Eric Johnson

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MLG Partners With Relativity Media to Turn Its Professional Gamers Into Mainstream Celebrities

The people who really care about e-sports will tell you — sometimes more than once — that professional gamers deserve just as much respect as professional athletes. A new partnership between e-sports organization Major League Gaming and entertainment studio Relativity Media aims to add a bit of fuel to that fire.

The two companies have been working together quietly for about nine months, but now they’re making their relationship official. Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh is joining MLG’s board, and a content and marketing deal is already under way, in the hope that it can make pro gamers more visible to non-gamers and the outside world.

MLG president Mike Sepso said in an interview that that visibility will eventually include reality-TV programs in an unscripted initiative being led by former “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” executive producer Tom Forman. The notion, he said, is to paint a better picture of the personal “lifestyle around the sport,” a la the feature stories about pro athletes you might see on slow sports days, or throughout the Olympics.

Sepso praised Relativity’s work with its traditional-athlete clients like Dwight Howard, the Magic/Lakers/Rockets center whom Relativity Sports has placed in numerous movies and TV shows, often playing himself. Relativity Media president Josh Swartz said finding similar placement for a cyber-athlete won’t be harder or easier — it’ll just be different.

“A basketball player might fit perfectly for a brand looking to reach a certain type of audience and savvy,” Swartz wrote in an email. “Companies are realizing that e-sports players have their own following and are a great way to attract the e-sports consumer.”

Sepso also stressed that the “big and complicated” partnership also encompasses new original programming, some of which will be online-only, and some that will be bound for more old-fangled screens.

“We don’t think TV is a native distribution for our core products,” Sepso said of the e-sports gameplay currently found on and previously tested on G4 and the USA Network to unsatisfactory numbers. The MLG president said he expected non-gameplay shows, which are mostly still in the brainstorming phase, to fare better offline.

The two companies, he added, target the same demographic, with between 50 percent and 75 percent of Relativity’s film distribution aimed at men, who compose 90 percent of MLG’s audience. So, if you watch e-sports matches on MLG’s website, don’t be too surprised if you start seeing more ads for Relativity-produced movies.

In the immediate future, MLG plans to launch its first new original program, “The eSports Report,” this Thursday. The online show will cover the news from the pro gaming world, including tournaments run by MLG’s competitors. “Report” has been developed at and will be broadcast from MLG’s studio in New York, but Sepso said that future shows may be produced in either New York or Los Angeles, with some production at the former already under way.

(Image courtesy of

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