How the Esports World Cup is hoping to change the future of esports

Carver Fisher
Esports-World-Cup

The Esports World Cup is shaping up to be one of the biggest esports events of all time, with a $60 million dollar prize pool enticing orgs to participate in one of the 19 confirmed titles across an 8-week tournament.

Everything from traditional sports games, MOBAs, fighting games, and shooters will be on display at the tournament, all of them featuring some of the biggest names in esports. And with organizations incentivized to pick up teams in new games for this event, the industry has seen a massive amount of growth in a very short time even before the tournament kicks off as teams accepted into the EWC partner program

I spoke with many of the competing players, as well as Cloud9 CEO Jack Etienne and Chief Games Officer Fabian Scheuermann, who put together the event’s game lineup, to get a full view of what everyone’s hoping the Esports World Cup will achieve.

Bringing the whole esports world together

The esports industry has grown massively over the past decade, as what started as a relatively niche interest has ballooned into a massive ecosystem that has certainly had some growing pains.

This has also resulted in a rather disjointed system where not every esport is built the same. For instance, franchised esports leagues like that of Riot Games’ esports ventures ensures that orgs that commit to the franchise will get their chance in the spotlight. Meanwhile, fighting games and other open-bracket esports like TFT present the risk of your player getting knocked out in pools and not even getting time on stream.

Being an organization that exists across multiple esports requires not only a lot of capital, but a lot of risk as well. If your team isn’t at the top, then sponsors aren’t paying, and no single approach works for every game. The Esports World Cup Foundation aims to bolster the entire industry by propping up the biggest orgs in the world and encouraging them to get involved by offering incentives to sign teams across a variety of esports.

30 organizations, to be exact. All of them were given a six-figure stipend purely to front the bill to invest in new esports teams. Additionally, $20 million of the overall $60 million prize pool is reserved for organizations, meaning a significant portion of the money up for grabs is reserved for the orgs themselves.

And, although this announcement was recent, the process of picking these orgs has been going on for quite a while. This is most apparent if we look to the fighting game community, an area of esports that’s historically risky to get into and hard for orgs to justify.

Falcons signing Saint (Tekken 8), Vitality signing JEonDDing (Tekken 8), Cloud9 signing JB (Street Fighter 6), the effects of this partnership program have been immediate and apparent even before it was officially announced. Niche esports communities getting more players involved who can compete full-time will only raise the level of competition and grow the scene.

Joey Fury spoke with us on this issue when he signed onto FaZe Clan in 2023, and his word back then says a lot about how big a deal this is for smaller esports communities to get more full-time competitors:

“There have been stretches throughout this Tekken career, if you want to call it that, where I have been working. And those were definitely the hardest periods. Trying to work a 9-5 during the day, and then come home and enter a late-night online bracket. If you win, you’re probably gonna be up ’til like, two in the morning, and then your sleep is wrecked for the whole week. It’s really challenging. Anybody who’s working full-time and succeeding in Tekken has my utmost respect, because it’s really hard,” he explained.

However, this growth isn’t unique to the FGC, either, and don’t be surprised to see more and more teams get signed across several esports at the EWC as we get closer to the event.

Cloud9 CEO Jack Etienne was certainly excited for the effect this tournament would have on esports big and small, with some games getting a big international event where they otherwise wouldn’t have one.

“I am very excited by this competition. International events in esports are always the most hype events. But there are a lot of games that don’t have these big stages to play on. And, the type of dollars that are being invested into the prize pools for these players, for a lot of these regions, is life-changing for them. They can actually focus full-time on the game they absolutely love. And, for fans who are watching, like fans of these of these esports, who may not have had a big stage opportunity for big dollars, it’s super exciting for them.”

However, this is just as exciting for big esports like League of Legends who only have a few international events a year that bring the world’s best teams together.

MSI-2024-stage

“Closed-off systems, like League of Legends hasn’t had, like, events that are not thrown by [Riot] for a long time. And we’ve been, you know, used to two international events, essentially, a year. Adding one more event is a massive increase in the number of international events that we see.”

He added that he was shocked to see so many publishers leaping at the opportunity to get behind this event and have their games shown on a new international stage.

“I was surprised to see how many publishers are getting behind this event, to allow esports to grow. This is the type of growth in esports, I think, we haven’t seen in a long time. And there’s never been an event of this scale just for esports.”

