MLG CEO on definition of a "sport," rising popularity of competitive gaming

We recently had the chance to interview MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni about his hopes and dreams for the eSports world, which his organization is currently leading the charge on in the West. The mainstream seems to be taking note of the efforts of MLG and others; The Economist recently tracked him down for a chat about what constitutes a "sport," MLG's profitability, and where to go from here.

Among the most visible criticisms of eSports is that some feel they aren't, well, actual sports. "I'm not here to argue about the true definition of sport," DiGiovanni told The Economist. "My argument is: is it entertaining, when presented as sport, and do enough people recognize it as one? You can argue that golf isn't a sport, or that chess is. That's not for me to say. My question is, is what I'm producing capable of drawing an audience? And all the numbers seem to point to yes, so I guess we're doing something right."

On the subject of those numbers, last year's MLG Anaheim drew in about 4.7 million unique viewers across the entire event. DiGiovanni attributes this, at least in part, in the ability to stream content all over the world with modern web infrastructure.

"Those 4.7 [million] unique visitors that we got in Anaheim were spread over 175 countries, some with only a few dozen people watching," he said. "But we can do that, and it's worth our while to do it, and that's what's changed." He even suggested that other leagues should be looking to mimic MLG's broadcasting format. "I think a lot of more traditional sports could benefit from looking at this sort of model, particularly the ones that struggle to get TV airtime."

Another fact that might surprise you, DiGiovanni revealed, is that a good portion of MLG's viewers are actually fairly affluent. "Over 40% of our viewers have a household income over $100,000, so technically we're a luxury brand!"

In closing, the eSports honcho expressed what he sees as the importance in not growing complacent about growing the hobby.

"To an extent we're beginning to rival some traditional sports in some of our viewer numbers," he said. "But I think competitive gaming could be much larger—just think of the installed base of games consoles and PCs, which is in the hundreds of millions. The last thing I want anyone to do is look at where we are today and say, 'We've done it, we've arrived.'"

via The Economist