By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
DirecTV announced plans to launch the world's first professional video gamer's league, and gave an update on its efforts to add up to 100 national high-definition TV channels and up to 1,500 local HDTV channels starting around the third quarter of 2007.
The video gaming league, called the Championship Gaming Series, was first announced last year and launched with the Championship Gaming Invitational. The project was such a success, according to David Hill, DirecTV Entertainment president, that a decision was made to expand the program to international league play. Initial teams will come from North America, Latin America, United Kingdom, Europe, Middle East Asia and Australia.
DirecTV said it is in the final stages of discussions with British Sky Broadcasting, STAR Asia and others to showcase the international league's championship events. In addition, the series will partner with IGN Entertainment, a unit of Fox Interactive Media, to provide online coverage, creating a multiplatform showcase.
Each region will host online qualifiers and live tournament events to determine the teams which will represent each area. From those competitions, four champion teams will emerge and compete in the league's Grand Slam round. Both individual and team winners from that event will advance to the Championship Gaming Series World Championship, to take place in the United States.
The first U.S. Championship Gaming Invitational took place in San Francisco's Treasure Island Naval Base. Games included Electronics Arts' Battlefield 2, Microsoft Game Studio's Project Gotham Racing 3 and Halo 2. The second invitational took place Dec. 16 and is slated to premiere on DirecTV's channel 101 in February.
The league will have a third-party association including a commissioner overseeing its activities, DirecTV said. The structure will include team franchises, and player drafts, like traditional professional sports leagues. Over $1 million in prize money will be awarded. DirecTV is soliciting major corporate sponsors, including Pepsi-Cola North America.
Video gaming celebrity John "Fatal1ty" Wendel has been signed on as play-by-play commentator and global league spokesman.
"With a roster of the best pro gamers in the world, unparalleled production values and best-in-class televised sports-style coverage, the series will be the dominant force in professional gaming worldwide," said a DirecTV statement announcing the program.
In HDTV programming news, DirecTV CEO Chase Carey said the satellite TV provider will ramp up its HDTV content later this year. Plans include adding about 100 national high-def cable channels from 70 major networks, including A&E, Bravo, Cartoon Network, CNN, Food Network, FX, HGTV, MTV, National Geographic, NFL Network, Sci-Fi Channel, Speed, TBS, The History Channel, The Weather Channel and USA Network.
DirecTV said it will also add regional HD sports networks from around the country including YES Network, Comcast Sports Net, New England Sports Network and Fox Sports.
DirecTV will also offer "an expanded line-up of HD programming from all premium movie channels," the company said.
The expansion will be contingent on the planned launch of the DirecTV 10 and 11 satellites in 2007, which will deliver the ability to add more than 1,500 local HD and digital channels and 150 national HD channels, in addition to new advanced programming services for customers, DirecTV said.
DirecTV said it currently offers local standard-definition channels in 142 markets, covering 94 percent of households, and local HD channels in 49 cities, covering over 65 percent of U.S. TV households.
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