With ‘Call of Duty’ event, Hollywood gets serious about esports

The courtship between Hollywood and esports continues

Photo via Optic Gaming/Facebook

The courtship between Hollywood and esports continues. Following this month’s Ender’s Game-sponsored StarCraft 2 tournament, Major League Gaming is teaming up with one of the biggest studios in Hollywood for another round.

Optic Gaming, the sixth-ranked Call of Duty team in North America, is partnering with MLG and Relativity Studios to promote 3 Days to Kill, a new action flick starring Kevin Costner. The event features Optic playing Call of Duty: Ghosts for 72 straight hours to see how many kills they can accumulate what’s being called a “kill marathon” session.

The event will begin at noon ET on Friday, Feb. 14, and extend through the weekend. It will be streamed on MLG.tv, the new streaming platform that is driving MLG toward profitability for the first time in its 12 year history.

The “kill marathon” is interesting for a number of reasons, not least of which because it eschews the usual tournament or exhibition format that esports usually uses to seduce advertisers. The novel idea came from MLG offices in New York City, long a hub of Call of Duty activity.

For Optic Gaming, the deal represents yet another milestone for one of the most popular organizations in esports. Featured in the Chicago Tribune recently, the American team inspires a hugely vocal fandom of more than 560,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter.

Most of all, the event is a signal of strength from MLG. Money from wealthy advertisers—Relativity Media is a multi-billion dollar business—is the lifeblood of any media organization, and the esports industry is no different.

MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni has been confidently boasting about his new streaming platform and advertising team since last year.

@KimRom ever since we parted ways with a certain SF based sales partner we’ve been killing it. Streaming on our own platform also helps.

— Sundance DiGiovanni (@MLGSundance) November 5, 2013

The construction of a new ad sales team began when Donald Reilley joined MLG in June 2013 to work as executive vice president of sales. Reilley’s 16-year career in the industry included stints at Xbox and Amazon. He immediately went to work building a new team to leverage the company’s considerable reach among 16-34 year olds males, a famously valuable demographic to advertisers.

This event is the first product of a MLG-Relativity partnership inked in Oct. 2013. We can expect “an array of future programs,” Reilley said, that will “demonstrate the vast opportunities for collaboration within the entertainment industry.”

Has the new MLG.tv platform enabled the ad team to do more? Or is a newly revitalized ad team boosting the young streaming platform? The answer lays somewhere in between.

As a nearly-profitable esports league independent of publishers and wielding its own capable streaming platform as well as a revamped ad team, MLG is in a strong position bargaining position with advertisers. It can produce content that will keep eyeballs on the product.

“The MLG team created this 3 Days to Kill program to showcase the movie in a fun and different way that fits with the theme and within our MLG.tv programming,” Reilley said.

If Reilley and his team can keep producing effective “custom ideas,” big time advertisers will likely return to fertile ground, and MLG’s outright profitability—no asterisks about taxes required—may be secured.