We want to fly you to Sweden to sample the life of the professional gamer: play some Quake 4, drink beer and eat pizza. While you're there, hang out with some of the world's top players including four delightful young ladies from clan girlz 0f destruction. It's a tough life, but someone has to live it. Two secs while I grab my Ratpadz and passport... taxi!
The destination was the Home of Chrome, the "World's First eSports Training House for Competitive PC Gaming" according to the press release from principle sponsor, VIA Technologies. The theory is sound enough: rent a six-bedroom house with a big lounge room. Install super-fast broadband and loads of high-spec computers. Establish the house as a focal point for professional computer gaming in Sweden, one of the leading countries worldwide for such activity.
Oh, and relocate four members of a leading all-girl clan from around the world to take up permanent residence in the house and become the Ambassadors of Chrome, the GeForce / Radeon branding equivalent for VIA-owned S3 Graphics' Direct X 9.0 graphics card family led by the Chrome S27.
That the whole concept smacks a little of a marketing machine gone crazy, hoping that the novelty factor of girls who play hardcore computer games will help sell graphics card, is not lost on parent company VIA. We asked Tim Brown, Marketing Manager for VIA's Corporate Marketing Division in Taiwan, whether this was a serious endeavour: "This is probably one of the largest single marketing efforts, financially speaking, we've ever done," he told us.
"Quakecon was the first time we actually made a financial commitment to the girlz 0f destruction and they came through with the goods. We said "OK - there's definitely something to be looking at here" and we'd taken a long look before that. And then we said 'OK - we think we would like these people to be the ambassadors of our product.' We wanted some people involved with the PC gaming community. These girls have definitely got the right kind of spirit and attitude from a lifestyle side of it.
"We looked at lots of other pro gamers and girl gaming teams, and some of them are just bullshit teams and some of them are already sponsored by other people - I'm not talking about anyone specifically.
"These guys, by winning Quakecon, demonstrated they can actually play the game as well. By talking to the other pro gamers out there, if there's a team who's going to be the great gamers in Quake 4, it's going to be these guys. So we said OK, let's do it."
The Home of Chrome
The particulars of Scandanavian architecture aside, our first impressions of the Home of Chrome were that it looked just like any other house in the neighbourhood. Admittedly having two sofas on one's front porch is slightly unusual but it wouldn't be out of place in your average student house, which has substantial parallels with the gamer lifestyle.
Upstairs, the lounge room has been converted into the gaming room where all the furious action takes place. There are four main gaming systems, provided by VIA, and several other machines set up for net access and the like for the girls to maintain their blogs on the Home of Chrome website. The systems were built and modded by our favourite Swede, Micke "GoTaLL" Gustafsson and are powered by the following hardware:
S3 Graphics Chrome S27 256Mb DDR3
ABIT AX8 v.20 (VIA K8T890 chipset)
AMD Athlon 64 X2
2x512MB PC3200 DDR
36.7GB Western Digital Raptor hard drive
We will take a closer look at his work in a minute.
Curiously, all the girls use 19" NEC MultiSync CRT monitors for gaming. You could argue that LCD monitors have improved to the point where CRT displays no longer hold an advantage over LCDs in terms of response time and what not, but the real reason the girls eschew CRT in favour of LCD is resolution: they all play at 800x600, which would produce some quite horrific scaling problems on your average 1280x1024 TFT.
Indeed, they turn in-game texture and model detail down so low that id Software's latest engine ends up looking like Quake II. With Low Detail. It has always been the way with pro-gamers, so you can't point the finger at a lack of pace on behalf of the S27 graphics card. Indeed, thanks to its low-power design, the cards are all passively cooled (and silent) while still running Quake 4 perfectly smoothly even with the detail enabled.
Ping is also not a problem in the Home of Chrome - the girls have 24Mbit DSL which is good for pings as low as 2-4ms to Swedish servers. However, they currently have "only" 1MBit upload so others surfing the web or downloading patches during games can cause headaches. But not for much longer: in the near future, the connection is being upgraded to fibre by Spanish telco Adamo, who has interests in Sweden. The new connection promises to offer 100MBbit in both directions, allowing unlimited leeching without complaints from the other housemates of "who's torrenting while I'm trying to practice?!?"