LANDodger: MLG’s Lack of Competition

BY Andrew Miesner / April 6, 2009

MLG’s Lack of Competition

Written by Mike “Landodger” Luxion

(This is an editorial piece. The opinions in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of compLexity Gaming or its parent company.)

There are a few things that drive me nuts about MLG. Almost none of them have to do with the actual gaming; the things that really tick me off always seem to be quotes from their president and CEO, Matthew Bromberg.

I think the best example is from an old article on 1up. Robert Ashley was writing about the release of Game Boys, the book by Michael Kane, and the article had two quotes from him and one from Mike Burks from the CGS. Here’s how Ashley describes the conversations with Bromberg and Burks, (the quotes from Bromberg are not sequential in the article, but are listed sequentially here for convenience and effect):

Excerpt 1: [“MLG CEO Matt Bromberg spent the better part of a 45-minute phone interview tearing through a litany of complaints about the Championship Gaming Series:

“Our view is, literally, that there is no competition between us, that what we do is so much larger that it’s hard to compare the two. Our company has been around since 2002, and CGS came around in 2006 to try and copy what we were doing. They created this corporate, kind of top-down thing just to make a TV show out of it, which they put on channel 101 on DirecTV, which is unrated because it’s so small. That’s just the reality. It’s not a real channel.”]

Excerpt 2: [“They’ve got this hokey idea that there are going to be teams called, like, the Carolina Core. What could that possibly mean in this context? Nobody on the team lives in Carolina! And what’s this idea that everyone on the team plays a different game, and then they aggregate the score? In their championship last year, the winning team won because they had a better Dead or Alive player. So the world’s best Counter-Strike team lost because somebody beat their DOA player! What is that?!”]

The article had this to say about the CGS:

In their championship last year, the winning team won because they had a better Dead or Alive player. So the world’s best Counter-Strike team lost because somebody beat their DOA player! What is that?!Excerpt 3: [Meanwhile, CGS executive Michael Burks, a television producer who’s worked on live broadcasts for the NBA and the NFL, plays it cool: “I don’t know [Matt Bromberg]. I know the name, and I obviously know who MLG is. I’m sure they’re nice guys; I wish them the best in what they do.”]

I think the difference between the quotes is obvious. The MLG quotes are confrontational, aggressive, and (I think) have the same tone that people use when their opinion is The Truth.

So in retrospect, maybe Bromberg’s latest quote in a New York Times article about the fall of competitive gaming leagues shouldn’t have surprised me so much. But it did. Here’s the excerpt:

NYT Excerpt: [“We have driven everybody else out of the business,” Matthew Bromberg, the league’s president and chief executive, said in a recent interview at his office in Manhattan. “The history of league sports begins with one league.”]

Honestly, I don’t know about everybody else but I’ve had enough. So let’s talk about all the things in that sentence that are true.

Uh … [long pause].

Well, that’s all I got. Now let’s talk about the things that are wrong, which is, as far as I can tell, everything.

The History of Sports

To be honest, the more that I thought about the quote, the more I confused myself. It feels a little like a mirror maze. I’m not sure where I’m going. I’m not sure where the quote – the path – is leading me. All I know is that it’s certainly not a direct walk to wisdom, and every step seems to bring more confusion instead of more clarity. 

The first half of the quote is more germane to gaming, but I want to touch briefly on the statement that “the history of league sports begins with one league.”

(As a side note, if you read that part of the quote literally, it seems like the equivalent of saying “it is what it is”. You’re basically saying that two equals two. What else could it possibly equal? Of course the history of league sports begins with one league. The moment a league is formed is the same moment the history of league sports begins. It cannot be any other way. It’s a truism. I don’t think that’s what he meant; the only reason I’m mentioning it is because the other options don’t seem any less ridiculous.)

My first reaction was simply incredulity. Disbelief. The history of league sports begins with one league? Really? I fancy myself something of a sports buff. I couldn’t make a career of it, but I think I know more about the history of the major sports leagues than your average fan. So here are some quick tidbits about league history; I’m sure I’m leaving out tons of info, but even a rudimentary understanding like this should leave you scratching your head about exactly what Bromberg meant:

The MLB didn’t start as the MLB. Do you ever wonder why MLB is called a league, but still has an “American League” and “National League” within it? It’s because the American and National leagues used to be separate leagues! They didn’t merge until 1903. There was also that one professional league some people might have heard of … oh what was it called? Oh right. The Negro leagues. I’m pretty sure they ended up joining the MLB at some point, too.

The NBA? I talked about their merge with the ABA in an earlier article, but the NBA wasn’t even the original basketball league. They didn’t form until the Basketball Association of America merged with the National Basketball League. And we won’t even talk about the CBA, which is another, smaller player in the history or basketball leagues.

