Broadband Innovations, Part 1: The 21st Century Athlete

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O'Day claims he spends only about 3 to 4 hours a day playing, but his girlfriend, Angela He, a student at San Francisco City College, doesn't agree.

Gamer Patrick O'Day practicing while his girlfriend, Angela He, waits for him.
"It's more than that. He gets home from work around 5, and then he'll sometimes play until 3 a.m. and I have to feed him dinner while he's playing," she says with a sigh.

O'Day shares an apartment with two girls near San Francisco State University. His living quarters are confined to the far end of the living room, where he keeps his bed and gaming gear. A line of boxes on the floor delineates his space from the common area around him.

Compensating for the lack of privacy are the low rent and the option of having Angela stay over whenever she likes. As his gaming career takes off, O'Day suggests, he might upgrade his accommodations, but not before investing in an HDTV and maybe a curtain for more privacy in the apartment. ?

Like many prospective Olympic athletes, O'Day found his passion for his sport at a very early age. At the age of 2, he began playing Nintendo with his dad, but it was O'Day's older brother who got him into competitive gaming. By the time he was 14, even prior to his first job, O'Day was making a name for himself climbing the rankings.

Over the years, he attended and hosted countless in-person gaming get-togethers with friends, but now that part of gaming culture is slowly disappearing.

Broadband Opened Doors

"The Internet has really changed the way people play computer games," says O'Day, who almost always plays with friends and opponents online. "Online gaming has enabled me to meet people from all over the world. Besides Americans, I play with a lot of Asians and Europeans."

Due to better availability of fast Internet connections, online gaming culture developed faster in Asia and Europe, but the United States is catching up. O'Day subscribes to the fastest broadband available where he lives, rated at 16 mbps--but he says he'd jump at any offer that would give him a faster connection. Most of his rivals in Asia and Europe work with speeds of 100 mbps.

"Broadband speeds matter a lot, as bad connections can cause the games to lag," O'Day says. "You can be in the middle of a fight with someone, and all of a sudden he's behind you."

O'Day's hands begin to fidget during our interview; one gets the sense that he needs to get back to his training. As a virtual athlete he may not have, or need, the physique of a classic athlete, but his eyes glow with the same fiery passion and dedication that has been the mark of Olympians through the ages.

Asked about his chances of making it to the 2008 Digital Games in China, O'Day's face lights up as he says: "I think my odds are good. I just have to brush up a bit on my sports- and racing-game skills." And with that, he reaches down to pick up his controller to transport himself back into his virtual world.

Tomorrow: In Part 2 of our "Broadband Innovations" series, a Canadian aboriginal community uses broadband to save its native language and culture from extinction.

Photograph: Robert Cardin
(Series author Kajsa Linnarsson is a visiting reporter covering global developments in broadband for PC World. A graduate of Stanford University's Innovation Journalism program, she lives in Hudiksvall, Sweden, in a region known as Fiber Optic Valley for its concentration of cutting-edge communication technology companies.)

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