Battle intensifies for cyber-world gaming supremacy in Singapore

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The Independent Online

"And it's a goal for Singapore!" the commentator screamed as fans leapt to their feet, pumping their fists and roaring to celebrate an equaliser against Romania.

But this was no ordinary football match. Instead of playing on a field, the game was fought on two large screens by two gamers pounding at keyboards at the World Cyber Games, the computer industry's equivalent of the Olympics.

The total prize money of $430,000 (£250,000) at this week's event is more than some Asian Tour golf tournaments pay out, and some of the 700 game enthusiasts from 67 countries who have gathered in Singapore for the tournament play for a living. Awestruck spectators craned their necks to get a glimpse of well-known gamers as they hunkered over their machines to play Fifa Soccer 2005, shooting games such as Counter Strike: Source, and real-time strategy games including WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne.

"Normal people look up to the pro players because they are young and earn a lot," said the South Korean team captain, Kang Dongwon. " They want to watch how they play so they can be as good."

South Korea's Seo Ji-hoon, the StarCraft game defending champion, can earn $100,000 a year in sponsorship, pay, appearance fees and winnings. South Korea is the largest gaming market in the region, but others, such as China, Thailand and Malaysia, are catching up rapidly. Impoverished Bangladesh had two players at the five-day tournament at Singapore's Suntec Convention Centre, which ended yesterday.

Robert "Razerguy" Krakoff, president of the game peripherals maker Razer, said: "In Korea, gamers are almost like rock stars."

The console and PC game market is worth $20bn a year, and this is set to rise as cheaper computers and faster connection speeds reach poorer Asian nations.

Back on the big screen, the game between Singapore and Romania entered its final minutes. The Romanian student Marius Badita, 17, commandeered a pass from midfield that found a well-positioned striker. With just two seconds left, Badita fired a shot out of the keeper's reach to give Romania a 3-2 win.