The 2011 MLG Pro Circuit season was the most successful in the history of the competition, reaching more than 3.5 million unique stream viewers combined, and seeing an all-time high of 241,000 peak concurrent online viewers during the Finals. Hoping to capitalize on this momentum, MLG is taking a different tack in 2012 by spreading the competitions more evenly throughout the year, with a four part structure starting with StarCraft II tournaments announced for the first Winter season. We talked with MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni about the success of the past year and where he hopes to take the company in 2012.
Talk to me about MLG’s success in 2011 and where you generally feel it came from.
We saw a tremendous amount of growth in 2011 and Blizzard’s game StarCraft II was a tip of the spear for us with MLG. We saw a tremendous response from Europe and people, no matter the time of day, their eyes were on what we were doing. 15 million hours of video were shared and the average engagement time was 2 hours. It was a fantastic team up for us, and 2011 was a year that shows that we could really engage with a huge worldwide audience.
For us, if you compared what we showed to the Super Bowl that broadcast in 175 countries, we had the same number of countries. The reception in those countries is like March Madness, like the NBA Finals or the World Series because you have people celebrating in the room with this high level of engagement. So we think that stacks up pretty well there.
Logo from last year’s Finals in Providence.
Do you feel like the enthusiastic reception to the MLG 2011 finals is a definitive example of how appealing the streaming video format is?
Streaming has been a fantastic tool for us. We would not reach the audience we do without putting it on people’s PCs and mobile devices. The response has been an incredible lift for us, and we wouldn’t have gotten here if weren’t aligned with the best of breed in streaming.
Give me and overview of the decision to divide the 2012 Pro Circuit into seasons.
There’s a couple of things. We like the idea of more competition and more partitions to the competition. There will be an overarching championship and we’ll have open play for amateur players. As great as last year was, what was disappointing was there was only 18 days where fans experienced what it was like in the pro-circuit. So the decision was to make sure there wasn’t as many peaks and valleys.
Just with the announcement around StarCraft II we think there will be a huge uptick for 18 to 20 days of competition for games this season.
Related to that, why was StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty chosen to kick off the season?
Again, we owe a lot of our success to our publishing partners, but Blizzard has delivered to us a unique title in StarCraft II. We just felt like if we waited longer we wouldn’t serve our primary audience well. The other titles have a different structure, but our partnership with Blizzard means it makes sense to launch 2012 with it. We love all our are partners, but StarCraft II is advancing competitive gaming.
The other titles we’ll make an announcement for pretty shortly, but StarCraft II communities are all a big part of what we did right last year.
Anything you can tease us with for what’s coming in the spring season for MLG?
The way we are going to approach it is that we’ll focus on Winter and we have some surprises for Spring. I’ve been told I need to respect embargos [laughs] so I’ll say our focus is on Winter right now. This year is more of doing what we do best. Our future games may be familiar and some of them may not be so familiar.
What areas is MLG looking to expand with in 2012?
What we’re going to see, if you saw the engagement and growth over 18 months for us, is that sponsors will have more engagement and content, fans will see more teams and brands. Every Sunday during the Fall you see football and now we bring in regularly scheduled competitive gaming for fans. The advertisers have more opportunity to get out in front of gamers with this year long engagement so it’s not as much of a leap of faith.
Talk to me about the structure of the different seasons.
What you’re going to see is StarCraft II is across all four seasons, maybe some titles will be on for only a season or two. This change to four seasons allows us to make changes on the fly. The great thing about this is there will be more competition. Should the desire be there for a certain title, we can add it on the fly. You’ll see what we’re doing in fighting and first-person shooter games. We will add and subtract as we see fit, by having these 4 contiguous seasons where we make sure certain games are not over-served.
Fans at an MLG event in Dallas.
Talk to me about the benefit of having various finals in locations like last year’s final in Providence, Rhode Island and the upcoming Winter final in Columbus, Ohio.
One of the things we see there is when we go to a city, the economy picks up dramatically. The good thing is there are 200,000 undergrads around Columbus so it’s in their backyards. I wish we could do this more often, but now we’re doing more and more of it pure broadcast. The at home experience is often better than live action. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s more involved to produce.
We get thanked all the time for the experience by people who drive for hours to attend and we get people asking for us to come out to their area, so the local players and people in the surrounding States love it when we come by.
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