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Last Updated: Monday, 8 September, 2003, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
Is this Britain's best chance of gold this year?
DOT.LIFE - how technology changes us
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

Britain may have failed to walk away with anything more than silver at the recent athletics World Championships in Paris, but in the virtual world of online gaming the UK is being lined up for gold next month.

The name Yohwan Lim may not mean much to you, but there are few South Korean PC users that will not know it.

Mr Lim is the best player in the world of StarCraft: Brood War.

He proved as much in 2001 and 2002 when he took the gold medal in the StarCraft event at the World Cyber Games that was held in Seoul.

In Britain online gaming - whereby you compete against someone over the internet - may be big, but in South Korea it is huge. In Seoul, a city of seven million people, there are about 7,000 public gaming centres and cafes. By contrast London, a city with a comparable population, has a fraction of that total.

Inside the UK finals
From here, winners will go to Paris, the Seoul
Top players, like Mr Lim, are professionals and, like any other athlete, respected for their dedication and skill.

But South Korea's dominance of the world of computer gaming is under threat. We may have failed to strike gold at the recent athletics World Championships in Paris, but in the virtual world of computer gaming Britain is looking stronger.

The UK looks to have a good chance of taking a gold medal in one or more of the events in the 2003 World Cyber Games, to be held in Seoul next month.

So says Sujoy Roy, co-ordinator of the UK preliminaries for the games and a former pro-gamer.

Mr Roy was a top-rated player of Quake III but now is co-founder of iGames UK that runs gaming centres around the country.

The Shepherd's Bush Pavilion, in London, was the venue for the UK World Cyber Games final. Victors go on to the European finals in Paris, and then the grand final in Seoul.

Sujoy Roy
Tipping Britain for the top - former pro-gamer Sujoy Roy
More than 30,000 British gamers vied for the chance to attend by winning regional qualifiers in Counter-Strike, Age of Mythology, Warcraft III, Unreal Tournament 2003, Fifa 2003 and Halo.

"When I was a gamer this is what I wanted to come to," says Mr Roy, "but back then there was no-one organising tournaments on this scale."

The World Cyber Games organisation has given some much needed structure to online gaming, says Mr Roy.

Gamers are usually divided by the type of game they play. The most popular games are the first-person shooters, Unreal Tournament, or team shooters such as Counter-Strike. Some prefer strategy titles such as Age of Mythology or Warcraft III.

For each and every game there are lots of different servers online where you can play them. Many of these servers operate their own small, but prestigious, tournaments.

UK GAMING WINNERS
Counter-Strike - Four-Kings Intel (Greg Edward, Douglas Wright, Stuart Harriman, Alex Nekrasov, Marc Mangiacapra)
Halo - Johnathan Dempsey aka Fenriz
Warcraft III - Iain Girdwood aka Tillerman (Four-Kings)
Fifa 2003 - Adam Reid aka Reidy
Unreal Tournament 2003 - Samuel Boult aka Shaggy
Age of Mythology - Piers Jolley aka Geek
Mr Roy says that before the WCG came along it was hard to gauge how good a team or individual was because rankings in one tournament were hard to translate to other competitions. The number of tournaments is slowly increasing and the prize money on offer is becoming substantial.

A small number of clans, or teams are sponsored, Britain's Four-Kings is backed by Intel, and have some of their expenses paid. Many clans train for hours every week, have coaches and endlessly practice tactics. The total cash up for grabs at the World Cyber Games is $350,000 but it is by no means the most lucrative tournament.

Leeanne Dignan, captain of the Four-Kings Intel women's Counter-Strike team, says before now online gaming was something hidden; an underground activity that went on largely un-noticed in back rooms and bedrooms around the world.

The numbers of players involved are enormous. Around the world more than 250,000 people will have taken part in competitions to reach the World Cyber Games. Similar numbers compete for the chance to attend other competitions.

Women players
Leeanne Dignan (left): UK gaming skills are on the rise
Online every moment of every day there are hundreds of thousands of people taking each other on in cyberspace in all manner of games. QuakeNet, where many gamers meet to talk, is the most popular chat network in the world and recently had more than 200,000 people logged on at once.

Ms Dignan says the base level of gaming skill in the UK is rising all the time and making tournaments increasingly competitive.

Says Mr Roy: "Serious gamers are not here for graphics or how cool it looks, it's about the game and the skill needed to play it."

In Seoul the UK's top gamers will soon get a chance to show the world how good they are.


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