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Major League Gaming Still Really Wants to Be a "Real" Sport

The professional gaming company's next acts: An X Games appearance and a year-round presence in China.


To its fans, professional gaming is already a real, legitimate sport: Its top players are an elite group, and can command sellout crowds, big-name sponsors and millions of online viewers.

But despite their explosive growth in recent years, Major League Gaming is betting that eSports still have room to grow.

The 12-year-old company has taken an active role in shaping both the structure of eSports tournaments and the games themselves, and is now making itself a little bit more visible to the outside world. The company announced yesterday that it would run a Call of Duty: Ghosts tournament at ESPN’s X Games this year in Austin, and last week said it plans to build an eSports stadium in China.

In both cases, pro gaming will be embedded among, and maybe more accessible to, an audience that doesn’t already know it. MLG co-founder and president Mike Sepso said the goal is “to make eSports as mainstream as possible.”

“It’s validation for what we’ve been doing,” Sepso said of the X Games partnership. “We want more people interested in the sport. That part is huge for us.”

The audience for MLG and the X Games partially overlap, but the X Games skew slightly older, he noted. The Chinese stadium, meanwhile, is planned to be part of a $2.9 billion “creative culture city” on Hengqin Island, off of Macau. Although it’s not planned to open until 2017, MLG is positioning the project, the first phase of which will cost nearly $500,000 $500 million to build, as an inroad to the lucrative Chinese gaming market where its broadcasts are currently restricted.

“We’ve got a pretty substantial audience in all of Asia, and will continue to expand MLG’s brand there,” Sepso said. “But this will be our main focus [in China], a full-time physical presence.”

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