don’t make up for the requisite telepathy. This requires that they be very tight socially. He advises others wanting to get into big league computer gaming to not expect to get onto an existing hot team via a one-on-one playoff, but just get involved with pickup teams and evolve onto progressively better teams. To keep up with the scene, keep an eye on gotfrag.com in the USA and Gamers.nv in Europe.
Just as the tournament got underway, a problem arose involving Valve’s digital rights management system, Steam. The players couldn’t get authorization from Steam to play. The problem was variously blamed on: a) a recent patch that contained a bug, b) a hardware failure, c) a denial of service attack on the Steam server, d) game market politics, or e) a conspiracy. A day of competition was lost before the competition was able to continue. To finish early enough for players to make their airline connections, the CounterStrike tournament was reduced 8 matches between the top 16 seeded teams with each winning team receiving $10,000.

Games for Cell Phone

The gaming market is big and growing. Gaming on cell phones is rapidly taking off as indicated by the technology being applied. One of the tournament sponsors, ATI, featured their Imageon 2300 3D chip for telephones. Signs at the tournament announced the NEC 515 High Definition Mobile phone that includes an additional processor just for playing games. Qualcomm offers their BREW system for developing games. This year the professional players in the tournament just brought their own keyboard, mouse and headset; the host provided the PCs. Next year you might see tournaments played strictly on handsets. The players may not even get on the plane.