Faker agreed when we asked him about the topic, among other things, and he’s excited to see League of Legends get more time on the international stage.

“Because it’s an international stage, I’m pretty sure every team will give it their all,” he explained. “I’m happy that we get to have more and more events and tournaments happening internationally under the attention and excitement coming from the fans.”

The other players we spoke to were equally excited, and not just because they’ve got a shot at winning millions.

Giving new games the biggest stage (and old games a second chance)

When it comes to creating an esport, building a meaningful fandom around new games is difficult. Most of the longest-standing esports like Counter-Strike, League of Legends, and DOTA 2 have been around for years and have maintained an audience and fandom. While there are series that iterate and release new entries like CoD, Street Fighter, and Tekken, those games also maintain the storylines from the previous game’s esports scene.

Creating an esports sensation from scratch isn’t impossible (looking at you, Valorant), but it’s very hard and requires a lot of things to go right. Moreover, people tend to stick with the games they love watching and playing for years and years. Convincing an audience to give attention to other esports, or getting new viewers into esports who don’t traditionally watch them, is a tall order – but not an impossible one.

There is a way to make it easier, though: Use people’s knowledge and passion for traditional sports to ease them into the esports ecosystem. We spoke with Anders Vejrgang, a young prodigy who’s been taking home trophies in the FIFA (now EA FC) series since he was 11, and he’s ecstatic that he’ll finally get a chance to play on a big stage with high stakes.

“Last year, we had [Gamers8] in Saudi Arabia, too. The crowd, they actually supported me for once! (laughs) Usually they’re against me, but this time, they were for me. I’m glad it’s gonna be in Saudi Arabia again. But yeah, when I see the prize pool, I feel like it’s gonna be a big arena again. It’s something that really motivates me. I usually get better when there’s more pressure on, so I’m really looking forward to it. Esports itself will just get bigger.”

And, because the tournament is located in Saudi Arabia, several players in the Middle East and elsewhere now have who now have an opportunity to compete for life-changing prize pools without running into Visa issues.

Tekken god Arslan Ash voiced his frustration about not being able to compete in EVO Japan, and no one from Pakistan was able to make it to the tournament despite being from one of the game’s strongest regions. But, with the Esports World Cup happening so close to him in a place where he and many other Pakistani players can attend, it eliminates the travel issues that have plagued players from the region.

“I never imagined fighting games themselves would become this big, and it’s all thanks to the Esports World Cup. Just its existence is huge. Now everyone in the world is so motivated, and big companies are sponsoring players from all around the world. It’s huge as an ecosystem, it’s good for the teams, good for the players, good for everyone,” Arslan claimed.

“Everyone is working hard. Pakistani people, we’ve always had Visa problems. The Esports World Cup is in Saudi Arabia, so we don’t have any Visa problems,” he explained. “It’s motivating the core community to work harder and not worry about the Visa stuff.”

Apex Legends is yet another esport showing up at the Esports World Cup, and longtime competitor ImperialHal thinks this tournament could be the big step Apex needs to put the ALGS in front of more eyes and take the game’s esports scene to heights it hasn’t yet achieved.

“Having the Esports World Cup is probably the best opportunity we’ve had in Apex in the last five years, ever since the game came out. I think it’s huge, I think everyone should be looking forward to it,” Hal claimed.

The EWC is trying to take out much of the risk involved with esports by doing everything they can to incentivize teams to invest in a variety of esports, even if the org never sees a return. By removing the financial risk from less stable esports, the world’s biggest teams finally have a reason to put time into smaller ecosystems and raise the level of play within those scenes substantially.

Left to right: Arslan Ash (Tekken), ImperialHal (Apex Legends), TGLTN (PUBG), Double (TFT), Anders Vejrgang (EA FC)

This is something that will obviously be good for the players, and will allow them to pursue the games they’re most passionate about.

With all this in mind, we had to ask about why the Esports World Cup exists. What are their goals with this tournament, if not profit? What does the Esports World Cup Foundation hope to achieve?

We spoke with the EWC’s Chief Games Officer, Fabian Scheuermann, to ask about the process of putting together their wide range of games, where he wants to take the tournament in the future, and inclusivity that he hopes will create a bigger place for women in esports despite Saudi Arabia’s past showing otherwise.

