Thousands of spectators follow live streams

ZARA BAXTER
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2012
Starcraft II

STARCRAFT: A real-time strategy game.

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OPINION: GAMING AND THE POPULARITY OF eSPORTS

Over the weekend I watched the Battle.net World Championships held in Shanghai, and because they were streamed live over the internet I got to view them from the comfort of my own sofa on a big-screen TV. There were 32 StarCraft II players, each of whom had won a regional final, and teams of World of Warcraft players going head-to-head.

I watched the StarCraft tournament. StarCraft is a real-time strategy game, where you mine for resources, construct buildings and recruit troops that then do battle against your opponent. It's fast-paced, each game taking less than 20 minutes. I wasn't watching alone: each of the five StarCraft video streams showing the round-robin portion of the tournament had 8000 to 25,000 spectators following live. Well over 50,000 people watched each semi-final: eSports is a popular pastime.

The commentators for StarCraft, commonly called "casters", do this almost fulltime in Korea, where gaming is big business. It's the casters that make eSports fun even if you're unfamiliar with the game itself, much like any sport. I haven't played Starcraft, but I was getting the hang of what to look for before long, and cheering on my favourites towards the end.

This kind of entertainment also has a social element. BarCraft, which is an event where StarCraft II tournaments are shown at a bar, happens in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. The next one in Wellington is at The Bruhaus on December 1, and they happen fairly regularly.

You can also watch gaming on the small screen. MLG (Major League Gaming) at mlg.tv is one such site dedicated to gamecasting, but there are plenty of homemade game casts on YouTube or at sites such as twitch.tv and g4tv.com.

The winner of the StarCraft II tournament, whose handle is PartinG, took home US$200,000. Don't let anyone tell you that games aren't worthwhile.

GAMING IS ROCKET SURGERY

And while I'm on that topic, it turns out that gamers are as good as surgeons when it comes to robotic surgery. A University of Texas Medical Branch study took 18 high school and college gamers, who played an average of two hours a day or four hours a day, and compared their robotic surgery skills against a group of trained surgeons.

The results for the two groups were pretty comparable. In some ways, that's not surprising: joystick gaming takes fine motor control and hand-eye co-ordination, as does surgery. The use of the joystick, though, is the key - it's superficially similar to the kind of controls you use to navigate the robot.

The researchers think that two hours of gaming a day is enough to develop the appropriate skills - the gamers who averaged two hours a day did as well as the four-hour-a-day group - and they'll implement that when training surgeons.

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NZ GOVERNMENT DOESN'T ASK GOOGLE TO TAKE DOWN SITES

Every six months, Google does a transparency report detailing which governments and nations have asked for user data and requested that sites or content be taken down. Of the nearly 21,000 requests for user data that Google received in the last six months, almost 8000 were from the United States. Google acceded to 90 per cent of the requests, providing data about 16,000 users. Often, these requests are court ordered as part of law enforcement and aim to identify people or access email.

Requests to take down or block websites, of which Google saw around 1800 in the last six months, are most commonly for defamation, or for reasons of privacy and security, but "criticising government" came in third place, showing that governments worldwide seek to delete criticism.

The good news is that New Zealand didn't ask Google for anything.

Zara Baxter edits New Zealand PC World and has been reviewing gadgets for more than 15 years.

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