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Going pro: Gamers have been competing against one another since the days of Donkey Kong, but the competition has gotten more intense as the popularity of online multiplayer games has exploded.

Some players are even making money off their Halo or Gears of War expertise, collecting checks at tournaments all over the world.

The competition between pro gaming leagues is just as intense, with about half a dozen organizations sponsoring competitions.

One of the more prestigious outfits is Major League Gaming, whose CEO, Matthew Bromberg, says it could be "the next major North American sport." MLG stages tournaments across the United States, broadcasting the events on its Web site and ESPN.com.

Mr. Bromberg says more than 270,000 people watched parts of the most recent competition, in June in San Diego, with 98 percent of those viewers coming from the elusive 12-to 34-year-old male demographic. More people are watching, he says, because "watchers play the same game as the pros on the same field, with the same rules."

SPORE CENTER: Admirers of The Sims creator Will Wright are counting down the days until Sept. 7, when his universe simulator Spore finally arrives. Publisher Electronic Arts recently gave fans a taste of the game, and if the response is any indication, Spore is going to be a blockbuster.

The appetizer, Spore Creature Creator, lets you design and animate bizarre critters that you'll be able to import into the full Spore game. In the first 24 hours that SCC was available, EA reported, players created and uploaded more than 250,000 alien life forms -- nearly three per second. You can download SCC for $9.95 at www.spore.com; a free demo, with about 25 percent of the content, is available too.


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