Gaming: the next level

By DANIEL MCGOWAN  |  November 16, 2011

"We're approaching a day where MLG will be as big a brand as NASCAR, the NFL, FIFA, or UFC," Apicella says. "Kids in middle school know the MLG brand as their own — even if they don't participate in the competitions. We expect continued global growth in the years to come."

Farfetched? Perhaps. But it's hard to ignore the potential. Xbox and PlayStation are household names in much of the world; in South Korea, tournaments are already featured on television and the best players are legitimately famous.

When creating the league, Apicella says the founders (Sundance DiGiovanni and Mike Sepso) set out to build an entertaining spectator experience both in–person and for fans viewing competitions on their screens at home.

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And there is some hope that those screens will, sometime in the near future, include mainstream television. There's already a fanatic fan base. And plenty of trash talking between the elite teams on the circuit — yunGunZ, Quantic LeveraGe, and Domino Effect — adds to the entertainment value. If the World Series of Poker can do it, why not Major League Gaming?

Cannon is a member of eon OpTic Gaming, one of the top Call of Duty teams in the world. He says his teammates and rivals consist mostly of young people between the ages of 15 and 25, but occasionally "you'll see someone who is old, like 30."

An eccentric player who talks smack to opponents and is often seen pounding his chest to pump up his groupies, Cannon joined the league in 2009 after gaining some prominence by winning several low-level tournaments (think Minor League Gaming). He has been traveling around the country with the league ever since.

He first played on a part-time basis while in high school, but now as a freshman at a community college in Michigan, he says he has been traveling more. He estimates that during this season alone, he has earned about $20,000 in tournament winnings and endorsements. Not bad when you consider most kids his age are waiting tables or wiping snotty noses at summer camps.

Cannon estimates that he plays Call of Duty for about six hours each day to make sure he stays sharp. But he has an eye on the business of professional gaming too. He says there are plenty of great players that win and go nowhere. He sees his job as being both a top notch player and a promoter — of himself and the MLG.

That means talking like a politician on election night — rattling off the league's top sponsors and thanking his supporters and teammates every chance he gets. As the league continues to grow, more opportunities could present themselves. A clothing line? A collection of "Proofy-approved" PlayStation controllers? All possibilities for a kid who sees where his gaming talent could take him.

"Gaming could be a full-time job for me," Cannon says. "It's all about having the right business plan and I'm making the right moves. I've got a big following online so I could definitely make sponsorship money. And the league grows with every tournament."

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The national championship this week is expected to have the biggest turnout in the history of the league and will include a prize pool of more than $600,000. Virtually every hotel downtown is booked as fans prepare to flock to the city to root for their favorite players and teams. For one weekend, Providence will be the gaming capital of the world.

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