Can Passive Be Massive?

A new video game league bets it can draw like poker
May 27, 2007

DAVE GEFFON, a master of the video game Counter-Strike, stepped off the bus in Xi'an, China, in the spring of 2006 during a promotional tour and was swarmed, he says, by souvenir-seeking fans trying to rip his clothes off. "The way Shaquille O'Neal or Dwyane Wade walks into the room, it was the same thing," Geffon, 24, says. Now DIRECTV is hoping it can turn Geffon and other top gamers into at least the equivalent of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Ira Newble at home. Beginning in July the satellite broadcaster will present the Championship Gaming Series, a first-of-its-kind video game league with $5 million in total player payroll and TV shows featuring... endless shots of video game screens and young men pushing buttons.

Since that could be a problem, the CGS is trying to create a semblance of legitimacy by structuring itself like a traditional sports league. It will have a two-month regular season, playoffs, a draft and even a scouting combine. Six American teams—Geffon is the general manager of the as-yet-unnamed New York franchise—and 10 international teams will compete in popular titles that officials see as TV-friendly: Counter-Strike: Source (a five-on-five shooting game), Dead or Alive 4 (a two-on-two fighting game), Project Gotham Racing 3 (two-on-two racing) and FIFA 2007.

The people behind the league expect success for two reasons. One is that video gaming is similar to poker, an unathletic endeavor that nevertheless attracts young male viewers who relate because they have played the same game at home. Andy Reif, commissioner of the CGS and previously COO of the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour, is also cheered by the fact that gaming-as-spectator-sport works in Asia. Two channels in South Korea regularly combine to draw five million viewers in prime time.

Of course there are counter arguments for both those points: 1) Poker has cooled off considerably, and 2) David Hasselhoff is huge in Germany. Reif's best hope may be that men can be notoriously easy to enthrall. The CGS's draft takes place June 12 at the Playboy Mansion.

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MONDAY IS Memorial Day, a holiday many will celebrate by turning buckets of wet sand upside down on the beach and marveling at the lopsided turrets they've just created. That's nice, but if you want to see some real beach architecture (not just castles), check out harrisand.org, the site of Harrison Hot Springs, a resort in British Columbia that just hosted the sand sculpture Tournament of Champions and will put on the world championships in September. Photo galleries show some of the more amazing creations, and an FAQ gives a primer on what makes the sand at HHS so conducive to construction projects.

TV Watch
IF ANY network should be sensitive about causing viewers to miss the end of a playoff game, it's NBC, the perpetrator of pro football's infamous Heidi (right) incident in 1968. That didn't stop the Peacock last Saturday: With the Sabres and the Senators tied after regulation in Game 5, most NBC affiliates, as was their right under the network's NHL contract, cut to Preakness coverage. (Never mind that post time was 90 minutes away.) The hockey moved to Versus, which is seen in 72 million homes, 38 million fewer than NBC. That meant that millions—O.K., scores—of fans missed Daniel Alfredsson's series-clincher 9:32 into OT.

PHOTOCOURTESY DIRECTV (GAMING)REAL SPORT? The gaming series will have screaming G.M.'s, playoffs and a draft PHOTOCOURTESY TECMO (ACTION FIGURE) PHOTOWWW.HARRISAND.ORG (SAND SCULPTURE) PHOTO20TH CENTURY FOX/EVERETT COLLECTION (HEIDI)
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)