Esports World Cup: First event kicks off with record-breaking prize money up for grabs

The world's biggest gaming championship kicks off today in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Around 1,500 global esports champions are heading to Boulevard City, competing for eight weeks for a record prize pool of $60m (£47m).

"The Esports World Cup is a major moment in esports history," said Ralf Reichert, chief executive of the Esports World Cup Foundation.

"It's a historic culmination of two universal languages, gaming and sports, to unite the global community across games, leapfrog the esports industry and drive growth across the entire ecosystem."

During the tournament, gamers will compete in 21 popular games including Apex Legends, Call of Duty, Counter-Strike 2, Dota 2, League of Legends and Fortnite.

"There isn't anything comparable, any kind of sporting tournament like this in the esports world," said George Osborn, who writes the Video Games Industry Memo, to Sky News.

The record-breaking prize money

The tournament's winners will share an unprecedented $60m (£47.2m) in prize money.

That huge prize pool could not come at a better time, says Mr Osborn.

"We've been going through what's been described as the 'esports winter'," he said.

"There have been layoffs at esports organisations, teams have closed down, tournaments have shuttered," said Mr Osborn.

The World Cup prize pool will partially go to clubs whose teams do well throughout the tournament, not just when those teams do well in their own individual games.

"For this tournament to provide such big prize pools and to deliberately [...] support clubs, that's an important source of funding for these organisations at the time and will be quite important in the ecosystem."

The lavish opening ceremony featured influencers Tyler1 and the UK's Danny Aarons live, as well as pyrotechnics and drone shows over Riyadh.

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The city is expected to turn into a "jubilant festival" of gaming throughout the eight weeks, according to the Esports World Cup Foundation.

Where to start if you have not watched esports before

With 21 different games being played across eight weeks, it can be hard to know where to start. For an esports newbie, Mr Osborn recommends catching the Rocket League games.

"Rocket League is essentially football with cars," he said.

"Each team plays five-minute matches. You have three cars on each team [and you] have individual players. They form a part of a wider team so they can go off and score amazing goals, they can make terrible mistakes. It's fast. It's frantic."

Esports is an increasingly mainstream industry. In 2019, an estimated 197 million people identified as esports enthusiasts, according to gaming and esports data firm Newzoo. This year, that figure is expected to grow to 285.7 million people.