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Major League Gaming, PlayStation 4, and the Rise of Online Gaming Spectatorship

The idea of "going Pro" at video games validates much of our childhoods.

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With the 2013 championship for the game League of Legends bringing in 8.3 million viewers (more than 2013′s Stanley Cup per-game viewership of 5.4 million), there’s no denying that game spectating is huge. Major League Gaming’s launch of its own streaming site and the PS4′s built in gameplay streaming capabilities could make it even bigger.

Major League Gaming (MLG) has established itself as a force to be reckoned with, but unlike traditional sports, which enjoy huge visibility, the average person on the street may still have no familiarity with eSports. As a quick primer for those who aren’t familiar, eSports is the term for competitive, professional-level gaming competitions, which actually exist in the real world and not just in the movie The Wizard.

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Remember the “Power Glove”?

These competitions take place in person and online all over the country (and world) with professional players winning anywhere from thousands to millions, and viewers usually watch live streaming coverage on the Internet through free services like twitch.tv and ustream.tv. MLG just yesterday launched their proprietary mlg.tv site for streaming of their own content.

On top of that, MLG is only one aspect of the Internet’s plethora of game streaming content. You can watch smaller tournaments hosted by grassroots gaming communities, but there are also different types of competition, such as speed runs, which involve players trying to complete a game as fast as they can to set world record times. Then, there’s the most subscribed channel on YouTube (PewDiePie), which is made up of videos of a guy just playing and commenting on games, and it has over 12 million subscribers.

So why is this phenomenon still so unknown to the general public? Well, when we were young, if you said “Major League Gaming” to someone, they’d assume you were joking. In fact, for the average person, that might still be true. Video games are still pretty young, and they’ve long been viewed as something “for kids.” MLG is even younger, as it was only founded in 2002. However, it has seen massive growth in the past two or three years, which has put it in a position to compete with physical sports in terms of audience size, and the games they’re playing definitely aren’t for children.

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600% growth in a few years is insane. via mlg.tv

Additionally, most of it can only be viewed on dedicated sites and streaming services around the Internet. It’s not exactly something people just turn on their TV and see. Those who spend a lot of time on gaming-related sites and message boards probably know about it, but it’s not really advertised to those who don’t actively seek it out the way traditional sports are.

Luckily, the rapid growth of Internet culture is likely playing a part in bringing eSports into the spotlight.  Sony’s PlayStation 4 may be a step towards increased awareness of eSports and game spectating content in general, due to its native ability to broadcast and view live gameplay. While the viewership numbers for MLG and YouTube gaming channels are impressive, the PlayStation 4′s potentially massive market (the PlayStation 3 sold 80 million units worldwide) could have a serious impact on the public visibility of live gaming content.

For its own part, MLG’s new mlg.tv site improves the face of eSports by providing a place where spectators can go and watch quality, 1080p streaming MLG content. In its two week beta period, the site streamed more than 1.3 petabytes (that’s over a million gigabytes) of content, and its Twitter-based chat service has spawned trending hashtags daily in the United States.

Basically, we’re about to go from “eSports? What’s that?” to “how have you never heard of Major League Gaming? Have you been living under a rock?” Whether you’re a seasoned gamer who’s been watching all of this develop or someone who’s just learning what eSports are all about, check out Major League Gaming’s 2013 championship this weekend on mlg.tv and familiarize yourself with the next big thing in entertainment.

(via mlg.tv, image via Kenneth Lu)

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