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Virgin Gaming, the competitive gaming business owned by billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, is launching a premium subscription program today that will change the way that gamers pay for its e-sports (electronic sports) competitions.

Virgin Gaming players can win cash prizes for beating their friends or strangers in tournaments where the play their favorite console games. The company has grown over the past three years as e-sports, once confined to the elite players who play as professionals, take off among amateurs on a variety of platforms

Instead of paying a fee every time they play a wagered match with a friend or in a tournament, Virgin now offers its players a subscription program for $4.99 a month. With that fixed price, Virgin hopes to get more predictable revenue from its 2.7 million players on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles. The games are considered skill-based and are thus legal in most states, and more states are liberalizing rules around online gambling.

Wim Stocks, the executive vice president at Virgin Gaming (and a speaker at our e-sports panel at our GamesBeat 2013 game conference), said in an interview with GamesBeat that the company responded to requests from its players to set up the Virgin Gaming Premium subscriptions.


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“This takes away the small pain of giving up a share of the proceeds every time a players plays a match,” Stocks said. “That fee was discouraging people from playing more tournaments. This made a lot of sense. We expect broad participation among all skill levels.”

As for Virgin Gaming, the subscription fees turns making money into something more predictable, Stocks said.

The company is also announcing that players can create their own leagues. The players send out the invites, choose the buy-in, pick the payouts and then set the schedule. Virgin handles the rest, including making sure there is no cheating.

“The player becomes the commissioner of their own league,” Stocks said.

Virgin Gaming is offering a 30-day trial of the premium service to all members. Now those members won’t have to pay a “buy in,” or entry fee, for the tournaments.

Virgin will also offer its subscribers tips, tricks, and strategy lessons from top gaming pros. The players will also get access to exclusive discounts from top gaming and lifestyle brands.

Virgin Gaming’s clients are classic hardcore gamers. They hail from 220 countries, and the average age is 24. They play about 13 hours a week on Virgin Gaming. About 98 percent of them are male, and they have won more than $41 million in prizes to date. They have played more than 20 million online challenges and 80,000 tournaments. Many of the tournaments draw big sponsors such as GameStop, Microsoft, Sony, Take-Two Interactive, EA, or Monster. They have big cash prizes.

Under the subscription, gamers will have a shot at winning at least 33 leaderboards per month, and the top 200 gamers on the leaderboards will be issued a prize. Subscribers will have access to a minimum pool of prizes worth $100,000 a month. The subscribers can enter daily and weekly leaderboard competitions for free. Whether they win or lose, their accumulated statistics count toward prizes.

Players can battle each other in games such as Electronic Arts’ Madden NFL, FIFA Soccer, NHL, and Fight Night Champion. Virgin Gaming was founded in June 2010.

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