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Activision acquires esports league Major League Gaming

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Publisher aims to become 'the ESPN of esports'

Major Leaguing Gaming has a new owner with deep pockets and big plans. Activision Blizzard purchased the entirety of the company in a rumored $40 million dollar deal late last month, which had the publisher also taking on MLG's remaining debt.

While both Activision Blizzard and MLG confirmed the sale to Polygon, they declined to comment on the specifics of the price.

They did, however, tell us that contrary to last week's rumor, MLG co-founder and CEO Sundance DiGiovanni, as well as the rest of the MLG team, are staying on to help lead the expansion of the league.

"There will be no layoffs and we actually have a pretty extensive expansion plan in the works," DiGiovanni told Polygon. He added that none of the upcoming tournaments nor operations of MLG will be impacted by the purchase.

Under the terms of the deal, MLG will now fall under Activision Blizzard Media Networks division, led by former ESPN CEO Steve Bornstein and MLG's other co-founder Mike Sepso.

Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard, says this addition to the esports-focused Media Networks is part of the company's bigger plans to create "the ESPN of esports."

"MLG's ability to create premium content, its proven broadcast technology platform — including its live streaming capabilities — strengthens our strategic position in competitive gaming. MLG has an incredibly strong and seasoned team and a thriving community," Kotick said in a prepared statement. "Together, we will create new ways to celebrate players and their unique skills, dedication and commitment to gaming. We are excited to add Sundance and the entire MLG esports team to our competitive gaming initiatives."

"It's going to be kind of like MLG on steroids."

MLG will continue to operate MLG.tv, MLG Pro Circuit and GameBattles platforms. It will also continue to work with its partners and publishers.

DiGiovanni said that MLG had been talking to a "number of suitors about what an acquisition of MLG would look like."

"We've worked with Activision for a lot of years, it's kind of incredibly this lined up. It all happened very quickly."

Sepso, who joined Activision Blizzard in October to help launch the company's new esports division, said the opportunity to purchase MLG didn't really exist when he joined the company a few months back.

"More recently and organically this just popped up," Sepso said. "We couldn't be more excited."

The purchase of MLG shaves a lot of the start-up pressure off of Media Networks. Now the division won't have to recreate the wheel, instead it can rely on MLG's existing technology, infrastructure and relationships with other developers to get things going much faster.

"The mission is still the same."

Both Sepso and DiGiovanni made it clear that MLG won't be changing in any negative ways. The league will still host the same tournaments in the same ways, under the same name. The big difference is that now MLG will have much more resources.

"The big difference people are going to see right away is access to resources and ability to apply those resources to our partner IP, like Valve," DiGiovanni said. "It's going to be kind of like MLG on steroids.

"The mission is still the same. This is one of those kind of pinch yourself moments. The future is wide open and exciting."

Today's official news shows Activision Blizzard's growing interest in the realm of esports, which continues to surge in popularity.

Most recent estimates, at more than 100 million unique viewers, have esports audiences outnumbering those that watch many professional sports. Some project that the growing spectator sport will exceed 300 million viewers by 2017.

Back in 2002, when DiGiovanni and Sepso created Major League Gaming, the idea of pro-gaming was still a hard idea to sell, even to gamers.

"When I started, I had to pound on as many doors as possible to get Activision to answer my calls," DiGiovanni said.

Despite the growth and today's news, DiGiovanni says that he thinks that hard work is just beginning.

"I think one day we're going to look at what's been done to this point as the golden years," he said. "We're on the verge of truly becoming massive on a scale ... Becoming an industry, not just a cottage industry, but an industry.

"That's what I'm looking for over the next ten years. This deal is nothing but promise and potential."

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