July 12, 2004  (STAR) By Ed Geronia Jr.  -  In any competitive environment, losing is always a crushing experience. In the world of professional video game tournaments where the worse injury you could possibly incur are sore carpal tunnels and eyestrain, no other blow could be more concrete than a virtual defeat.

At the 2003 World Cyber Games (WCG), the Philippine team went home wrist injury-free but empty-handed. For sure, the boys had put up a good fight in StarCraft: Brood War, Counter-Strike and WarCraft III despite being challenged by superior foes. For us, they were the best, and they fought with the best; their best, unfortunately, wasn’t good enough.

Judging from the performance of the Philippine team in a video game competition that’s international in scope, there’s a serious need for the country – to use a common gaming terminology – to strategize if we are to come anywhere close to the impressive wins of Germany, Taipei and Korea in last year’s WCG tournament.

To those uninitiated with the complexities of cyber athletics, it should be easier for the Philippines to train a crack team of cyber athletes than to develop a stable of real-world Olympians. Give them game-ready computers and consoles and they’re good to go.

Of course, this is almost like saying that making the next Manny Pacquiao is as easy as handling out pairs of Everlasts to eager young whelps with an appetite for pugilism. Developing a world-class Filipino cyber athlete takes more than that; perhaps it should be done in the same way sports heroes are made.

Despite the prevalence of computers, the concept of a pro video gamer is relatively new, if not totally unheard of, to most Filipinos, especially to the older generation who views gaming as a mere form of electronic entertainment.

In the United States and Korea, professional cyber athletes have won thousands of US dollars from various competitions which are regularly held year-round. On the side, they’ve also made lucrative sponsorship deals.

These competitions are backed by major sponsors and draw in thousands of participants every year. Apart from the WCG, there are the Cyber Athlete Professional League (CPL) and QuakeCon in the US, the Electronic Sports League in Europe and Germany’s Worldwide Championship of LAN Gaming. To date, the Philippines has only fielded delegates to the WCG.

Founded in 1997, the CPL is the first and oldest video games sports league. QuakeCon is an annual international gaming event held in Dallas, Texas, the home of its major sponsor — id Software, known for single-handedly creating the first person shooter genre.

The Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC) is a global game competition which started out only in 2003 in France. Germany’s Worldwide Championship of LAN Gaming has the backing of PC motherboard giant Asus.

The WCG is now on its fourth year; its main aim is to foster an understanding of cultures through the medium of video games. Last year, over 560 participants from 55 countries took part in the WCG championship.

Pinoy cyber athletes certainly have a lot of fighting spirit which can obviously be seen during local competitions, but in a worldwide arena, they don’t even have a ghost of a chance. Although the Philippines can be considered a wired country, there’s currently a dearth of quality connections to game servers in Europe and Korea. These servers are where the best players are and serve as the best training ground for our local players to hone their skills to world-class standards.

Much like real athletes-in-training, the best players in the world have been known to practice anywhere from eight to 10 hours a day, playing against other elite players on the other side of the globe and not just among themselves.

Professional gaming is a relatively young sport, and there are only a handful of established methods to improve one’s game. It’s also highly unlikely for anyone to find someone like a professional video game coach. Most gamers have found that squaring off against the best online opponents and learning from them is still the best way to enhance one’s skills whether it’s a first-person shooter or a real-time strategy game.

In First World countries, professional gaming has earned the support of big name companies. A sponsored cyber athletic team usually receives monetary and hardware support from these companies. In Europe, a well-known chipmaker has even agreed to send its sponsored team around the world to join major tournaments.

For the Philippines to bag medals in international events such as the WCG, players definitely need a lot of support. Notable steps in the right direction include the Philippine government’s recognition of these cyber athletes.

Thankfully, the local division of global electronics giant Samsung is fully supportive of the Philippines’ bid for cyber sports supremacy. For several years in a row, Samsung has gone beyond the standard company PR and literally rolled out huge amounts of cash for our armchair athletes and local gaming events. Hopefully, the other local companies will follow.

So, when will we get to see the next Manny Pacquiao of video games? Realistically speaking, it should be in a few years, although we all wish the next video game champs would arrive with an imperceptible lag and sooner than we expect. After all, they all still have a lot of fighting and fragging to do.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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