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Videogame broadcaster and event producer Major League Gaming’s (MLG) most recent competitive event in Raleigh, N.C., drew more than 130,000 concurrent subscribers, not including streaming video delivered by MLG partner sites. That’s a new record for the company.
“This year is the final year in the proof-of-concept phase for e-sports,” MLG chief executive officer Sundance DiGiovanni told VentureBeat. “There’s a strong appetite for the flavor of e-sports that we do and the power has shifted to the audience for consumer based products and membership.”
The strong viewership bodes well for electronic sports leagues, or e-sports leagues, which are already popular internationally. E-sports are particularly popular in countries like South Korea, where videogame players compete for large cash prizes at public competitions like the one held in Raleigh.
Up until this year, the league was slow to grow in the United States, but that has changed thanks to the emergence of companies like MLG and game publishers.
E-sports broadcasters and producers try to organize competitive events around games like Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty and Call of Duty: Black Ops. The events are branded and handled much like a typical sporting event, and they draw thousands — if not tens of thousands — of fans. That’s the model that MLG wants to focus on as it moves into its next year, DiGiovanni told VentureBeat. Each event the company has held this year has broken a previous record for attendees and online subscribers, he said.
Many companies — MLG included — have been able to push e-sports forward thanks to support from game developers to do so. For example, Activision-Blizzard, the developer of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty, cut a large chunk of content from that game and made it less graphically demanding to ensure that it would be a better vehicle for professional gamers. The company regularly holds massive tournaments at its annual conference in Anaheim, Calif.
“Packing the room is important — without the NCAA tournament or the Super Bowl, there’s no impactful live opportunity to interact with the players and be a part of the experience,” DiGiovanni said. “Anything that’s presented as a sport, you want to see it as it happens, these live events are really the cornerstone of what we’re doing.”
Major League Gaming partners with companies like Justin.tv’s e-sports branded video broadcasting site Twitch.tv to handle most of the company’s streams. The company plans to continue making money off its partnerships and by hosting major events and does not plan to expand into streaming any time soon, DiGiovanni said.
“I don’t have interest in competing with Justin.tv, Google or Streamworks,” he said.