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Pro Gaming Lives Large

The finale of the Cyberathlete Professional League 2005 world tour on Nov. 22 could have been scripted in Hollywood. Facing off were Sander "VoO" Kaasjager, the 20-year-old Dutchman who had dominated the CPL's one-on-one competitions this year, vs. Jonathan "Fatal1ty" Wendel, a 24-year-old from Kansas City who is computer gaming's perennial champion (see BW, 10/10/05, "Game Boy"). The announcer called it "the biggest rivalry in computer gaming history." That was no exaggeration.

The setting was the Nokia Theater in New York's Times Square. The two combatants sat opposite each other at PCs on a stage. They jousted at PainKiller, an ultrafast shoot-'em-up that involves the taking of many virtual lives.

VoO had won five tournaments during the year, compared with just two for Fatal1ty. But VoO was no match for the veteran. Employing a devastating strategy of first hiding out and then attacking aggressively, Fatal1ty won four games in a row and took the $150,000 prize.

SEDENTARY SPORT. VoO, with a baby face and a halo of buzz-cut blonde hair, was downcast. "I couldn't get my game going," he said afterwards. "It was probably the most boring match in the history of PainKiller, but he won."

Fatal1ty, a tall, slim, redhead, was delirious in victory. He posed holding a giant cardboard check while surrounded by seven beautiful young women dressed all in black. When asked what he would do with the paycheck, he was ready: "I'm going to take all my friends to spring break next year."

Amid the hoopla and youthful enthusiasm, the event was something of a coming of age for pro gaming. Born a decade ago in a Dallas hotel, the CPL tournament had finally made it to the big time -- New York City. MTV was broadcasting the event live. A scrum of other camera crews crowded around. Thousands of kids compete in tournaments like this one all over the world, and tens of thousands vie for gaming glory online. Gaming has become a bona fide sport.

The CPL championship also served as an apt launch pad for the next phase of Wendel's career. While he plans to keep competing next year, he has a business on the side -- think of it as Fatal1ty Inc. -- that's just now taking off. Already he has licensed his brand for use with PC cards and cooling fans, and Fatal1ty keyboards and mice are due out next year.

NONVIRTUAL CASH. Mark Walden, director of licensing at Auravision in Woodland Hills, Calif., Wendel's master licenser, says partner Creative Labs is selling Fatal1ty sound cards at a clip of 30,000 a month. Wendel's already-high profile is about to get a bit higher, too. CBS (VIA) plans to run a 15-minute segment on him on 60 Minutes in December, and negotiations are under way with Random House for a book.

Wendel's tournament winnings alone have made him rich by kid standards -- he scooped up more than $500,000 in prize money over the past five years. And while he basks in glory, don't feel sorry for Kaasjager. Even in defeat, he made out well. His $100,000 runner-up check, plus $20,000 for winning the most points during the tournament, bring his 2005 winnings to $240,000.


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