The eSports revolution will be livestreamed and Activision’s Major League Gaming (MLG) subsidiary aims to make it accessible for as wide of an audience as possible.
And the revolution starts now: MLG.tv is livecasting this weekend’s Call of Duty World Championships held at the video game’s second Call of Duty XP fan gathering at the “Fabulous” Forum in Inglewood, California just outside Los Angeles.
“100 million people have played the game, if we can make this sport feel, sound, and look more like a traditional sport, we can pull in people who are casual players and also traditional sports fans to get excited about this,” Mike Sepso, co-founder/senior vice president at MLG, told Fortune in an interview.
Sepso says the next step is getting NFL, NBA, and other major pro sports fans to watch Call of Duty and eSports. The plan is to go mainstream using the web platform’s Enhanced Viewing Experience (EVE). EVE’s statistics-rendering design looks more familiar to traditional sports fans than Amazon’s Twitch or other gaming streams.
He asserts that they’re on the EVE of that happening: “The audience is pretty significant. We expect millions [of online viewers this weekend]. This is the Super Bowl for Call of Duty and it’s global.”
MLG says its June Call of Duty event in Orlando attracted eight thousand fans and drew 1.4 million viewers across platforms generating more than eight million video views. Fans can only watch the EVE platform on the web browser although MLG officials say it’s coming soon to their app.
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The basic streams can also be watched via Roku, Xbox, and through PlayStation 4 if you’re playing the latest version of Call of Duty: Black Ops (the platform is built right into the software with in-game alerts and a link to let gamers know they can watch on the PS4).
Sepso asserts, “It’s an interesting place to be as traditional media is getting disintermediated by over-the-top networks and at the same time, traditional sports are losing fans to new things like eSports. We’re at the nexus of both things; we’re a digital over-the-top platform and at the same time creating and operating the biggest eSports leagues in the world.”
All About EVE
EVE can access data in real-time, including game and historical performance data and can use a live stream of live data and a huge database of performance history. That’s a proprietary advantage for MLG.
“That’s the gold mine for the game,” quips Pavel Murnikov, MLG’s chief technology officer. It’s not easy for [Twitch and other competitors] to get that information.”
In fact, Sepso says broadcasters and viewers alike can find out very specific nuggets of information from the servers crunching the data. “The idea is if someone picks up a weapon or accomplishes an objective, an algorithm figures out what the past performance is with an insight, such as 68% of the time in a situation like this Scumpy accomplishes this objective.”
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The HD broadcast has a wing on the right-hand side that shows the score and statistics, the stat bar on the bottom features information about the players and teams while the announcers describe or recap action.
Chris Puckett, a veteran eSports announcer told Fortune, “EVE provides insights to viewers watching at home that we used to have to relay verbally…it’s presented to the viewers in real-time. That allows me to focus a bit more on the human interest side of things and put a human face on these incredible players.”
Sepso says storylines and playing up features on the players is a point of emphasis for MLG as EVE takes the stream beyond the fan boys to welcome casual viewers. In fact, MLG was early on Facebook Live sharing interviews and stories about the pro gamers so that fans and potential viewers could connect and relate to them.
I Want My MLG.TV
If there are still skeptics about whether pro video gaming is a legitimate sport, consider that Newzoo estimates eSports will be a $1.1 billion business in 2019 and one Activision exec says it’s a potential Olympic sport. Also, MLG.tv is livecasting the Call of Duty World League Championship on four different feeds plus the XP channel akin to the NFL RedZone with updates on different matches, highlights, and insights.
For attendees, it’s like four different NBA games playing on separate stages under the same roof.
The production looks and feels like a traditional sporting event. MLG has a 50-person production staff, half onsite and half in its New York City headquarters.
“We have pretty much the same bells and whistles as a traditional sports broadcast,” says Ryan Thompson, director of technical production for MLG. The 12-year ecasting veteran notes “it’s come a long way” since the early streams and now MLG has more than 30 cameras covering the action with a camera on each player, jibs for aerial shots, handheld cameras and more for the five XP streams this weekend.
The directors and producers see the insights and data the servers kick out and then they then decide whether to post it to the stat bar or tell a caster in their ear; similar to traditional TV sportscasts.
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Taking the Game to the Next Level
Activision bought MLG for a reported $46 million earlier this year to add the broadcast component to Activision’s stable of console and online video game studios. So now it owns the content and the distribution.
This synergy is part of the video game giant’s plans to keep selling more copies of the best-selling franchise in video game history—more than 250 million copies have been sold—hold major fan events, stage and broadcast a league.
MLG does stage and broadcast events for other games. One staffer noted it would be weird if ESPN didn’t cover baseball, so it’s not unusual that MLG covers big non-Activision game competitions such as Outbreak.
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“We really want EVE to support any game inside of Activision or outside. We are happy to talk to any studio to customize EVE to reflect their game’s uniqueness,” Murnikov said, noting MLG is patenting the platform’s technology. He also adds that once the eSports industry makes a decision on fantasy games, EVE will be ready.
While MLG is free to broadcast other brands, Sepso says there aren’t many other titles that could bring casual gamers or fans under the tent the way Call of Duty can.
“It’s such a big title with a big player base. We’re focused on building it in our home market, North America, but building it globally, too. I think there isn’t another game with such broad mainstream appeal so I think the opportunity is biggest for Call of Duty.