Germany is already world champion on the virtual pitch, with Daniel and Dennis Schellhase, the most famous e-sportsmen in the country. But is video gaming a sport?
Virtual soccer world champions say that computer gaming is a sport
When the 22-year-old twins Daniel and Dennis Schellhase enter a soccer pitch, they switch their names to Hero and Styla. A nickname is necessary in their business, they say.
Their business is FIFA, a videogame in which participants play soccer. But to Daniel and Dennis, it is about much more than scoring goals as a hobby: They have been world champions a few times -- an achievement that has earned them more than 100,000 euros.
These so called legendary "FIFA twins" are known as the most famous and successful "e-sportsmen" in Germany. And they maintain that videogames is a sport.
"If you can call chess a sport, then playing videogames like FIFA is definitely a proper sport, too," said Dennis Schellhase. "You have to be nimble, you have to practice, you have to react quickly and you must identify your opponent's game plan -- which is part of other sports, too. The only real difference is that you don't actually have to run and move yourself."
And as in all sports, says Daniel Schellhase, no pain, no gain.
"If there is a world championship coming up, then you have to practise more than two hours a day, of course," he said. "And then sometimes you realize when you want to start that your fingers hurt, that they twinge and twitch quite badly. That happens regularly."
Sometimes a taste of real fame
If Daniel and Dennis lived in Hong Kong, Shanghai or Beijing, no one would dare to question the importance of what they are doing. They would be pop stars; their FIFA matches would be aired on TV; and girls would be screaming and fainting in their presence. That is exactly what happens whenever the FIFA-twins play tournaments in Asia.
It is different in their hometown of Gelsenkirchen, a down-to-earth town in the industrial center of Germany. Although sometimes Hero and Styler do get a taste of what real fame is like at home, too.
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"We don't feel like it, but very often young people we meet think of us as celebrities," said Daniel Schellhase. "They come up and talk to us and we get e-mails from fans. By now we are recognized in the area and even when we go shopping in another town or when we are out at a nightclub."
Dennis Schellhase says that the two didn't feel comfortable with the attention or the questions at first.
"At first we were a bit shy about it all because gaming is not always viewed positively," he said. "In the past, you quickly got labelled a computer nerd when you spent a lot of time with computers. Fortunately today, people know that's not always the case."
And the twins actually are far from being computer nerds even though they study computer science. They don't look like geeks either with their spiked bleached blond hair and their trendy outfits. They are part of a real soccer team and even have time for girlfriends. In fact, it seems they do everything together, work together, live together, split their prize money. They say it is all very harmonious, almost.
"You get mad sometimes while playing matches at home but at tournaments you are happy when your brother is up there representing the family even though you yourself didn't actually do well," said Daniel Schellhase. "Then you are glad because you get half of the prize money, too."
Dennis Schellhase was the last one of them to stand on the winner's podium. At the World Cyper Games in Singapore in November he was crowned "World Champion 2005." Two years ago in Korea, the Dynamic Duo even competed against each other in the finals -- and won the team competition.
The Olympics next?
Now a new dream keeps them heading to the game pad -- to take part in the 2008 Olympic Games 2008 in Peking. While not well-known, organisers of the games are debating whether to include e-sports in the support program. If that happens, Styla and Hero will definitely be among those chosen to compete.
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And even though both feel flattered by the attention around them, they say there is a price to their fame.
"No matter what field you are successful in, you won't be popular," said Daniel Schellhase. "People get jealous of your success. It is just like in the German Soccer League with Bayern Munich. No one wants them to become the German champion again and everyone is against them. You don't hate them, but you don't want them to win."