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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 October, 2004, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Face-off in gaming olympics
By Clark Boyd
Technology correspondent in San Francisco

The elite of the video gaming world have gathered in San Francisco to prove they are the best of the best.

The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, AP
The WCG is one of the biggest events in the gaming calendar
There is an old blues tune that calls this town Mean Old Frisco.

But, San Francisco's about to get a whole lot meaner over the next few days, as some 700 competitors battle for $400,000 in prize money here in the 4th annual World Cyber Games.

Team and individual competitions will kick off on Thursday, following an official opening ceremony on Wednesday evening in downtown San Francisco.

The event brings together gamers from more than 60 countries.

Cash money

They have come from as far away as Mongolia to compete in a number of PC-based games, including Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, Unreal Tournament 2004, StarCraft: Broodwar, and WarCraft III: Frozen Throne.

In addition, two Xbox console games, Halo and Project Gotham Racing, will also be contested.

There will also be a sizable number of unofficial gamers here, as part of a Bring Your Own Computer tournament.

Screenshot from Unreal Tournament 2004
Counter-Strike - Marc Mangiacapra, Keir McCann, Stuart Harriman, Nygel Harriman, Dave Pratt
Unreal Tournament - David Treacy, Paul McGarrity
Warcraft III - Martin Rome, Alex Bond
Project Gotham Racing - Tom Humphris
The event's chief organiser, Hank Jeong, promised that "gamers can expect to have their skills and strategic thinking challenged to even higher levels by competing against some of the best players in the world".

The event is sponsored by South Korean electronics giant Samsung, and also by the South Korean government.

Fitting, when you consider that South Korea has become a global hotspot for computer gaming where top players can earn up to $100,000 a year.

No fewer than four television stations broadcast game-related programming, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

This will mark the first time the event has been held outside South Korea.

The idea, according to event officials, is to make gaming accessible and fun to more people across the globe, and to make computer games "the second common language after sport".

This year's event, which comes complete with an official anthem and mascot, will feature the theme, Go Beyond the Game.

New entrants

For the players, getting here was no easy task.

To make their national teams, competitors had to go through numerous elimination rounds.

But as a reward, those who made the national teams were given free air fare to San Francisco, and free accommodation in the Players' Village at a local hotel.

Already, competitors have been meeting each other and sizing up the opposition in the Players' Village.

Screengrab of Warcraft III showing Ordin Frostbane, Blizzard
Warcraft III tests strategy skills
In addition to gaming powerhouses like South Korea, Germany and the United States, there are a number of first-time competitors.

Kuwait, Uzbekistan, Serbia and Montenegro, and even Iran, have sent teams to this year's games.

Some teams are spending most of their time behind closed doors, talking strategy and fine-tuning their skills.

Many of the cyber athletes are looking at footage from past events to better understand their competitors.

Others prefer to relax by checking out the sights here in San Francisco, and doing a bit of shopping.

But once the competition starts, most gamers will be focusing on ways to unseat the German team, which came out on top in the 2003 event by taking three gold and two silver medals.

For Paul McGarrity of Edinburgh, making the British national team was a pay-off for spending up to five hours a day practising Unreal Tournament 2004.

McGarrity, who plays for a clan called Team Dignitas, has competed in other gaming competitions. But he describes the World Cyber Games as "THE tournament."

McGarrity is one of 10 players representing the UK.

Clark Boyd is technology correspondent for The World, a BBC World Service and WGBH-Boston co-production

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