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Major League Gaming (*MLG*) rides a fine line between technology, entertainment, and sports — if you consider teams of players duking it out over games like Halo 3 and Rainbow Six Vegas a sport. It holds its Pro Circuit tournaments in spaces like the Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas and the Meadowlands; gamers can also stream the events at mlgpro.com, with some coverage through ESPN360. Founded in 2006, the New York-based company is the last professional gaming league standing, as DirecTV-backed rival Championship Gaming Series (CGS) folded last year. *MLG* has raised $42.5 million in funding from Oak Investment Partners and Ritchie Capital since its launch, including a $7.5 million round in January. But can it win over advertisers? Below, excerpts of my interview with CEO Matt Bromberg.
— Professional gamers are in it for the love of the game and the glory — but also for the money. How much can they make? Top-10 competitors like Tom Taylor (aka Tsquared) earn somewhere in the six figures. Part of our job is about making them famous, but it’s also about making sure they’re making a good living.
More after the jump.
—If you’re paying guys like Tsquared upwards of $100,000, how do you make money? And are you profitable? We’re going to break even this year. About 80 percent of our revenue comes from sponsorship and ad sales, the other 20 percent is from licensing, and the goal is to increase that percentage. We plan on launching several new MLG-branded products this year (video game accessories like headsets and controllers). We’re also going to start charging attendance at some events.
— What do you say to people who argue competitive gaming isn’t a sport? Those people aren’t important to us. What’s important is that millions of fans follow it like it’s a sport, sponsors like P&G and Dr. Pepper think its a sport, and we get coverage on *ESPN*. People said the same thing about NASCAR, golf and other new sports to some extent.
— How do you get brands to justify sponsoring video game competitions in the midst of this economy? Sports sponsorships have been impacted across the board, so it has been hard, but we got every sponsor we had last year to re-up this year. Where else are they going to reach more than 500,000 guys aged 13 to 24, and get their attention for nearly an hour? (Bromberg said last year’s championship match in Vegas netted over 530,000 unique streams, with viewers watching for an average of 51 minutes).
— Does it matter that they’re streamed online and not broadcast on *ESPN* or G4? TV is not where this audience is, which is why G4 had to shift from just gaming programming and why CGS didn’t last. We did a show on G4 two years ago because the sponsors wouldn’t advertise if we didn’t have that presence. They understand that we don’t need it now; they get contact info, impressions and exposure through our live events and online.
— How much money are they spending, and what kinds of metrics do you provide to justify their spend? We’ve got a mix of six- and seven-figure deals, and provide both qualitative and quantitative metrics. We’ve done some pre- and post-exposure awareness research, some lead generation, and some brands track direct sales.