Today Major League Gaming (MLG) announced the hiring of Donald Reilley as its executive vice president (EVP) of sales. According to MLG, Reilley’s most recent role was with Amazon, as its head of US ad sales for Kindle.
MLG is almost a completely unique company in a new digital space. As a leader of the yet nascent but growing scene of competitive video games – often called ‘esports’ – MLG has been plugging away for more than a half decade. However, in the past two years, with the launch and growth of Starcraft 2 and League of Legends, two key esports titles, the company itself has seen strong growth.
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Esports — once financially only feasible in South Korea where strong corporate sponsorship became the norm for popular teams — has become a global force, with leagues spanning titles and continents, and tournaments drawing viewerships that can in some cases tip past the 1,000,000 concurrent viewer mark.
I caught up with MLG cofounder and President Mike Sepso to talk about the hire, and the health and trajectory of his company. The following questions and responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
TNW: In all frankness, how healthy is MLG? Does it have enough cash on hand? Is it still seeing quarter-over-quarter viewership growth?
Mike Sepso: 2012 was MLG’s best year to date in financial performance and we expect about 50% topline growth this year. Our audience is continuing to grow quarter-over-quarter and we will achieve sustainable profitability this year for the first time. We do not expect to need additional capital to fund our business plan.
TNW: New video game title Infinite Crisis is headed to the MLG circuit. Why the title, and how will MLG’s audience react to it?
Mike Sepso: We are very excited about our partnership with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment through its developer Turbine [creator of Infinite Crisis]. The fact that they have engaged with us so early in the game’s lifecycle is an indication of just how critical an esports strategy is for new games. We expect the collaboration to be a massive success.
TNW: What will Don Reilley’s chief responsibility be at MLG, and does his hire indicate that MLG as an organization has reached a new level of scale?
Mike Sepso: As EVP Sales, Don will be overseeing all advertising revenue operations with his key focus on building a global sales team. His joining us is absolutely an indication of MLG’s scale. The size of our audience now requires a large, internal ad sales and operations team and Don is the ideal person to lead that effort for us.
TNW: In two years, how much larger will MLG’s audience be?
Mike Sepso: In two years we expect to draw over 15 million monthly uniques and 10 million weekly live video viewers on our Web and mobile properties with an additional 20-30 million weekly live video viewers through distribution partners.
TNW: Real talk: Starcraft 2 or League of Legends?
Mike Sepso: Call of Duty.
The above question regarding what Reilley’s specific role will be as the leader of sales at MLG may seem slightly redundant, but instead helps to put the company’s deal with CBSi into perspective. Last year MLG and other esports companies announced a partnership with CBSi to have the larger firm help it sell ads against video content.
MLG’s CEO Sundance DiGiovanni told Forbes at the time that “[e]ssentially, [the partnership is] a way to accelerate our ability to get a healthy monetization around the activities that we do. We could talk about things like viewers over the course of a weekend and number of concurrents. Those are great statistics, but if you’re not monetizing them at a healthy rate, it really doesn’t mean as much.”
How does that deal and view fit with the hiring of Reilley and his new job at MLG? Mike Sepso confirmed with TNW that the deal with CBSi isn’t off, but instead that MLG wants to grow its own capabilities, citing better knowledge of its own content:
CBSi has been a great partner and we will continue to work with them, however we are focused on greatly increasing our own in-house sales capability. No one sells MLG’s unique content marketing and media as well as we do, and Don is leading the charge in his new role.
The simple reading of that phrasing is that the CBSi deal has been helpful, but not ultimately fulfilling. And if MLG manages to hits its above listed two-year growth targets, no partner could match an in-house team.
MLG has struggled in the past to find profitability, raising $69 million over six funding rounds, stretching back seven years. It may have found its footing at last.
Top Image Credit: Enrique Espinoza