Activision Blizzard beefs up e-sports muscle

The huge video game developer reportedly snaps up the assets of e-sports league and gaming service Major League Gaming for $46 million.

Activision Blizzard has its eye on e-sports.

Gaming giant Activision Blizzard is apparently adding more firepower to its e-sports arsenal.

The maker of the popular military shooter franchise Call of Duty has reportedly shelled out $46 million for pretty much all the assets of Major League Gaming, a sports league and streaming service devoted to e-sports video games, in which pro gamers battle one another in front of spectators, live and over the Internet. MLG's board of directors approved the sale during a special meeting on December 21, according to industry trade publication eSports Observer.

Neither Activision Blizzard nor MLG responded to a request for comment. Activision confirmed the acquisition in a statement Monday.

The move follows Activision Blizzard's formation this past October of a new unit focused on e-sports, which took on MLG president and co-founder Mike Sepso as one of its top executives. The Santa Monica, California-based game maker had also acquired the assets of IGN Pro League, an eSports tournament organizer, in 2013.

The news is also yet another sign of how hot eSports have become. Last month, Activision Blizzard rival Electronic Arts launched a new initiative to help create global matches around its biggest games, such as Battlefield, Madden NFL and the soccer game FIFA. Some of the world's largest tech companies have also moved into the market, with both Microsoft and Sony equipping their popular gaming consoles to stream contests live online.

Amazon-owned Twitch and Google-owned YouTube, which launched a dedicated gaming hub in June, dominate e-sports viewership. And even sports channel ESPN has signed on, with its magazine publishing its first e-sports issue last year, and the company teaming up with game makers to stream the world's most popular tournaments online on its ESPN3 channel.

The worldwide market for eSports now totals $748 million in revenues and should hit $1.9 billion by the end of 2018, according to SuperData research analyst Joost van Dreunen. Most of the revenues come from advertising.

"Following several other acquisitions and announcements from Activision, it is clear that the firm is evolving into a media conglomerate rather than a company that simply develops and publishes video games," van Dreunen said in an emailed statement regarding the Activision-MLG news. "This is a consistent trend we have also observed elsewhere in the industry, with firms like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Take-Two Interactive, as the potential of ad-based revenue has come into focus."

Updated 1/4with confirmation of the acquisition.

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