The pomp before the stomp: The World Cyber Games kicks off

$400,000 in cash prizes will be awarded at the four-day international tournament in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO--The fourth annual World Cyber Games tournament officially kicked off in San Francisco Wednesday night with an elaborate opening ceremony that featured music, dance, fireworks, and pageantry celebrating the 63 countries represented at the event. Several thousand spectators, including 700 competitors from all reaches of the globe, watched the kickoff in Civic Center Plaza (next to the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium), where hours of intense PC and console gaming are set to take place over the next four days between both individuals and teams.

As the sun set over San Francisco’s towering city hall, a video showed highlights of the run-up to the WCG finals. The growing excitement among the competitors was palpable as different contingents cheered with both personal and national pride while the videos documented some of the dramatic victories that sent them halfway around the world to compete for top prizes.

A parade of nations followed, much like in the Olympic tradition, with flag bearers from each participating nation, from Argentina to Vietnam. Danny Rogers, aka SaSTRooPA, who is competing in Counter-Strike: Condition Zero with the Australian team au23, carried the flag for Australia’s contingent of 11 competitors. “I volunteered for the job,” said Rogers, 21, who proved his qualifications when he marched past the Australians and shouted “Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!” to his countrymen’s traditional response of “Oi! Oi! Oi!”

The party-like atmosphere continued as World Cyber Games Organizing Committee cochair Yun Jong-Yong welcomed the competitors and spectators. The welcome was followed by a pep talk from former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Steve Young. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom then pronounced the Games officially open, and the official WCG flag was ceremoniously raised over Civic Center Plaza, where it will fly until Sunday. Representatives from the players and referees then took the stage to declare an oath of fair play and sportsmanship before competitors were dismissed to finalize their battle plans before competition begins on Thursday.

The tournament culminates in Sunday’s finals, where world champions will prevail in eight different games, including: Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, Unreal Tournament 2004, Halo, Project Gotham Racing 2, Need for Speed Underground, FIFA Soccer 2004, WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne, and StarCraft: Brood War. The WCG’s 700 competitors reached the finals in San Francisco after successfully winning preliminary competitions around the world that initially attracted more than 1 million participants.

The organizer of the World Cyber Games, Korea-based International Cyber Marketing, put a true international flavor on the opening ceremonies by emphasizing how the values of sportsmanship, fair play, and goodwill can transcend geographical and cultural boundaries, much like the widely popular games featured in the competition. Nations sending their first contingents to the World Cyber Games this year include Mongolia, Kuwait, Serbia and Montenegro, and Uzbekistan.

This year’s festival is the first to be held outside Korea, where online gaming is a national pastime on par with professional sports in the US. Additionally, home broadband penetration is around 80 percent, and televised StarCraft tournaments can pull huge ratings. Last year’s World Cyber Games 2003 in Seoul drew 150,000 spectators, and, interestingly, the event was held in that city’s Olympic Stadium, which was the site of a more traditional athletic competition in 1988.

While attendance in San Francisco is expected to fall far short of last year’s total, International Cyber Marketing hopes to attract more international attention by selecting different host cities each year. The World Cyber Games 2005 will be held in Singapore.

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