By PAUL PEACHEY
Adolescents of the world rejoice. In darkened bedrooms, children clasping computer consoles have a new excuse to avoid homework: "I'm training - call my agent."
On the increasingly sophisticated and lucrative computer games circuit, where the most fleet-fingered players can earn more than £100,000 ($352,000) a year, players' agents have made their first entry into the market.
Tournament organisers predict that the best players, with a radical image change and some personal grooming, will gradually attain the same status and wealth as professional athletes.
The men who take 10 per cent have spotted potential opportunities in the computer games market.
Roland Glover, aged 28, is believed to be the first "cyberathlete" agent. He has snapped up some of Britain's top players, including Sujoy Roy, who gave up a job at the investment bank JP Morgan and is believed to be earning six figures from sponsorship and prize money.
Britain lags well behind the United States and South Korea, however, where 1000 players are believed to make their living from endorsements and tournaments.
Most of the top British players travel to America to compete for the bigger pots in tournaments organised by the Cyberathlete Professional League.
Angel Munoz, founder of the league, said: "It's been the goal since we launched in June 1997 of elevating computer game competitions to the level of professional sport and bringing the recognition to the top players they deserve."
The season culminates with the World Cyber Games in Korea at the end of the year, which has prize money of $US250,000 ($625,500).
Last year's top-ranked player, an American called "Fatality," claimed to be earning more than $US160,000 ($400,000) in the expanding sector.
Market analysts predict the global market for online gaming will be worth £3.5 billion ($12.4 billion) within three years.
The gamers do have an image problem, though, and multinational corporations stop short of pumping money into the "sport."
Players are now encouraged to dress well and are being cast as attractive and trendy 20-somethings, at the cutting edge of internet technology.
With gatherings of hundreds of players for non-tournament play, Mr Glover claims the modern cyberathlete is a sociable animal.
"This is the equivalent of raves with computer games. A tournament is more rigidly organised, more like the club scene. They are quite vocal, they don't conform to stereotypes. They are good-looking, quite charismatic. We're trying to get away from it just being spotty little kids."
Jonny "The Genius" Neffgen, a 20-year-old IT analyst from London, said: "You can't seem too arrogant or confident, not too weak or strong - you want everyone to like you."
He collects about £7500 ($26,460) a year as a part-time member of the all-conquering 4Kings games team. He will only become a full-time professional when it is worth at least £50,000 ($176,000) a year.
"We try to look presentable," he said. "The majority of games players are pimply 14-year-olds, but the best players are more mature, around 22 to 23."
By PAUL PEACHEY