"We want to be to Major League Gaming what Burton is to snowboarding," says Brett Lovelady, head of Astro Gaming. Lovelady, who designed the Xbox 360's and HP's gaming products, may have gotten in at just the right time as corporate America takes notice of professional video gaming's growing fan base. Events last year attracted as many as 15,000 paying customers in person and 700,000 watched online via espn.com. Doritos ran MLG's first scouting combine in March to identify the next generation of pro gamers, and it's promoting the sport on its bags this year. Dr Pepper is a title sponsor of five events this season, beginning with April's opener in Orlando and concluding with the championship. "Teaming up with MLG is a great way to embrace this lifestyle," says Robert Stone, director of interactive media at Dr Pepper Snapple Group.
Astro and Lovelady are playing a key role in advancing that lifestyle. Astro's core products — headphones and a mix amp — are "designed to improve performance, like running shoes," Lovelady says. The gear allows teams to communicate in multiplayer titles like Halo 3. "We would often be hoarse after an event from screaming at one another," says Justin "Roy" Brown, who, like almost every MLG player, wears Astro. Its new A30 headphones are multipurpose, so they can be used with everything from game consoles to cell phones. The gear helps spread the word, as will the Doritos talent-scouting events that will take place all year. "We hope to find our superstar at one of these events," says MLG cofounder Sundance DiGiovanni. In other words, MLG needs its own Shaun White.