By Ron Harris
SAN FRANCISCO -- For the world's best video-game players, getting the high score is no longer enough.
With total cash prizes of about $400,000 spread out over eight tournaments, this year's World Cyber Games championships adds big money to the test of fast reflexes and superhuman eye-hand coordination.
The event, a culmination of national competitions from around the globe, pits teams of players against each other in first-person shooters including "Counter-Strike: Condition Zero," "Unreal Tournament 2004" and "Halo."
In the world of virtual mayhem, these competitors are king.
"My parents didn't like it at all at first, but when I started traveling and making money out of it, they realized that I'm actually not just wasting my time on this," said 20-year-old gamer Michael Korduner of Stockholm.
Korduner is among 700 players from 62 countries in the five-day competition, which ends Sunday at the extravagant cyber city full of gaming machines, PCs and ethernet cable near City Hall.
There's certainly no shortage of cash in the gaming industry today: The business rakes in $10 billion annually in the United States alone. The winning team in the five-on-five "Counter Strike" competition gets $50,000, the runner-up team half that.
But Hank Jeong, president and CEO of International Cyber Marketing, which is putting on the competition, said the money takes a back seat to the bragging rights.
The World Cyber Games began in 2001 and included competitors from 37 countries in its first year. This is the first time it has been outside of Korea, and from now on, organizers plan to move it to different cities around the world, including Singapore next year.
In addition to the popular shooting titles, competitors will play "Need For Speed: Underground," a racing game with exotic cars, and "FIFA 2004," a fast-paced soccer game played on PCs.
Matija Biljeskovic, a 20-year-old from Rockford, Ill., specializes in "FIFA 2004," practicing about 30 hours a week.
Members of the U.S. national "Halo" championship team said they were eager to exact a little payback for their early ouster from last year's championship in Seoul, Korea.
"I played in the same tournament last year and got knocked out, so I'm hoping for a little revenge," said Stephen "Proxa" Booth, 18, of Bothell, Wash.
When asked what his specialty was on the team, Booth sounded a little clandestine.
"Let's just say it's important to control maps," said Booth, revenge firmly in mind.