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Mark Zuckerberg ’06-’07 cancelled a thefacebook.com-sponsored National Beirut Tournament four days after launching it in response to pressure from schools and advertisers affiliated with his site.
In an attempt to bring people connected over his massive online network face to face, Zuckerberg and his staff launched a national Beirut championship for college students registered with the site just before intersession.
The objective of a Beirut game is to throw a ping pong ball into cups of beer placed on opposite sides of a table. When a player sinks the ball into a cup, a member of the opposing team must chug that cup of beer. The rules posted on thefacebook.com allowed for underage players to participate in the tournament drinking 2% milk in place of beer.
Thefacebook.com’s frequently asked questions page on the Beirut tournament stated: “We don’t want people to over-drink—it’s not healthy...Be careful in general!”
Samuel W. Lessin ‘05, a friend of Zuckerberg’s, came up with the idea to hold a national tournament for the game. Lessin said he figured that the idea would catch on quickly because of Beirut’s popularity with college students and the fact that nothing like a national tournament for a college game had been attempted before.
The announcement, posted Jan. 26, sparked response from students and the media immediately.
“A few thousand students in total registered,” said Zuckerberg, adding that this was a higher number than he expected. Message boards and weblogs picked up the announcement on thefacebook.com about the tournament right away, and college newspapers from the Stanford Daily to the Vanderbilt Hustler ran articles on the subject.
While generating enthusiasm among many college students, the announcement also sparked complaints from several groups, prompting Zuckerberg to cancel the tournament.
“We got harassed by different organizations,” he said.
Though he declined to specifically identify the groups, Zuckerberg said that they believed he was “promoting underage drinking,” and “organizing a tournament where people could binge drink.”
Thefacebook.com spokesman Christopher R. Hughes ‘06 wrote in an e-mail that these organizations were “schools, advertisers, etc.”
Students were to register in two-person teams for the tournament on thefacebook.com, paying $10 per player. The site would pit opponents against each other, and the winning team at each school would be awarded $500 for travel expenses to the national championships on Feb. 26 in New York.
The champion Beirut team would be awarded a $10,000 grand prize.
“I’m actually really disappointed,” said Alexander H. Greeley ‘08, who registered for the tournament over intercession with his friend James W. Crooks ‘08. “I thought it was a really cool idea. Everyone plays Beirut, and the logical next step would be to have a tournament.”
Lessin said thefacebook.com would have neither lost nor gained money from the endeavor, and that there was no financial reason to cancel the tournament.
“The upside is that we are going to continue to do similar stuff—a wide range of other games,” said Lessin.
This cancellation doesn’t mean the other ideas won’t be tried, added Lessin, who has created his own organization devoted exclusively to organizing tournaments of this kind involving college students.
“There are a whole set of great college-oriented games for which there’s no national stage,” said Lessin. “How fun would it be to create national competitions for games we play on the sides?”
Zuckerberg said that if the Beirut tournament had been a success, he was considering a Halo tournament, pitting college students against each other in the popular video game using thefacebook.com as the platform.
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