eSports Update: Interview with MLG Founder Sundance DiGiovanni

PCWorld's eSports Update will be reporting this week on the GSL, TSL3, and plenty of other exciting events--one of which is the upcoming Major League Gaming 2011 Pro Circuit. MLG 2011 kicks off on April 1st in Dallas, and features competitions in StarCraft 2, Halo: Reach, and Call of Duty: Black Ops, for a prize pool of over $1 million. We were able to go straight to the top of the ladder and pitch a few questions to MLG CEO and co-founder Sundance DiGiovanni.

When and how was MLG started?

I co-founded MLG with my friend Mike Sepso in 2002 to combine my passion for gaming with the excitement of competition. Gaming was becoming a bigger part of the entertainment landscape and we saw an opportunity to create the next relevant sports media property, similar to extreme sports and adding the league element.

What does it take to get a job in the eSports business right now?

Our business is similar to any other media or entertainment business and skill sets vary from job to job. We are always looking for smart, passionate people with an understanding of the industry.

The eSports community seems to be largely a grassroots effort in the U.S. right now. How does MLG handle potential competitors (the recently-announced North American StarCraft League, for example)? Do you compete or collaborate?

At MLG our goal is to provide the best competitive gaming experience possible. MLG has become the predominant competitive gaming league in the US based on the number of participants and revenue. Whenever a new player enters the space, we evaluate accordingly to determine whether a collaboration makes sense while always keeping the best interests of our community in mind.

When it comes to making a business out of competitive gaming, it seems like the most common sponsors are high-end PC hardware manufacturers. Are you finding success with more mass-market advertisers as well?

We're actually the opposite of traditional eSports organizations in that most of our partner dollars come from non-endemic brands. We continue to add some of the world's top brands to our partner roster and this season we are working with Sony Ericsson--Xperia PLAY is now the official mobile handset of Major League Gaming, NOS, Dr. Pepper, BIC, and Stride. Our mission is to bring competitive gaming to the masses and most of our partners are mass market brands who share in that vision.

Let's talk numbers. How big is MLG as a company? How much revenue are you pulling in? How much does it cost to put on an MLG event?

We don't comment on revenue numbers, but this year we're on track to record higher revenues than ever before. MLG reaches roughly 4.5 million consumers each month online and attracts more than 4,000 new members daily at majorleaguegaming.com. In 2010, more than 600,000 unique viewers tuned in for the live broadcast of each weekend event and the complete Pro Circuit tour delivered 11 million live streams. Our 2011 Pro Circuit, kicking off in Dallas on April 1, will be our largest season in history--players will compete for their share of a prize purse totaling over $1 million in prizes and player stipends..

The recently-announced Sony Ericsson Xperia Play phone is now the official phone of MLG. Will we be seeing any competitions centered around mobile gaming?

The details of our partnership with Sony Ericsson will be rolling out as our season plays out. You'll see product demonstrations, game challenges and giveaways kicking off at the season opener in Dallas. Sony Ericsson is also sponsoring MLG Pro Player Dave "Walshy" Walsh and MLG Coach Andy "JT Bravo" Dudynsky for the 2011 season. Later this year, Sony Ericsson will also sponsor a new video segment on MLG.tv highlighting must-have apps and games.

Patrick Miller is a Staff Editor for PCWorld. Add him on Twitter or Facebook, or message him on Battle.Net (pattheflip.729) for a game.

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