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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 October 2007, 08:44 GMT 09:44 UK
Are games about to hit prime time?
By Mark Ward
Technology correspondent, BBC News website

Jason Lake, AP
The CGS aims to turn games into a pro-sport
It has often been said that the reason computer and video games are more popular then ever is because they look better than ever.

Add to those good looks the action, explosions and fast-paced action in the most popular game titles and you might be forgiven for thinking that they would be a natural fit for TV.

However, the history of competitive computer games is littered with attempts that have tried, and largely failed, to put games and gamers on the goggle box.

The latest attempt came to the UK in September in the form of the Championship Gaming Series (CGS). This aims to put pro-gaming on prime time TV on channels run by its main sponsors Sky and Direct TV.

Live matches and footage of CGS tournaments will be shown on Sky One. The CGS is not the only league to be shown on TV. Xleague.TV shows regular tournaments on cable and satellite channels and run its own, smaller scale, league.

The CGS models itself on US pro-sports and it owns the leagues and teams playing under its banner.

Screenshot from Counterstrike Source, EA
Counterstrike has been hugely popular for years
The CGS has created teams on five continents and runs its own leagues in which the teams will compete for a substantial prize pot.

All the members of the CGS teams get paid a monthly wage and each team of ten has players who excel at one of the four competition games: Counterstrike Source, Project Gotham Racing 3, Dead Or Alive 4 and Fifa Soccer 07.

Serious play

Andy Reif, commissioner of the CGS, believes that this time around video games have the best chance of making it as a pro-sport that can attract big audiences.

Prior to taking on the job of CGS boss, Mr Reif was part of the team that owned the rights to beach volleyball.

"When we took that over it was kind of damaged goods," said Mr Reif. "It did not have many fans, sponsors or media platforms."

By the time Mr Reif left to take on the CGS beach volleyball had become hugely popular, had major sponsors and plenty of TV coverage.

"I moved to the CGS because I thought video games were a bigger opportunity and its already global," he said.

The important change that the CGS has made is to create its own teams, said Mr Reif. Before now the world of pro-gaming has been fractured - divided by the games people play and the tournaments they enter.

Beach volleyball, AP
The CGS hopes to make gaming as big as beach volleyball
The field was also hard to penetrate for those not heavily involved, he said.

To get over these obstacles the CGS had changed the rules in some of the games it ha adopted, developed special software to make it easy to follow the action in fast-moving games and makes the success of a team depend on all players winning at their chosen game.

For Michael O'Dell, a former manager of UK pro-gaming group Team Dignitas and now a CGS team manager, the competition is what the gaming world has been waiting for.

"It's taking gaming as it is now to the level of e-sports we have been trying and hoping we would achieve," he said.

By giving players a salary the CGS has, at a stroke, boosted the numbers of people that make a modest living out of it.

Before now, said Mr O'Dell, the problem pro-players faced was the uncertainty of their winnings. Although there were plenty of tournaments that offer cash prizes there were no guarantees that pro-players would end up in the money.

Jonathan Wendel, AP
Few gamers manage to make a living from playing
But said Philip Wride, a former manager of UK pro-gamers 4Kings and now a game industry consultant, the arrival of the CGS has not been welcomed in all corners of the gaming world.

"A lot of European top teams did not bother getting involved with the CGS," said Mr Wride.

Some did not want to lose top players to the CGS or lose the chance to take part in tournaments, such as the World Cyber Games or the E-Sports World Cup, that offer potentially larger cash prizes than are available in CGS events.

Culturally, he added, Europeans were not used to sports in which the leagues own and run teams. This too, he said, may have been a barrier to people getting involved.

For his part Mr Reif is convinced that video games are poised to become hugely popular and that the players of today will become well-known tomorrow.

"The audience will continue to grow and grow." he said. "I've bet my career on it."

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