SEATTLE – Geoff Robinson does not fit the stereotype of a hardcore geek gamer.
The Oregon State University student is sociable, an avid weight lifter, studies English and history — not computer science — and wants to be a high school teacher.
But Robinson, 22, is also the best American at a computer strategy game called "StarCraft: Brood War" and he is one of about 700 gamers from 74 countries competing this weekend at the World Cyber Games 2007 Grand Final in Seattle.
Organizers of the World Cyber Games said these players are athletes with tremendous hand-eye coordination who happen to be competing in "e-sports," or electronic sports.
"We'd love to see the stereotype of the geek gamer smashed," said Michael Arzt, senior vice president with the World Cyber Games. "It's not that lonely kid in the basement that people think it is."
In playing "StarCraft," Robinson estimates that a good player will do about 300 different "actions" per minute on either a keyboard or mouse and the best players can push that to 500 actions per minute.
"It's about hand speed," said Robinson, who has been playing "StarCraft" since 1998.
Well-rounded, media-friendly players like Robinson are key to moving professional video gaming to the mainstream and wider acceptance, a strategy adopted by other activities like poker and competitive eating.
Professional video gaming has not reached the mainstream in America or Europe, but it's already a closely-followed past time in South Korea, where tournaments are regularly televised and the best players can make over $100,000 a year.
The transition to the mainstream is taking place all across the $30 billion video game industry. Nintendo Co. Ltd's (NTDOY) Wii has become a huge hit by targeting people who are not hardcore gamers and Microsoft's "Halo 3" had a bigger first-day opening than any movie, book or album.
The Grand Final's format is similar to the Olympics when players compete represent their country and the goal is to win medals for the national team. They will also compete for $448,000 in cash prize money.
"The goal is to one day be recognized as on par with the Olympics or the World Cup," said Arzt.
Players compete in one of 12 games — eight computer games, four for Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) Xbox 360 — including Electronic Arts Inc.'s (ERTS) "FIFA 07" soccer game, Vivendi Universal Games' "WarCraft III: The Frozen Throne" strategy game and Microsoft's "Gears of War" shooter.
There are no overwhelming favorites to win the most medals, but the Germans are strong in FIFA and the Koreans tend to dominate the strategy games, but the host Americans are also a threat in some of the console games.
Robinson said he practices StarCraft three hours a day and kicks that up to five to six hours a day in the weeks leading up to a tournament, but his hand work doesn't come at the expense of school, time at the gym or his social life.
"I probably lost a few hours of sleep," said Robinson. "I don't think it ever crossed my mind to make a living playing video games, but I would like to see where this takes me."