The MLB didn’t start as the MLB. Do you ever wonder why MLB is called a league, but still has an “American League” and “National League” within it? It’s because the American and National leagues used to be separate leagues!Even America’s current titan of turf, the NFL, wasn’t a tour de force from the beginning. They merged with the AFL in 1970.
So really, what does “the history of league sports begins with one league” mean? I’m asking this seriously, not rhetorically, because to me it just seems plain wrong.

Driving Who Out of Business?

And that brings us to the first part of the quote, because as confusing as that part of the quote was, it’s nothing compared to “we have driven everybody else out of business.”

(Note: for the purposes of this article, I’m assuming that he isn’t insane and doesn’t think of himself as the personification of the American economy. Though if that were true, it would certainly lend validity to his claim about driving people out of business. In any event you have to admit that two lines from the article “But the recession has left only one significant competitive circuit in North America, Major League Gaming”, which is directly followed by Bromberg’s quote, “We have driven everybody else out of the business” are a little at odds, right?)

I’ll talk about the CGS in a second, but honestly, I’m just curious about who “everybody else” is. Has there been some kind of eSports revolution that I never heard about? Did leagues suddenly pop up, only to be crushed by Matthew Bromberg’s unstoppable behemoth of competitive gaming? As far as I know, the CPL’s closure had to do with incompetent management, poor player relations, and unpaid prize money. And I’m pretty sure the WSVG was following a slightly different path to destruction, though they shared the same fatal flaw of poor decision making at the highest levels.

To my knowledge, those are the only major leagues that have gone out of business lately and you’d be hard pressed to find any realistic relationship between their closures and the rise of MLG.

As for everybody’s most hated league of yesteryear, the CGS, well … I think the claim that MLG had anything to do with its closure is just as ridiculous.

Before we go any further, I want to be upfront here because I feel like I’m walking a fine line. For anybody that doesn’t know, I worked for the CGS during season two – I was hired shortly after the conclusion of the second combine, and I was with them until their “end of days” so to speak. I worked in their offices in Los Angeles, and it’s safe to say I know a little more about the league, and its relationship to MLG, than your average gamer. On the other hand, the fine line is that I don’t want to overstate my knowledge of the situation, either. I was primarily two things: a writer, and a helpful resource about the competitive gaming community – its history, the people in it, how they might to certain changes, etc.

Basically, I was not in budget meetings or board meetings, but I did have a vague handle on those things (it was a small company after all), and I knew a fair amount about the gaming side of the equation from the league’s perspective.

And it is with the utmost confidence that I say that MLG did not, in fact, drive the CGS out of business. I’m confident in saying this because I’m also confident in saying that if the MLG had suddenly, inexplicably died two months, or even two years, before the CGS, it wouldn’t have mattered a damn bit. Not one iota. The CGS’s destruction was a self-destruction, caused by unbearable pressures (read: expenses) it put on itself.

In fact, I’d argue that saying the MLG drove the CGS out of business is pretty much like saying Tiger Woods caused the NHL’s precipitous drop in popularity. They happened around the same time. The problem is that not only are they separate entities that don’t share a playerbase of a fanbase, but the NHL’s drop was caused by a league-crushing lockout, which was in turn caused by totally out of control expenses like player salaries. The CGS self-immolated in the same way with more permanent consequences.

The Takeaway

But honestly, the really sad part about this whole thing is that even if what Bromberg said is true, it’s the exact opposite of what’s good for the competitive scene as a whole.

Let’s step back for a moment. The subject of the whole NY Times article was the effect of the economy on the health (read: death) of professional gaming leagues. The header image is a picture of Manny “Master” Rodriguez pushing a cart down the aisle at a SAM’s Club where he works.

Doesn’t that, along with “We have driven everybody else out of the business” pretty much say it all?

I mean, yes, you can draw a direct line from today’s version of the NBA back to its origin. But if that’s what he meant by the history of league sports comment, then it totally misses the point because there are other lines that intersect with the NBA’s and forever alter its course because when sports leagues shut down their competitors took the best parts (rules, clubs, players, etc) and made a better product. The competition between leagues spawned better rules and better players and better franchises and better play on the field.

But when MLG supposedly drives somebody out of business, which is supposed to be a positive thing, their competitors end up pushing carts for a living.

This helps advance eSports how, exactly?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand where Bromberg is coming from. He wants MLG to be the Highlander of competitive gaming, standing alone amidst the decapitated heads of their vanquished foes.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep waiting for a league that does something a bit differently, thanks, because for everybody else competition is a good thing. I’d rather a league be Samus Aran than Highlander because if there’s one thing I know it’s that the history of league sports doesn’t begin with one league, as Matthew Bromberg said. It’s just the opposite. The history of league sports ends with one league, and it only does that after that one league has absorbed other entities and completely transformed and reinvented itself.

Wake me up when that describes Major League Gaming.