E3: Pro Gaming Hopes to Hit Mainstream

Meet "FATAL1TY," the 27-year-old poster boy of professional video gaming.

He is good-looking, stylish, in good shape and not the least bit socially awkward.

"Gamers aren't all nerds sitting in their basements. I have friends. I work out. I don't have zits," he says as he laughs and runs his hand through his mohawk.

FATAL1TY, whose real name is Jonathan Wendel, has won more than 12 world titles and earned six figures since the age of 19, and he says his league is just like any other professional sport. There are big salaries, team rivalries, drafts and obsessed fans. And yes, he's signed breasts.

"The emotion, the training, the passion, the competition; it's all there," says FATAL1TY from the kickoff party for this week's team world finals of the Championship Gaming Series (CGS). Launched more than a year ago, it's the first worldwide professional gaming league.

"We are athletes, and I'm here to help take this sport mainstream."

The CGS is hoping the league's world finals in Los Angeles, which end on July 28 with the crowning of a world champion team, will help U.S. audiences take notice.

"Gaming is going to be the next great sport for the 21st century," said Andy Reif, the CEO and Commissioner of the CGS. "But, like poker, it's not going to happen overnight."

Professional Gaming 101

"There are so many similarities to traditional sports in this league it's crazy," said Swoozie, a professional gamer turned commentator for CGS. He's dressed in a white sports coat, baggy jeans and a huge Mario necklace.

In this week's world finals, eight teams with names like the Sydney Underground, Mexico City Furia and Wuhan Dragons from Singapore will go head-to-head. They're the survivors from the 18 teams that started the competition.

The teams will battle on four video games: "Dead or Alive 4," a Mortal Kombat-type fighting game; "FIFA 08," a soccer game; "Counter-Strike: Source," one the most popular of the multi-player shooting game games; and "Forza 2," a race car game.

While individual players compete on different video games, all points they rack up contribute to the team's grand total. The team with the most points wins. Counter-Strike is the only game in which five players on a team compete at the same time.

Teams are typically comprised of 10 people, plus bench warmers. Swoozie is a warmer for Dallas Venom this year.

"You never know when someone is going to fall and break their wrist," he says.

Girl Power

While the teams are male-dominated, gaming isn't only for males. One of the female superstars in the league is Vanessa Arteaga, who competes on team San Francisco Optx. She's this year's individual woman's world champion in DOA 4. Not surprisingly, she is quite popular with the players.

"In this league, women are hot commodities," says Swoozie. "It's such a turn-on when they are into all the same games you're into."

That's not to say that the boys don't get attention too.

"The fans throw themselves at this guy," says Swoozie, pointing to gamer "Master" Rodgriguez, the world's individual male DOA 4 champion this year and a fellow member of the Dallas Venom.

"Not all, but some of them are hot too," says Rodriguez, who recently started dating Arteaga.

And how did Master, Arteaga and Swoozie make it on to the team you ask? They all took part in a draft held at the Playboy mansion, of course.

"It's a draft with Playboy bunnies walking all over the place," said Rodriguez. "Can you believe that?"

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