To some, the idea that playing video games would ever become a “sport”, played in front of thousands of pumped-up fans, was always fanciful.

But that is exactly what has happened, with hundreds of players now playing in professional competitions around the world, viewed by online and in-person audiences that would put many TV channels to shame.

No wonder, then, that Call Of Duty publisher Activision Blizzard last year acquired Major League Gaming, one of the main tournament organisers, in a bid to “create the ESPN of esports”.

To illustrate the point, Activision Blizzard’s division that runs MLG is led by former ESPN CEO Steve Bornstein, together with MLG co-founder Mike Sepso. And, for all its popularity, Sepso, MLG’s SVP, says he is on a mission to help brands understand the attraction of this new format.

“People over 30 or 35 don’t understand,” he tells Beet.TV in this video interview at the NewFronts, an advertising showcase for digital publishing brands, where he touted the MLG offering to ad buyers.

“People like me grew up with you-against-the-game, gaming was a solitary thing. The reality is, gaming is now a completely social and – in the case of sports – competitive endeavour.”

Some of the biggest game franchises out there excel not just because of their inherent playability, but also because they are best played with friends. Online play is the order of the day. But competitive play often takes place between teams of players, each inhabiting the same world.

Activision Blizzard has been making a big deal out of Overwatch League and Call Of Duty World League, two such worlds for its titles.

Esports looks like finally breaking through a ceiling, at least with publishers. Turner Sports started its own esports league last year. In the UK, Sky and ITV have teamed to launch a 24-7 live esports channel. But will a commercial model follow behind?

“It’s difficult to understand the world of esports,” Sepso concedes. “It’s hyper-passionate, it has what seems like a very insular culture. The reality is, it’s not that hard to unpack.

“We’re trying to… be the sherpa, the guide to bring Madison Avenue in to the world of sports on a global scale. The consumer of sports is very much a model for the future mainstream consumer of media and brands.”

This video is part of Beet.TV’s coverage of the IAB’s Digital Content NewFronts 2017. The series is sponsored by the IAB. For more videos from the #NewFronts, please visit this page.

The Digital Content NewFronts 2017, presented by the IABTagged ,