For several years now, eSports has been riding a huge wave of momentum. Once considered just a niche form of pseudo-entertainment, the world of electronic sports has been increasingly legitimized as a true form of sports competition thanks, in large part, to the efforts of Major League Gaming (MLG).
In the past year, we have seen a steady increase in celebrities from the entertainment world and athletes from the world of traditional sports getting more involved in eSports.
An example of this merging of worlds took place at the end of June at the 2013 Spring Championships in Anaheim. MLG hosted an All-Star event where some of the best in eSports joined forces with some of the best from the traditional sports world to play Call of Duty Black Ops II.
You had players like Dez Bryant, Ty Lawson and Dwight Howard all on hand to play Black Ops II with some of the best players from the world of eSports. Just days later, Howard made his decision to leave the Los Angeles Lakers and sign on with the Houston Rockets.
It now appears that the connection between MLG and the Houston Rockets has grown considerably.
On September 18, MLG announced that Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Rockets, had joined the Board of Directors for MLG. As announced by MLG:
Daryl Morey, General Manager, Houston Rockets (@dmorey) has joined MLG’s Board of Directors to work with MLG’s board and executive team to build MLG into a mainstream sports media property. A global leader in sports having managed the Houston Rockets for seven seasons, Morey is a long-time supporter of MLG.
This is a huge move for MLG and for eSports and another step in the direction toward breaking down the last few standing walls separating eSports from mainstream acceptance.
MLG has acquired the services of a man with real-world experience—and success—in the traditional sports world to help them continue to establish MLG and eSports as something infinitely more exciting and involved than the way it has been portrayed in the past by the mainstream media.
Gone are the days when eSports was being described as nerdy teenagers huddled in their mothers' basements with wires strewn everywhere and multiple gaming consoles all connected together for an impromptu LAN session.
No, eSports is a really big deal now, and having a man like Morey so directly involved in the furtherance of the endeavor is only going to help eSports penetrate the mainstream consciousness much more quickly.
Statistically, the numbers seem to support the fact that eSports is continuing to become more popular. According to VentureBeat, the MLG event in Anaheim drew 21,000 spectators and competitors to the Anaheim Convention Center, a new record for MLG.
Morey is going to play a huge role as eSports continues to gain mainstream acceptance. To be fair, the additions of Greg Chisholm as CFO and Allen De La Cruz as SVP Engineering are key to MLG's overall strategy as well.
However, for eSports to truly become accepted on the same stage as the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL or even MLS, it will take someone who has been in the trenches of the traditional sports world—and succeeded—to take them there.
Morey might very well be that man. During the past five years when he was the general manager of the Houston Rockets, the Rockets have sported a record of 227-167 for a winning percentage of .576. That is not too bad at all.
Do you consider professional videogamers to be athletes?
Morey also spearheaded the recent acquisitions of Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Dwight Howard. I am still waiting to read some NBA preview articles, but I imagine the Rockets are going to be a very popular pick to come out of the Western Conference as champions to compete for the NBA title.
That is invaluable experience that will be brought to MLG. If Morey can replicate the success he has had with the Rockets to MLG, great things are possible.
Something else I like about Morey is that he holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science with an emphasis on statistics from Northwestern University, as well as an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.
No, eSports is not the geek fest the uninitiated continue to believe it is—not even remotely close.
Nevertheless, having a man on hand who understands analytics, statistics, numbers and how they all flow together is going to be vitally important to an industry that, to a large extent, is reliant on all of those variables.
None of this has been lost on Morey. He sees the future of eSports—and the future is now. As he said to majorleaguegaming.com:
As a personal fan of eSports and a competitive gamer myself, I have been closely following the growth and evolution of MLG for years. MLG has the potential to be one of the biggest sports media businesses in the future. I look forward to working with the MLG team as they continue to be pioneers in the digital world.
Now, if you are still not quite sold on the idea that video games can be as legitimate a sporting competition as, say, a battle between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants, then spend a few moments and read through this recent article from the New York Times.
One of the biggest takeaways you might get from the article is how professional eSports players were recently granted the same sort of athletic visas that have been provided to traditional sports athletes for many years. This tremendous development was reported by CNBC.com and was yet another major step on the road to legitimacy for eSports.
Like any traditional sports game, there are discernible momentum shifts, and if you have been involved with eSports on any level, for any appreciable period of time, you can feel the shift taking place right now.
MLG certainly has. Its broadcasting plans are now changing to offer even more content for established fans and future fans who might be hanging out on the periphery, but hungry to learn more.
MLG is providing more entertainment-based shows focusing on the best players from MLG and their various lifestyles. Matches are, of course, still being broadcast. But MLG is trying to make its content more entertainment based to make it more appealing to the masses. It is a great strategy that can pay big dividends in the coming months.
Take all of this and add in the fact that the PlayStation 4 launches on November 15, with the Xbox One to follow on November 22—with both systems having some great video capture features that are tailor-made for eSports—and you have a perfect storm of things all coming together to take eSports to places it has never been before.
With all this momentum building, eSports and MLG just might be the next big thing.