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Pro gamers' league signs big deal with Electronic Arts

Major League Gaming, the tournament league for professsional video game players, announced today it has cut a deal to use Electronic Arts‘ sports games in its major sponsored tournaments that are now drawing millions of viewers each month.

By hooking up with a huge game publisher like EA, MLG is broadening its audience and taking another step on the path toward proving that professional video game tournaments can be a money-generating spectator sport, even as some of its rivals have been driven out of business.

New York-based MLG will host the 2009 EA Sports Challenge series on the PlayStation 3 video game console, with sponsors including Best Buy and Sony. MLG has become the big professional video game players league in North America since it was founded in 2002. The company’s web site draws 9 million unique videos a month, and its video streams are watched by more than 600,000 people. The company also operates the GameBattles web site for amateur gamers.

MLG stages both live gaming tournaments and online-only events. The live events can be streamed on the web site as well, generating both in-person ticket revenue and online ad revenue. In the EA Sports Challenge Series, players will compete in person for cash and prizes worth more than $170,000. It’s sort of like the ultimate competition for bragging rights among hardcore gamers.

Matthew Bromberg, president and chief executive MLG, said in an interview that the regional events draw 5,000 to 7,000 fans who pay to watch the best gamers square off against each other in multiplayer games. The first live event in the EA Sports Challenge Series will be Aug. 28 to Aug. 30 in Dallas, Texas. Besides Sony and Best Buy, sponsors include Dr Pepper, Old Spice, Ballpark, Tinactin, Castrol, Stride, Astro and Bic.

On MLG’s web site, players can compete against each other in more than 40 online games. A couple of rival leagues, such as the high-profile league Championship Gaming Series sponsored by News Corp. and DirecTV, have gone out of business. The CGS spent a lot of money on primetime TV broadcasts of tournaments, but it never gained much of an audience among mainstream TV viewers.

Remaining rival leagues include the Global Gamers League and international-focused World Cyber Games. An investment group also recently bought the Cyberathlete Professional League. It’s not clear how big these leagues are in comparison to MLG.

MLG has raised $42.5 million in three rounds of venture money from Oak Investment Partners. MLG has 40 employees. Bromberg said the company expects to be profitable this year.


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