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The World Cyber Games 2004

October 17, 2004

It began innocently enough. Early last week I began seeing an unusually large assortment of awkward looking teenagers wandering the streets of downtown San Francisco, near where I work. They came in all shapes, sizes, colors and nationalities, but all carried themselves with the tentative cockiness of one who has not yet realized that their mother knows exactly where all her Kleenex really goes. Many of them were wearing simple white tee-shirts emblazoned with their native country's flag and the letters "WCG" in bold black lettering. Upon closer scrutiny, I learned from their shirts that "WGC" stood for "World Cyber Games."

World Cyber Games 2004 "What could this all be?" I thought to myself. "Teems of geeks wandering around downtown, the word 'cyber' printed on their shirts, acne and bad hair, the word 'games'..."

Suddenly flashbulbs went off, the needle scratched across the record and the word "ding!" appeared above my head. This could mean only one thing...

Video games, and lots of them.

And I was right. The World Cyber Games 2004 were being held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium mere blocks from where I work. As it turns out, The World Cyber Games are kind of like the Olympics, only for sweaty, twitchy nerds. The top video game players from all over the planet converge to compete for $400,000 in prizes and the adoration of gamers worldwide. I was SO down.

Niklas Lidstrom of the Detroit Redwings I immediately emailed my friend Steve and plans were made to check out the tournaments that weekend. Ever since moving to San Francisco, Steve's been my number one brother in pixilated arms. Whenever the girls allow, we hole up in my apartment for an entire evening of Rise of Nations, Madden or Call of Duty (Stub, represent!). My favorites, though, are the nights we play EA Sports NHL. They always begin with the highest of aspirations; fantasy drafts, entire playoff tournaments, custom eponymous players. Invariably, however, we're so drunk by the end of the three hour long draft that I wind up selecting Mark Messier again because "my team lacks leadership" while Steve declares his desire to sire Niklas Lidstrom's babies.

Saturday afternoon, Steve and I headed downtown to behold the gaming spectacle to end all gaming spectacles. Before even arriving at the auditorium, the sound of bad reggae music filled the streets and the sites and smells of porta-johns filled our remaining senses. Apparently this was a bigger deal than we had anticipated. The entire outdoor plaza in front of City Hall was overflowing with tents proudly flying the logos of heavy hitters such as San Francisco City Hall Creative Labs and nVidia. The letters W, C and G in larger-than-God serif lettering loomed over a stage from which emanated the previously mentioned reggae music. This seemed a little odd to me, as anyone in-the-know has to realize that bad nü-metal, worse trance or please-God-make-it-stop hip-hop are the only ways to sate the unique blend of adrenaline, Red Bull and testosterone common to the twitch gaming crowd. Anyone who's played Quake, Tribes or Medal of Honor can tell you that Bob Marley just lacks that certain je nais se quois that drives you to blow your best friend's head off and question his sexuality before reloading.

We made our first stop in the nVidia tent. It was as if I had died on gone to heaven. Every inch of the place was packed with neon illuminated clear side panel towers and large flat screen displays. As if this wasn't enough, most of these dream stations were loaded with playable games like Doom 3 and Call of Duty. Steve stepped up and tried his hand at CoD as I was accosted by a sales rep. He must have spied me as the only other person within 100 yards over the age of 30 and gotten the mistaken impression that being over 30 means you have money. He was pimping some sort of customizable keyboard. I wasn't buying -- I'm lucky if Lisa lets me get away with one gaming purchase per month. I sure as shit wasn't going to waste October on a keyboard.

Doom 3 After shaking the salesman, I wandered through the tent gazing adoringly (ok, more like obsessively) into the monitors displaying previews of Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft. Steve noticed me beginning to shake visibly and had the presence of mind to drag me, convulsing, from the nVidia tent just as I started frothing at the mouth.

Once he was certain that I wasn't going to swallow my tongue, we decided it was time to head into the auditorium for the main event. After dodging the half-pipe BMX exhibitions (who knew gaming could be so extreme?), we entered the hallowed halls of The Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

We made a requisite pass through the presenters' booths, nabbing as many freebies as possible. I scored an Ubisoft demo disk for the Xbox with new missions for Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell and a playable demo of Rainbow Six 3. I briefly wondered if Tom Clancy is smart and rich Tom Clancy was surprised to be the inspiration and license holder for many of the top selling video games on the market, or if it had always been a part of his master plan. I then imagined him swimming in all the cash he's made from these franchises and my wonder turned to raw, chaffing jealousy. What a fucking hack.

The most impressive booth, however, belonged to Creative Labs. We'd seen literally hundreds of people sporting Creative tee-shirts proclaiming that they "wouldn't be caught dead with motherboard audio," and all I could think was "amen, brother." I had to have one. They were showcasing their 5.1 THX systems, and required that you make a pass through their entire booth prior to claiming your free shirt. I obliged. The centerpiece of their showcase was a widescreen showing of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King with 300 watts of surround sound provided by their THX approved system. It was actually pretty impressive, although it was apparent that the assembled crowd was divisible into two distinct camps -- those who wanted the free shirt, and those who would take any opportunity to watch anything The Lord of the Rings related for the forty-seventh time. Always the diplomat, I was happy to represent both parties with equal fervor.

We awoke from our collective Tolkien induced stupor when the DVD started skipping just as the Riders of Rohan began their charge on Gondor. Damn it. Steve and I grabbed our free shirts and exited the booth.

We'd been at The World Cyber Games for nearly an hour now, and had yet to see a single event, so, after a brief stop in the overwhelmingly large and lantastic main auditorium -- the entire floor was FILLED with gaming stations for the competitors -- we took our seat in the viewing area and waited for the games to begin. We had a good 15 minutes to kill before World Cyber Games 2004 the next tournament started, but we didn't want to give up our choice seats, so we people watched for a while. It was during this lull that I realized that not only was I, at 31, among the oldest 1% of the entire crowd (Steve, at 28, fit nicely into the 2% bracket), but that of the other representatives of the over 30 club, I was likely the only one here of my own volition and not because my son or nephew needed a ride to the event. That, coupled with the fact that I was now waiting patiently in a room full of geeks for the privilege of watching other people play video games brought a small rush of bile to my throat. Is this what it has come to? Have I truly sunk so low? Steve and I exchanged nervous glances and I knew that he was having the same thoughts. This was the absolute pinnacle of my nerddom. I had officially peaked as a geek on this day. Only the sudden realization that I had had more sex (with other people, anyway) than the rest of the room combined kept me from sprinting for the door.

It proved to be so very worth it.

For the next 90 minutes, we watched and cheered as Team 3D, an underdog from the US, came back from a devastating first round manhandling to triumph in a best two out of three tournament over SK Gaming from Sweden, the consensus number one Counter-Strike team in the world. I was absolutely blown away -- these kids' skills were incredible! They not only had hand-eye coordination any surgeon would envy, but both teams employed a wide variety of well rehearsed strategies and tactics that went well beyond anything I'd seen in my years of online gaming. Steve and I were literally on the edge of our seats and cheering with the loudest of them by the second round.

Counter-Strikes's Team 3D: America, FUCK YEAH! Counter-Strike's SK Gaming

After the match ended, we could literally not wait to get home and fire up some online Call of Duty. We parted ways vowing that if we ever encounter Moto, Rambo or any of the other Team 3D cadre, we'll buy them a beer for representing our country and gamers in general so well on that day. We'll just have to wait four or five years until they're 21.

Five-Oh! Five-Oh!

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