Vidgamers in league

Rollman team to run tourneys, rank players

Former Fox Family Channel and Saban exec Eric Rollman is leading a team of entertainment vets starting up a planned Global Gaming League, a venture that would run pro and amateur vidgame tournaments and ranking systems for hundreds of thousands of players.

“We have not built stars yet in the videogame business,” Rollman said. “The stars are the games. A lot of people can organize tournaments and they have. But nobody’s built the stars.”

Extreme partners

Rollman is CEO of the league, which plans to partner with one of several extreme sports and music tours this summer and later in the year. The GGL is the latest vidgame-oriented venture to debut this year, all hoping to ride the growing mass-market appeal of a business that topped $10 billion in U.S. revenues last year.

Rollman spent 16 years with Saban Entertainment and Fox Family Channel, rising to president of production and leaving after Haim Saban sold the operation. He likened opportunities and challenges of the game league to some of the youth-friendly franchises he helped build at the Fox channel, including Digimon and Power Rangers.

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The league has some modest investment backing, but plans to make money from sponsorships, advertising and membership fees, said Brett W. Hawkins Jr., the league president and an investor with chairman Ted Owen.

“I think we’re coming into the market at a time when the acknowledgment of the need for something like this is much greater by players, sponsors, advertisers and others,” Rollman said. “Our approach to it as a pro sport will differentiate us.”

Corporate challengers

The venture faces a number of potential challengers, as demonstrated at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. There, both Microsoft and publisher Electronic Arts announced the creation of online ranking systems they would run in conjunction with their portfolios of sports-oriented games. Other companies, such as Vivendi Universal’s Blizzard Entertainment unit, run ranking systems and player matching on their own inhouse systems for the titles they publish.

“Our position is to be over and above the game makers,” said Lori Hall, a longtime sports and music marketing vet working with the league. “We don’t feel like it’s poaching from them. We feel like it builds interest.”

At least two small professional gaming leagues already exist, though neither has made a major dent in public consciousness and neither has a significant amateur base feeding into the pro ranks. It’s a different situation in South Korea, where professional gaming is so big that two TV channels routinely broadcast matches between the best-known players, just as with other competitive sports.

A thornier question is how to head off cheating, particularly when money and prizes are involved. Cash tournaments will be face-to-face, on neutral machines. And Hawkins said the system will include a reputation feedback system, similar to the buyer/seller feedback system that helps eBay users decide whom to do business with.

“It’ll be a combination of the honor system, oversight and feedback from others about how people are doing,” Hawkins said.