Creating an Esports World Cup for everyone

Though there are some games that have a strong global presence like League of Legends, there are others that thrive within their regions and have struggled to grow outside of them. Scheuermann wants to give titles from all around the world a chance to shine.

“We’re doing this for the world, right? And, in order to cover the world correctly, you need to have all the most important AAA games. We’re starting from China with Honor of Kings, down to Free Fire in Latin America, and all the most important AAA global games in between. That is the target, so we needed all of them,” he explained.

He also outlined his vision for the EWC and what he wants to do for the industry. Though esports is more popular than ever, organizations and publishers have also struggled when it comes to turning an actual profit and keeping the scene alive.

“We have one very clear vision. We want to leapfrog the esports industry overall. We want to create sustainable infrastructure for everyone and help all of the stakeholders within the ecosystem. So the players, the clubs, the publishers – who also struggle sometimes with sustainability in esports – and, of course, the fans.”

And, though their current roster of games is already huge, he’s looking to add more next year. He got into some specifics about why Valorant isn’t on the docket, but also hinted that he’s looking into some other big games.

“I will not say which ones, but Valorant is one of them, one of four games I have on our shortlist. We’ve been actively discussing with the publishers. The problem was, specifically for Valorant, that the calendar didn’t fit. It’s impossible with the Valorant calendar without moving and creating big hassle for the players with that. We have a long-term vision, it’s only year one. We can grow.”

And, while talking about new possibilities for the tournament, new games weren’t the only topic that came up. Though there’s one women’s tournament happening at this year’s Esports World Cup, women’s esports is one of the biggest areas Scheuermann wants to expand into next year. There’s already a women’s Mobile Legends Bang Bang tournament, but he wants to do more.

G2-Gozen-roster
Valorant Game Changers is one of the biggest women’s circuits in esports, and Scheuermann wants to get the EWC more involved next year in helping foster the growth of these leagues.

“It’s more the matter of we can’t bring in more this year because we have, logistically, all the games, the calendar. But we’re planning to expand that in the coming years, and you will for sure see more women’s tournaments next year. I can almost guarantee that.”

Team Vitality have already signed a MLBB women’s team ahead of the Esports World Cup, opening the door for more representation and more full-time competitors to spend time honing their craft.

He also specified that women’s means all women, dispelling any idea that trans women wouldn’t be welcome. The same is true of any rumors that characters in games selected that represent LGBTQ+ ideals would be unplayable at the Esports World Cup; this is completely untrue according to Scheuermann, and the values each game represented didn’t influence the games he chose whatsoever.

However, due to Esports World Cup taking place in and being funded by Saudi Arabia, a country that has historically restricted women’s rights and the rights of LGBTQ+ people, there are some who are hesitant to support the tournament and the organizations participating.

Saudi Arabia has come under fire from human rights activists regarding their treatment of women despite their standing in the UN. For instance, 29 year-old Manahel al-Otaibi was jailed in 2024 for going outside without wearing traditional garments and posting about women’s rights activism on social media, something that has caused activists to call for her release.

In response to a question regarding the safety of women travelling to compete, as well as LGBTQ+ people, Scheuermann had this to say: “The kingdom is going through a transformation, everyone is safe. Everyone is welcome. We’ve shown this in the past with other tournaments – and we’ve shown this in the past with diversity tournaments in the kingdom already – that you are safe when you’re travelling there.”

It’s on the esports organizations and game publishers involved to take full advantage of the opportunity they’ve been given. In order to see any real change, they’ll have to keep players and teams that they’ve invested in past just the scope of this event.

The Esports World Cup hasn’t even started yet, but the initiatives around it have already significantly altered the ecosystem by giving the orgs and publishers it’s partnering with a deal that’s too good to refuse.

In an industry that’s historically unstable and notoriously difficult to stay afloat in, the EWC hopes to create a more stable, long-lasting ecosystem that can support the biggest names in esports for decades.

About The Author

Carver is an editor for Dexerto based in Chicago. He finished his screenwriting degree in 2021 and has since dedicated his time to covering League of Legends esports and all other things gaming. He leads League esports coverage for Dexerto, but has a passion for the FGC and other esports. Contact Carver at carver.fisher@dexerto.com