This year, the team at NBC-Universal that produced the Turin games is producing another event whose sports cred is somewhat debatable--Major League Gaming's pro circuit event at the Meadowlands in Secaucus, N.J.
The event brings together pro gamers in two titles--the enormously popular "Halo 2" for the Xbox, and "Super Smash Brothers Melee" for the Gamecube--at hundreds of TV screens set up at the Meadowlands, where players will compete for tens of thousands of dollars in cash and prizes.
The MLG has been putting on these tourneys for the last three years, but this is the first time the event will be televised--and not at 2 a.m. on Sunday night, either. The pro circuit will be airing in November on Saturday in the late morning, following USA's "Raw" professional wrestling, the highest-rated show on cable television, with cross-promotion between the two programs. The event will be sponsored by Boost Mobile and the Toyota Scion; the winner of a most-improved player award will get a tricked-out car, and every gamer will receive a Boost Mobile phone, which they'll be using to communicate with opponents and teammates. The distinctive Boost "chirp" should be everywhere.
One can debate whether or not "Halo 2" and "Super Smash Brothers Melee" are sports. They involve little to no physical exertion, and the nature of video games means the playing field, of necessity, will be inconstant; when "Halo 3" is released, enough will likely change about the game to make old performance records meaningless.
But whether or not it's sport, people play in droves. On GameSpot.com, one of the top video game review sites on the Web, players have performed roughly 112 million lookups for information, screenshots, tips and tricks, and other gaming info since its release in November 2004. Super Smash Brothers Melee, since its release in December 2001, has garnered over 66 million lookups on Gamespot's site.
Will people watch? We'll find out in November, but already professional gaming has gotten some eyeballs in other markets: In South Korea, tournaments are broadcast on 24-hour dedicated TV cable channels, and popular players are stopped on the street for their autographs. And video gaming is not, after all, the first televised sport that features un-athletic players sitting in one place for hours at a time. Consider the World Series of Poker.