09/27/2013 08:49 EDT | Updated 11/27/2013 05:12 EST

World Cyber Games: Canadian Video Gamers Head To Montreal In Hopes Of Winning Trip To China


TORONTO - Twenty-year-old Henry Zheng is spending eight or nine hours on a bus so he can play video games in Montreal this weekend.

If he plays well, he'll have another long trip ahead of him: he'll be flying to China.

Zheng is among the finalists who are competing at the World Cyber Games Canada national championships in Montreal on Saturday and Sunday, where $35,000 in prizes and trips to the world championships are on the line.

Zheng will be playing "StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm," while others are competing at "Cross Fire," "League of Legends" and "World of Tanks."

It could be the second year in a row that Zheng represents Canada in China, if things go his way.

"It was pretty cool to travel to such a far place for a tournament — despite a bad performance," said Zheng, who didn't make it out of the first round and lost out on the $25,000 grand prize.

"It was still a great learning experience. There were a lot of people that had to come to watch, it was really, really jam-packed. It was bigger than anything I'd been to."

Thierry St-Jacques-Gagnon of WCG Canada said competitive gaming, sometimes called eSports, is huge around the world although it's fairly below the radar in North America.

"Here it's more geared toward casual gaming, as far as competition goes it's actually really small compared to Asia," he said.

"Besides Africa and probably also Australia and New Zealand, North America is probably the weakest scene. It's really strong in South America, it's really good in Europe, and Asia is definitely the biggest player."

Zheng says he's envious of the infrastructure and support system enjoyed by players overseas. Top players who compete in teams will sometimes live together in the same house so they can practice as much as possible, and sponsors will cover their expenses for better equipment and trips to tournaments. Zheng does belong to a group called Complexity Gaming that provides some of those perks but he only envisions his game-playing career going so far.

The University of Toronto student has no plans to drop out of school or take up gaming full-time.

"My parents would never let me do that, so I don't think so," Zheng said.

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