MLG rides the esports wave to record viewership

It has reported “massive” growth for 2013.

Screengrab via Major League Gaming/YouTube

The largest independent, multiplatform eSports league in North America has reported “massive” growth for 2013.

Major League Gaming (MLG) saw video consumption increase from 15.5 million hours in 2012 to 54 million hours in 2013–a 262 percent increase. The company also reported that it’s ads performed above industry average, with 90.7 percent of viewers watching the entirety of ads on average.

The numbers provide yet more quantifiable evidence of the rise of video games as a spectator sport in the United States. Twitch, the most popular platform for watching eSports, has more than quadrupled its user base since launching, jumping from 8 million unique visitors in 2011 to 45 million in 2013. Meanwhile, tournament prize totals continue a steady rise.

MLG was quick to compare its statistics success to traditional sports metrics, arguing that its online video consumption and engagement time in 2013 was greater than NCAA March Madness Live online.

“With greater viewership than traditional sports broadcasts online and the recent launch of MLG.TV, MLG is the powerhouse property for advertisers to reach the illusive [sic] young male demo,” MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni said in a press release.

MLG.TV is the league’s proprietary eSports network with news and events coverage. The network will be streamed online and follow a schedule of regular eSports programming including its flagship news show The eSports Report.

March Madness, of course, takes place over the course of a single month, while the statistics cited by MLG were collected over the course of an entire year. But despite this ambitious and perhaps erroneous comparison, the fact remains that MLG has experienced some stunning growth this year.

Some of that growth was likely due to the adoption of Dota 2, one of the most popular eSports games in the world, to MLG’s pro circuit. The company began airing Dota 2 programming last October and featured a Dota 2 competition at its MLG Championship event in Columbus, OH last November where multinational squad Speed Gaming won first place and $68,000. That event was “the most financially successful in MLG history,” according to MLG’s Adam Apicella.

While the visibility of the MLG brand has undoubtedly increased, it is unclear whether the company has been able to parlay an increase in viewership to an increase in revenue.

According to their most recent filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last November, MLG’s revenue range is between $5 million and $25 million. While revenues may have increased over time, they have remained in the same range since 2008, missing the 50 percent top line growth expectations the company set for 2013.

MLG’s revenues are thought to be closer to $20 million according to an ESFI interview with DiGiovanni in August of 2012. In that same interview, DiGiovanni indicated that 2012 was “another break-even year”.

It is also unclear what percentage of that revenue is raised through advertising. MLG has ramped up its efforts to grow advertising revenue in 2013, hiring Amazon’s former head of U.S. ad sales for Kindle to build a global sales team. MLG also sells branded merchandise, online subscriptions and services as well as live event tickets.

Revenue might be a closely guarded secret, but private investment is public. Last November, MLG raised over $11 million through security offerings to two investors. November’s offering was the company’s first investment since it raised over $5 million in March of 2012.

MLG is, of course, confident that its growth will continue into 2014 and has pledged to announce additional streaming partners and competitions in the coming months. But if there’s anything eSports has taught us over the past decade, it’s that the industry is never predictable.