Major League Gaming, better known as MLG, saw its audience greatly expand in 2013 according to data it provided to TechCrunch. Its audience watched a total of 54 million hours of its content in the year, up 262% from 2012. In more stark contrast, compared to its 2011 tally, 2013’s total hours watched were up 1557%.
MLG is one of the oldest and largest companies dedicated to esports, or what is known to some as competitive gaming. In short, MLG hosts large tournaments in which professional gamers battle each other for five-figure checks. However, while MLG has long run several of those massive confabs – what it refers to as “tent pole events” – each year, it has recently re-expanded into show-based content that has boosted its viewership figures.
In late December of 2011, MLG cancelled several shows that it had operated, which existed apart from its traditional events. The programming, including “F— Slasher,” and “SC Report” were perhaps ahead of their time. In the last year, according to MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni, the company has completed its technology stack, allowing it complete control over its video delivery system.
Now, having bolstered its internal toolset, MLG is moving back into the constant-content game, with results that it describes as predictable, and profitable. Those are two words that are worth more than gold to MLG and its investors, which have invested a collective $69 million into the company through its life.
To grow its audience, expand its programming base, derive more stable revenue from that content, and, as far as I can deduce, lower its dependence on events, Sundance noted that those are now profit and not “cost” sources. MLG has executed twice: it created MLG.tv, and put together its own advertising team.
MLG.tv, as TechCrunch reported recently, is the company’s own online broadcasting network. Previously, MLG had worked with partners as diverse as ESPN and Twitch to ship video to its fans. Now, it has a private channel that it can control completely. MLG.tv will show the firm’s events, of course, but also a blend of original programming – F— Slasher, sadly, remains kaput, but the new eSports Report is worth watching – and content from partners.
MLG, along with its MLG.tv effort, intends to run two of its largest events in 2014, six to eight smaller events, and lend its technology and production vertical to up to ten partner events during the year.
All of that is fine, but sans an ability to sell advertising against the resulting content would moot the company, let alone its short-term financials. So, to plug that hole in its corporate structure, MLG has built out its own internal advertising team in the past half year, including Don Reilley who worked on Xbox and Kindle projects in the past (not for MLG, obviously).
According to Sundance, the summation of the above is simple: a growing audience, and one that is less episodic, fused with control of its own platform and a better ability to monetize those improvements have helped MLG pre-sell content into 2014.
MLG once broadcasted Halo tournaments in the earliest days of livestreaming, selling partnerships to gamer-friendly brands to finance its events. The company is now more diverse, more popular, and the stablest I’ve seen it. Change remains a constant: Dota 2 has replaced League of Legends which all but replaced Starcraft 2 in its roster of titles, but through those game rotations it appears that MLG has built a business that can keep its numbers pointed north, and grind marginally profitable content towards a final cessation of its overall burn rate.
Proud of a few of its performance metrics, MLG also told TechCrunch that it saw a 600% growth in its audience in the past three years, and now has an advertising completion rate of more than 90%. This is what maturity feels like, in a way.
MLG as a company has always been too early. It was too early to competitive gaming, something that has truly grown into its own in the West only in the last three years. It was too early to competitive gaming being popular enough to support an enterprise of its scale. But through what I can only call tenacity, MLG has survived, and by the figures TechCrunch has been privy to, found business incomes on top of content generation that should sustain its balance sheet.
Now MLG has to prove that the momentum that it has seen in 2013 is no fluke, and that content varietals that in the past were unprofitable for it can now drive positive cash flow for the firm not just for half a year, but for quarters and quarters to come. Also, it feels like MLG isn’t sure what role its events should play in its future, precisely, other than that they have a role, period.
But with more content and a stronger ability to derive dollars from it, MLG appears on a good trajectory for the coming year. Execution is now its challenge.
Anyway, MLG and Blizzard, can we get Starcraft 2 back into the circuit? There will be another Haypro eventually, and I want to watch.
Top Image Credit: MLG