“Finish him!” is one of the catch phrases from NetherRealm Entertainment’s Mortal Kombat franchise, which has sliced and diced its way through gamers’ hearts for three decades. But publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is just starting, when it comes to Mortal Kombat X eSports.
Following the second successful ESL Pro League Season, the game company is expanding its eSports game and offering $500,000 in cash prizes across three unique tournaments over three months. There’s the global $200,000 ESL Mortal Kombat X Pro League Season 3, which is played on Sony PlayStation 4 with a live Finals June 12 at ESL’s Burbank, Calif., broadcast facility. The ESL Challenger Cup, played on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, is open to any gamers not competing in the ESL Pro League.
“The ESL Challenger Cup is intended for players who are not at the level of the Pro League players,”says Ed Boon, creative director of NetherRealm Studios and co-creator of Mortal Kombat. “The superstars are at a level that most of us can’t compete with. The Challenger Cup is a competition for ‘the rest of us.’”
Boon says the remaining $300,000 will be distributed across the ESL Challenger Cup, which has monthly finals, as well as local tournaments across North America and Europe with sponsorships and contributions to prize pool funding.
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Boon says these tournaments play an important role in grooming the next generation of pro gamers for combat.
“I love the idea of having a local tournament where the winner automatically gets a slot in a future eSport tournament,” Boon says. “It makes the stakes of the other tournaments more exciting and will encourage players to follow those other tournaments, which helps the whole eSports fighting scene overall.”
Taking a page out of Valve’s Dota 2 playbook, Mortal Kombat fans can purchase the Blue Steel Sub-Zero or Krimson Ermac downloadable content via the PlayStation Store or Xbox Marketplace and a portion of the proceeds goes toward supporting Mortal Kombat X tournament prize pools.
“If a developer is serious about eSports then there is no excuse not to provide a crowdfunding item, just like traditional sports teams provide jerseys and other merchandise for purchase,” says Joshua Gray, creative producer at ESL.
ESports is also helping Warner Bros. sell games and keep gamers interested in purchasing downloadable content (DLC). According to Joost van Dreunen, CEO of SuperData Research, Warner Bros. has sold over 35 million copies of Mortal Kombat games to date. Mortal Kombat X has topped 5 million units sold, and that figure doesn’t include DLC.
Gray says the Mortal Kombat X Pro League has reached over 16 million views on Twitch and YouTube, and awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money.
“At the core of our game is a fun fighting mechanic that is deep and can be played at a tournament/professional level,” Boon says. “That is the real meat of Mortal Kombat. After the initial shock of the game wore off, it needed to have something underneath that people wanted to play. Over the years, Mortal Kombat has evolved to become a deeper fighting experience and the eSport competitions have been demonstrating that.”
Boon says Mortal Kombat X was developed with “eSports-friendly” features that make the process of running a tournament (or eSports) easier for the people organizing them.
“It’s an ever-evolving process that we are always getting feedback from eSports and tournament organizers,” Boon says. “Knowing that eSports exists influences us to be that much more focused on making new characters as balanced as possible.”
Gray says Mortal Kombat X continues to grow in popularity across all levels of competition.
“We are witnessing the beginning of something that is going to be so much bigger than it is now,” Boon says.