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June 22, 2017

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The new 'athletes' of hard-core online gaming

ARIS--They train hard, have their own fans, sponsors and managers, and transfer to rival teams: Online gaming pros are not dissimilar to athletes, adopting rigor and dedication to win and cash in on their success.

Some 30 of these professionals traveled to Paris this week for this year's four-day "League of Legends" championships in an indoor multipurpose arena attended by thousands of fans of the popular online battle arena game.

Sitting next to each other facing an audience of rapturous fans, team players wearing headsets and eyes riveted on computers battled it out in a game broadcast on a giant screen overhead.

"The life of a professional player is fairly similar to that of a high-level athlete," said Kurtis Lau, a retired online gaming star from Hong Kong better known under the pseudonym "Toyz" in the "League of Legends" world.

"You have to train several hours a day and travel across the world to compete in matches."

"League of Legends" pits champions against each other in a fantasy world and has become hugely popular with over 67 million people playing it every month, according to the game's developers Riot Games.

The 2014 championships that kicked off Thursday in Paris featured teams from North America, Europe, South East Asia, China and South Korea.

They crescendoed Sunday in the final that saw South Korea's "SK Telecom T1 K" win against China's "OMG."

Fame and Rigor

In the sold-out arena, thousands of spectators chanted the names of favorite players before the online battles began.

Each team had its own coach, who dished out last minute advice and encouragement to players.

Backstage, some warmed up in private rooms, others ate fruit and carbs to get ready.

"You need a healthy lifestyle to be a professional player," said Nicolas Laurent, in charge of international development at the California-based Riot Games.

"In fact, there are real differences between the Asian teams that are much more serious and the Americans or Europeans. And that often comes through in terms of results."

South Korea's winning team of this year's All-Star Paris 2014 championships will take home US$50,000 (36,300 euros).

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