The CW has picked up the third season of Machinima’s eSports documentary series “Chasing the Cup” about players facing off in a “Mortal Kombat X” tournament — marking the first TV deal for the YouTube-focused digital studio.
CW will distribute the first five episodes of “Mortal Kombat X: Machinima’s Chasing the Cup” online at CW Seed. The finale, covering the championship of the ESL Mortal Kombat X Pro League Finals with contestants battling for $100,000 in prize money, will air on the CW Network as a one-hour primetime special on Monday, Feb. 15, at 8 p.m. ET/PT.
The deal unites together several Warner Bros. properties and investments. The studio owns half of CW (together with CBS), and holds an equity investment in Machinima. In addition, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is the publisher of the “Mortal Kombat” game franchise, developed by NetherRealm Studios.
CW has been growing its male audience, with DC Comics-based shows including “Arrow,” “The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow,” and discovered a heavy crossover between those fans and videogamers.
“We’re testing to see if this could be ‘sports for CW,'” said Rick Haskins, exec VP of marketing and digital programs for the CW.
For Machinima, which has granted CW exclusive U.S. rights to the series and special, the deal promises to be more lucrative than a digital-only deal. “The economics of producing TV are greater than what you’d do for YouTube,” said Daniel Tibbets, Machinima’s chief content officer. The company also expects to cut international licensing deals for the show.
Warner Bros.’ involvement was not an overriding factor in bringing “Mortal Kombat X: Machinima’s Chasing the Cup” to CW, according to Tibbets. “Unless the positioning was right, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said.
Machinima, after starting life as a YouTube multichannel network, has expanded distribution partners to include Vimeo, Sony PlayStation Vue, Vessel and Verizon’s Go90. “We, as a studio company, are really changing it from a YouTube-centric company to a studio creating content for multiple platforms,” Tibbets said.
The first two seasons of “Chasing the Cup,” in 2013 and 2014, followed players of “League of Legends” and was distributed on Twitch and YouTube.
As for why CW is airing only the one-hour special on TV – and not the whole series –Haskins said the decision was partly from the network’s interest in growing the audience for the free, ad-supported CW Seed service and because eSports is a relatively untested commodity on broadcast television. “The actual (‘Mortal Kombat X’ finals) event is eight hours long,” Haskins said. “God love ’em, but I didn’t want to do eight hours of that on TV.”
“Mortal Kombat X: Machinima’s Chasing the Cup” follows five of the world’s top-ranked players of the fighting game: Carl White (aka Perfect Legend), from Toledo, Ohio; brothers Timothy Commandeur (HoneyBee) and Matthew Commandeur (BioHazard) from Toronto, Canada; Brant McCaskill (Pig of the Hut) from Atlanta, Ga.; and returning champion Dominique Maclean (SonicFox), from Townsend, Del.
The second season of the ESL Mortal Kombat X Pro League began Nov. 1, 2015, and the finals took place at the ESL Burbank Studios on Sunday, Jan. 24.
The first three episodes of “Mortal Kombat X: Machinima’s Chasing the Cup” are being released Monday on CW Seed, with the others to post weekly. The finale also will be on CW Seed following TV broadcast.