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Gamer Is Serious About 1st Place

My video game career peaked in the early 1980s when I defeated a friend in a best-of-seven Ms. Pac-Man series in an Anaheim restaurant. I’ve been in Rip Van Winkle mode ever since on computer games.

With some trepidation and awe, then, I met 22-year-old college student Dennis Chan in the funky Sunset Beach town home he shares with his father. Awed because, quite simply, Chan is the man.

He has won the Warcraft III computer-game competition at the American finals of the World Cyber Games and will join 15 other Americans at the Grand Final in Singapore in November. The 16, competing in eight different games, survive from an original online qualifying field of 40,000.

Pretty heady stuff, but Chan is resolutely down to earth about it.

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“All my friends think it’s really cool,” he says, “but they’re not too big on it. I don’t think it’s that big a deal, to be honest. I’m not trying to be modest.”

I beg to differ and tell him so. After mulling it another second or two, Chan says, “It’s interesting. You think, ‘Oh, I’m the best American player or whatever. There’s literally nobody else that is better than me.’ It’s fascinating. You get kind of taken away by it. I think it’d be a bigger deal if it [computer gaming] were bigger in America. Americans tend to look down on gaming.”

He knows the rap -- that gamers, as they’re called, are anti-social nerds who do nothing but sit in front of a screen and zap things as the world passes them by.

Chan has been a world-class player for the last three years, coinciding with the advent of Warcraft III, a “real-time” game in which players gather resources, build a compound and then use their army to destroy their opponent’s fortifications while protecting their own. “It’s a matter of how you control your units,” Chan says. “Even someone with a far inferior army could easily beat someone with a superior army if they controlled their units better.”

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I pretend to understand, but what I do grasp is that the game requires intense focus. Chan agrees; games can last anywhere from less than 15 minutes to more than an hour or two. For big tournaments, he’ll practice up to 10 hours a day, logging on and competing against players from around the world.

That is a bit much for me, who long ago considered a game of Risk with the cousins a fun way to spend an evening. Of course, we didn’t stand to win $20,000 as Chan can at the Singapore tourney in November.

Chan has played tournaments in France, Taiwan, Denmark and South Korea, where top gamers are idolized.

Not bad for a kid whose first computer recollection was being about 6 or 7 and horsing around with his dad’s laptop. “He was trying to entertain me, and he said I could do whatever I wanted,” Chan says. “I remembered him pushing keys, so I started pushing keys, just playing around. I actually ended up reformatting his hard drive.”

Isn’t that how a young Mozart started with the piano? Chan concedes he may have a natural talent for gaming and is going to Singapore with his sights set on first place.

Then it’s back to Orange Coast College, where he’s prepping himself to enroll next year at UC Irvine.

At 22, Chan is the oldest member of the American team. It strikes me that if e-sports -- as its backers call it -- ever matches South Korea’s passion for gamers, Chan may be past his prime.

Sad to say, but he may win a world title and return to obscurity in America.

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Even if I brood about that, Chan says he can handle it.

But then he talks about South Korea and how its major competitions are broadcast on TV in front of huge crowds. “If you’re good at games there,” Chan says, “you’re as big, if not bigger, than the sports stars. If you walk around, you will get noticed on the street and asked for your autograph. I wish that were the case here. That would be really cool.”

Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. He can be reached at (714) 966-7821 or at dana. parsons@latimes.com. An archive of his recent columns is at www.latimes.com/parsons.


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