NEW YORK -- Is ''frags per round" going to be the batting average of the 21st century?
Professional computer gamers certainly hope so.
Players of Counter Strike, a popular title in competition at the US finals of the World Cyber Games last week, count their prowess in how many enemies they can shoot to pieces, or ''fragment," in a frantic two-minute round of virtual gunplay.
Time and demographics, boosters say, argue for video game tourneys becoming the next big spectator sport in the United States, where more than 108 million Americans now play computer games, according to the Yankee Group.
They're already garnering big-name sponsors.
In South Korea, where the World Cyber Games is based, three cable channels broadcast competitive gaming around the clock and some of the country's approximately 200 professional gamers bask in rock star-like fame.
In the United States, ''there are rock stars already, but the mass market doesn't know about them," says Robert Krakoff, president of Razer Group, which makes computer mice and is a major sponsor of the games, along with Intel Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co.
But there are signs that the corporate world is waking up: Last week, McNeil Consumer & Specialty Pharmaceuticals, the Johnson & Johnson subsidiary that makes Tylenol, said it was sponsoring Ouch!, a six-man Counter Strike team. It is believed to be the first time a noncomputer company has sponsored a US video game team. Trevor Schmidt, who runs Gotfrag.com, said Burger King sponsors games in Germany. He thinks the United States is six to eight months away from seeing major video game sponsorship deals by consumer goods firms.