Professional video gaming set for TV debut in the U.S.

MUMBAI: With a view to bring professional video game playing to a wider audience, Major League Gaming (MLG) and USA Network have announced a programming deal in which USA Network will air seven one-hour episodes, featuring the pro circuit and its players.

The episodes will air on USA Network this holiday season. MLG also announced that it has a new multiyear contract with Boost Mobile, under which that company's mobile phones will feature content.

Though video gaming fans have been able to follow competitions on game web sites, MLG's television deal marks the first time that TV viewers would be able to track the ups and downs of a pro tournament, watching video gaming as a new kind of extreme sport.

MLG's president and chief operating officer Matthew Bromberg said, "This is the sign that pro gaming has finally arrived to the mass market. It's like poker was two years ago, or Nascar 15 years ago."

The upcoming televised series will aim to engage viewers with not only with the game play itself - featuring top players of "Halo 2" on Xbox and "Super Smash Bros. Melee" on Nintendo - but also sports-like commentary and profiles of the players.

Among them: Bonnie Burton, also known as "Xena," a 15-year-old from Pennsylvania who is the only female in the pro league and one of the best "Halo2" players in the world; and Tom Taylor, who's known as "Tsquared," an 18-year-old from Florida and budding entrepreneur whose Gaming-Lessons business has already helped hone the video-gaming skills of numerous celebrities and star athletes.

"I'm excited to compete on TV in front of an audience. This will take video gaming to the next level. It is an extreme sport. It's about quick reflexes and also outsmarting people." Taylor said in a media report.

MLG's chief executive and co-founder Michael Sepso said, "Some top players earn winnings in the range of a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, and the tournaments by MLG usually draw thousands of spectators at its arena venues and thousands more online. But, going before a mainstream television audience could raise video gaming's visibility, leading to more sponsorships and advertising."

And drawing viewers shouldn't be a stretch, since "video gaming has always had a spectator-element to it anyway," said Sepso.

Bromberg explained that the MLG is following a well-tried model for forming a new pro league: Build a credible governing body, sign the best players and then strike deals with major sponsors.

"That's what helps the league grow and feeds the machine," Bromberg said in a media report. "If you have those pieces, then you can have a major sport."

MLG operates a seven-city pro circuit, which begins next week in New York and ends with a championship in Las Vegas in November. More than 1,500 players will compete for the championship in two games: "Halo 2" and "Super Smash Bros. Melee World."

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