Video gamers compete for $80,000 at Montreal event
The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, October 18, 2008 9:07AM EDT
MONTREAL - Improvise, adapt and overcome. It's a strategy that Nick Lalonde and his teammates use online to repel terrorists and defuse bombs, or when they switch sides to be the bad guys when playing the video game "Counter-Strike."
They're called Team EG (Evil Geniuses), and the five members are part of a global league of professional e-gamers.
Most nights they're on their PCs in different parts of Canada, practising for about four hours.
Lalonde said a lot of time has to go into the game to be knowledgeable about it.
"You adapt, you find new techniques," said Lalonde, who is 19 and has been playing "Counter-Strike" for eight years.
Team EG and other teams from Canada, the United States, Sweden and elsewhere will compete this weekend in Montreal at the Intel Extreme Masters Global Challenge in "Counter-Strike" and "World of Warcraft" competitions for a total of US$80,000 in prize money. It's the first time the event is being held in Canada.
Lalonde's team is hoping all the practice pays off at the competition and ultimately wants to be at the league's final competition of the season next March in Hanover, Germany.
"You have to study your opponents' past matches," Lalonde said Friday. "You've got to look at their strategies, and from there you've got to adapt and counter their strategies."
"Counter-Strike" pits a team of counter-terrorists against a team of terrorists in a series of rounds.
"The goal of the game is to eliminate the opponent or plant a bomb, or for the other team to diffuse the bomb if you're a counter-terrorist," said Lalonde, who competitively plays only "Counter-Strike."
Lalonde says professional gaming is a growing sport. The income isn't yet high enough, he says, except in Asia where gamers are like "rock stars."
"I do not make enough to make a living off it. I make enough to pay a lot of things off," said Lalonde, who also works as a waiter on weekends and is a college student in Montreal studying media and advertising.
He's considering a career in the gaming industry.
"I know my parents didn't tell me that," he said, recalling that the career choice wasn't something they had imagined for him.
Technology columnist Marc Saltzman said competitive gamers in Asia can make "well into the six figures" but North America doesn't provide the same earnings.
Saltzman said members of Team EG, sponsored by Intel, would get annual salaries of $6,000 to $24,000 depending on how many times they play, supplementing their income with appearances, interviews and tournament victories.
"We're talking the most about $75,000 a year," said Saltzman, who has written several books on gaming including "Game Design: Secrets of the Sages."
Saltzman said PC gaming isn't hot right now - with the exception of "World of Warcraft" - and has been eclipsed by gaming on consoles and handheld devices.
"While competitive gaming is certainly an interesting subculture or micro-culture, I don't think it's indicative of the size of the video game industry. I don't think as a spectator sport it's very mainstream yet," said Saltzman, who writes for the MSN website and other publications.
The NPD Group Inc. said the gaming industry generated just over $1 billion in revenues for the 12 months ending in August 2008.
Not as many games are being produced for PCs, said Matthew Tattle, account manager at NPD Group in Canada.
"It seems like a lot of (video game) publishers are blaming piracy for some of the death of PC games," Tattle said.
Doug Cooper, general manager of Intel Canada, said the Extreme Masters Global Challenge competition is now in its third year and Montreal was a natural fit because it has a thriving gaming industry.
Of course, competitors will be playing with high-end Intel processors at the tournament.
"These guys can't afford to have the screen hesitate for a fraction of a second, because it's a huge competitive disadvantage," Cooper said.