Hollywood, meet esports. This might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Lionsgate Films will become the first major Hollywood studio to sponsor an esports event with the “Ender’s Game on Blu-Ray Tournament,” a $20,000 online StarCraft 2 competition organized by Lionsgate, and broadcast on MLG.tv and Twitch.
The tournament, organized by new platform GameOn.gg, will feature 32 players, most of whom will be directly invited by Major League Gaming. Four players will be voted in by fans, a feature that is by now a staple of GameOn tournaments. Invites will be announced later today.
While traditional sports can depend on a variety of revenue sources like merchandising and ticket sales, most esports companies are almost wholly dependent on advertising. The eyeballs of esports viewers are some of the most valuable commodities in the industry, so it’s a big deal when new buyers with deep pockets come into the picture. Lionsgate’s entrance opens not just a new product or company, but potentially an entire new industry to the idea of advertising in esports.
Major League Gaming’s advertising sales team, which CEO Sundance DiGiovanni has been boasting about for months, can claim a real victory here: They’ve put their foot in the door of the $4 billion film promotion industry. Major League Gaming’s website is already covered head to toe in advertisements for Ender’s Game.
It is, however, just a foot in the door. The $20,000 prize pool, which makes up 0.03 percent of Ender’s Game’s domestic box office earnings of $61.7 million, is a fraction of the cost of a single prime-time television commercial. That means Liongate’s esports investment is ultimately a small test for MLG.tv, Twitch, and the new GameOn tournament platform.
But it’s a test that should be passed with flying colors. Last month’s inaugural GameOn tournament was deemed a success by most viewers (though the invite-heavy format still attracts criticism for being something of a popularity contest). MLG’s streaming operations are moving the company toward profitability for the first time in its 12-year history. And Twitch is riding a record-breaking 2013 into a strong new year.
Coupled with the recent entrance of heavyweight corporations like Coca Cola into esports, the industry itself is on a winning streak.
However, whereas Coke got involved with the most popular league of the biggest esport on the planet—the League of Legends Championship Series—Lionsgate opted to sponsor a relatively small online StarCraft 2 tournament. Although StarCraft 2 is smaller than more popular esports like League of Legends or Dota 2, it does at least make perfect sense to pair two of the most well-loved science fiction franchises of all time.
And anyone who has read the Ender’s Game books or seen the movie knows that “Battle School” is the greatest esport never made. (It is board game, at least.)
Qualifiers will air on MLG.tv, Major League Gaming’s profitable new streaming venture, from Feb. 5 to 16. The championship round will air Feb. 22 on Twitch, MLG.tv’s chief rival in the world of esports streaming video. It seems likely Lionsgate wanted the big games on Twitch, as it is by far the more established and visited of the two streaming sites.
Voting for additional invited players begins today on GameOn.gg.
Update: MLG has announced the 16 North American StarCraft 2 players who’ll compete for $5,000 in prize money in the first round of the tournament . They are: Sasha “Scarlett” Hostyn, Geoff “iNcontroL” Robinson, Sam “Kane” Morrissette, Ryan “State” Visbeck, Marc-Olivier “desRow” Proulx, Juan Carlos “MajOr” Tena Lopez, Tyler “NonY” Wasieleski, Danny “ViBE” Scherlong, Henry “hendralisk” Zheng, Maru “MaSa” Kim, Victor “Hitman” Lin, and David “avilo” Blowe.