Championship Gaming Series one step closer to big leagues

DirecTV, partners line up cash, exposure, sponsors to boost presence in U.S.

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Directv this week will take a big step forward in turning video-gaming into a professional sport in the U.S.-complete with a TV deal, big purses, and, naturally, corporate sponsorships.

The satellite-TV provider is planning to reveal what it's describing as its "founding-partner group": PepsiCo's Mountain Dew, Best Buy, Microsoft's Xbox and IGN, an online-gaming community that like DirecTV is owned by News Corp., for its Championship Gaming Series, set to launch Jan. 1 in what's likely to be a major moment for the ever-growing business of video-game marketing.

DirecTV and its partners are using E3, the annual gaming conference that takes place this week in Los Angeles, as a launch platform for the series, which was announced earlier this year. The centerpiece of a big promotional effort at the event is a "Wall of Cash," a large, branded and bulletproof box stuffed with greenbacks and watched over by armed guards.

Steven Roberts, VP-general manager at DirecTV, said the wall represents "a commitment to grow the sport to a scale that will benefit everyone, show the type of prize money-more than any other league offers-and a commitment to the gamers, who will be paid for their work and for their talents, immediately and on an ongoing basis."

Mr. Roberts wouldn't, however, disclose the size of rewards, which are believed to be in the seven-figure neighborhood.

Professional video-gaming has a strong history internationally. South Korea, for instance, has two 24-hour channels dedicated to the sport. DirecTV has promised that some technological advances will ensure that the content is something more compelling than shots of the back of gamers' heads as they play. One technological development discussed in the past is an in-game camera, but Mr. Roberts declined to comment on specifics of the technology that will be used.

"We're at an inflection point for how big brands make use of video games as a way to reach consumers," said Jason Katz, account director at Tribal Gaming, part of Tribal DDB, which designed Mountain Dew's E3 promotion. "The gaming sector is fragmented in a million pieces and no one owns it. This series is the future of pro gaming."
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