While certain people might debate over whether video games can be sport, to Major League Gaming and its devoted followers, the question was answered long ago. The professional gaming league is on the rise, and it has been helped in no small part by the streaming of its matches online. MLG’s recently concluded Raleigh Pro Circuit saw an all-time high 138,000 peak concurrent online stream viewers from 173 countries, consuming more than 3 million hours of content over the course event. We had a chance to talk with Sundance DiGiovanni, CEO of MLG, to chat about how online streaming is changing professional gaming and what it means to sponsor brands.
How has streaming video changed the face of professional gaming?
I think one of the great things about the evolution streaming technology is accessibility to the competition and sport; anything that is competitive is ideally experienced live. There’s this thing I strive for: “I was there when” moments, like when the Yankees won the World Series for the first time in the ’90s ending their championship drought, now this allows people to watch when an MLG event is happening along with people in 173 countries. It lets us put the content out there, without TV and craft it for the home viewer and make it as entertaining as possible.
Speaking of which, talk to me about the benefits of online video streams over traditional video media like television.
TV was the only way to get out mass media videos for practically forever, until internet video became available. [Television is] expensive, it’s in 30 minute blocks and you have to drive people to it. It’s nearly impossible to do that for three straight days for 6 hours per day!
There’s a lot of gatekeepers to TV. By contrast, once you decide on the size and the cost process for online streaming, it’s liberating. It has challenges, but the ability to package your content and distributive it everywhere is great. It is because of online streaming that we’re able to offer so much.
With competitive gaming primarily on PCs, is it important to be there, were your audience is?
It is, along with mobile devices and iPad; it benefits any media property to be accessible across devices. The NFL has done a really good job with being accessible on multiple devices and I think we’re shaping up well in that too. We’re delivering things on Xbox Live and Android mobile devices and we’ll have an iPad app soon, so the PC is one of the components as is a Boxee box or a PlayStation 3 or any mobile media device. We have to address the scale of the audience.
With viewers from 173 countries, what are some of the benefits and challenges of having such a diverse audience?
The advantage is being able to point to global reach. We’ve got the same global reach as the Super Bowl; it’s crazy to think about but we’re getting up there! It shows this activity is universal. The language is taking over – when someone scores a goal in soccer, you don’t have to tell anyone what that’s about; the game is the shared language and its becoming the same way with our games.
The question is: how to we monetize that Do we know they’re going to be satisfied It’s easy to handle that local audience since you understand the local culture and speak the same language, but once you get into 160-or-so countries there are challenges to make it compelling. I think we’ve done well, because with every event, we add a country or two. It’s all part of our plan to reach gamers everywhere.
Talk to me about some of the reception you had a the competitions you’ve held this year.
The audience turnout has been great. We’ve expanded the seating — still need more seats! It’s a first-world problem, but we’re seeing thousands of people coming in, we have people from Korea for StarCraft, from South America, U.K. Australia for games like Call of Duty and we’ve got a broad reach but there are spectators coming over as well. They want to experience it first hand and the fans have been fantastic.
Given the large viewership online, has this increased the appeal of MLG to sponsors?
Yeah, our current sponsors are very happy. We have relationships with brands like NOS and Sony Ericsson for our international audience and but our national brands like Stride gum and Dr Pepper think the global attraction is good. People talk about the expanded audience on television and we bring that to streaming. They like to see the rise of viewership, that they’ve got a smart spend and that they are getting in on the ground floor of something expanding. Our partners express a lot of good feedback about our progress – it’s been incredibly positive.
So is the ultimate goal to make MLG the number one brand for competitive gaming, like the way UFC is for MMA?
My goal has been to make MLG the premier competitive gaming league. By working with other competitive organizations, like GOMTV and IMG Worldwide, we position ourselves better globally. We want a championship at our event to be the ultimate accomplishment. We’re not quite there today. We embrace other organizations, but we strive to be the Cadillac brand. Some people don’t like to hear that, but it’s what I strive for.
Well, good luck to you with that and thanks for your time.
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