Charity begins at home, says Electronic Arts – at home, on your duff, in front of the television, playing video games with your friends

This may be the laziest charitable sporting event ever. Forget the relaxed saunter around the golf course followed by the token classy dinner; the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation’s Technology Committee came up with an event for which you don’t even need to leave your couch. Faced with declining donations from its annual golf tournament, the committee – comprised of volunteers from B.C.’s tech sector – decided to do something completely different for this year’s fundraising drive.  “About a year and a half ago, we were mulling over what we should do,” says Wendy Ridley, a committee member and an executive assistant at Electronic Arts Inc. (EA). When she suggested a video-gaming tournament, “the committee just went wild.”

It works like this: anyone in the world with an Xbox 360 gaming console, an Internet connection and EA’s NHL 09 video game can enter the online tournament as a contender. The game is designed to facilitate such online tournaments between friends, but this is the first hosted by EA for a charity. Competitors must raise at least $100 to join the tournament but can qualify for better prizes if they raise more. The player with the highest score among those who have raised $500 or more gets the ultimate prize: their face included in EA’s upcoming NHL 10.

In addition to the online tournament, which ran from mid-October to mid-December, EA hosted a live event at its new facility in Burnaby in November. Tech companies around B.C. sponsored young patients from BC Children’s Hospital in their own live mini-tournament. The online tournament attracted almost 100 players, who helped raise about $3,500. The live event at EA, however, brought in $20,000, showing the enduring power of a traditional schmoozefest.

Ridley says the EA committee had hoped the online and live tournaments would top the $30,000 raised by the committee’s last golfing effort. She says the shortfall is likely due to the fact that this is such a new idea and it will take a while for people to really understand how it works. “We did have higher hopes for the online portion,” she concedes. “But we’re not giving up on that yet.”She expects the online charity tournament will be a yearly event, likely involving different sports games – from among EA’s list, of course.