Major League Gaming is still growing, and has its sights on the Xbox One and Playstation 4
For a long time, Major League Gaming was something of a torch bearer for eSports. The company was founded in 2002, many years before the eSports explosion of 2011. It soldiered on through the decline and/or bankruptcy of many of its competitors, like the World Series of Video Games and the Championship Gaming Series.
Having finally made it through those rougher years, MLG is now one of the biggest players in the continually growing North American eSports business, and they say they've made some important strides in their popularity that is opening up new opportunities. Their latest seasonal tournament, the MLG Spring Championship in Anaheim is starting today and has just sold out of high-end VIP passes.
“The West Coast used to be a difficult draw for us, but we've crossed a threshold and we're now able to show a consistent increase in both competitors and [live, in-person] viewers from event to event,” said MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni. “The spectators in the event are our greatest evangelists. They're the ones who are going to go out and tell their friends about the show and bring them along to the next event. They're the ones who are creating this great environment and spectacle for the viewers on the stream.”
According to DiGiovanni, MLG isn't exactly satisfied with just being relegated to big seasonal blowouts like the Spring Championship though, and they want to be adding more consistent events that can reach areas of the country that they haven't always been able to regularly cater to, like the Midwest.
“We want to keep activity going at a more frequent pace,” he said. “Our goal is to produce as close to 24/7 content as possible.”
To that end, he said that they're considering implementing much smaller, more frequent events in more places. “Most likely later this year,” he said. “Just so that we wont have to unload 5-6 tractor trailers every time we want to hold an event.”
Beyond the stadium
Despite MLG's continued plans for expanding their live performance business, that's not the only area into which they're expanding. Regular viewers of MLG events might have noticed that they're beginning to introduce new games into their broadcast schedules which aren't necessarily in active competition.
MLG is becoming a sort of hybrid between a marketer and an eSports instructor. Their recent broadcasts for Planetside 2, for instance, serve the dual purpose of exposing MLG's audience to the game, but doing it through knowledgeable broadcasters and community figures in an eSports sort of way. So fans are learning how to play the game at a high level while also being the targets of the game's marketing. The Spring Championship expands this program to include Infinite Crisis as well as Planetside 2.
“We help build future titles,” DiGiovanni said. “We're becoming a conduit for a lot of companies to reach these audiences.”
eSports may not have reached mainstream gaming popularity yet, but DiGiovanni said that companies are definitely starting to take notice. He said that everyone from console manufacturers to publishers are beginning to appreciate the eSports audience as a way to increase the longevity of a game.
In other words, he thinks that companies are starting to value the way eSports can keep people playing a game for multiple years while discouraging players from trading in the game and encouraging them to buy map packs, DLC characters, and microtransactions in free-to-play games.
“Everyone is looking for ways to make their game stickier, and for ways to increase engagement time,” he said.
Apparently, this even extends to next-generation consoles. DiGiovanni said that MLG is in frequent talks with both Sony and Microsoft, though he wouldn't discuss what exactly they've been talking about.
“We're in constant communication with both,” he said. “We've made enough of an impression and we've built enough of an audience that we're able to be in talks with them. The exciting thing here for core gamers is that this isn't a conversation about casual gamers as it so often has been in the past. Hardcore gamers are our focus and that's what the conversation has been about.”
DiGiovanni said that they'll likely have more information about what they're discussing with the console manufacturers later this year along with more information about what they're planning to do with these new smaller-scale events.