Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Video game junkie turns pro, cashes in

By Thane Grauel
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

After two years of college, Jason Dourlaris had a plan that sounded like any parent's nightmare - take a year off to play video games.

But his Blauvelt, N.Y., family supported the scheme to turn a three-hours-a-day hobby into something of a career. It's not like the 21-year-old dropped out of school altogether - he earned an associate's degree in computer support services and plans to pursue a bachelor's degree.

"In the beginning, I thought he was wasting his time," said his father, Dino Dourlaris, who remembers asking his son years ago what he really wanted - a minibike? A moped?

The answer was computer games.

"But Jason took the leap and got into it big-time," he said.

It's paying off.

Jason Dourlaris is the national champ at his game, "Unreal Tournament 2003." He won the title after going undefeated in the August U.S. qualifier in Irvine, Calif., for the World Cyber Games. That was his ticket to the October worldwide event in Seoul, South Korea, where he placed second in a team competition (the Netherlands beat the United States) and fifth in one-on-one.

"I've made $13,000 to $15,000, got a computer, been to almost every state in the U.S. and to Canada and Korea - for clicking a mouse," Jason Dourlaris said. "I have no complaints."

A 2002 survey by the Entertainment Software Association found that half of all Americans play computer or video games. The average player's age is 29.

Many are hooked on a relatively new phenomenon - online gaming. That's where people start up their favorite game on their computer and use the Internet to play against others.

Dourlaris started online gaming about seven years ago with a 56K modem. He now has a cable hookup and plays "Unreal Tournament" under the name Stryfe. The game is a futuristic shoot-'em-up, where players scramble for the best weapons and other goodies while dodging opponents' fire.

Propped on a bookshelf opposite his computer is his latest payoff, a huge game-show-variety check for $5,000. It's his winnings from the October event in Seoul. The real money came via electronic transfer.

His winnings aren't a bad chunk of change for a guy who takes tolls from truckers at the New York State Thruway Authority.

Talented players such as Dourlaris are finding that gaming can be lucrative.

Because software companies and chip makers need young stars and tournaments to showcase their products, sponsorships are becoming more common.

Some event organizers hope to make professional gaming another sport people watch on cable television, buy tickets to see or even wager on online.

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