Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba has announced it is to make a play for the growing e-sports industry, which is expected to be worth an estimated US$1.9 billion by 2018, CNET reports.
Alibaba's move into the sector comes in the shape of the World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) tourney, a worldwide tournament that will begin in April and finish off in December.
The firm will expect brand exposure from those tuning in over the Web to watch the tournament, with AliSports spearheading Alibaba's bid to boost its share of China's lucrative sports industry.
"Sports is a multi-billion dollar business in China, with massive growth potential. That is why Alibaba is investing heavily in this vertical," AliSports chief executive Zhang Dazhong said, according to a statement on the YuuZoo website.
E-sports have rocketed in popularity in recent years, ending 2015 with a viewer base of 134 million people, according to SuperData research. It predicts that the US$750-million industry will more than double in size by 2018.
Brand advertising accounts for 77% of the market, with the rest made up of e-sports betting, prize pools, amateur and micro-tournaments as well as merchandise and ticket sales, SuperData said.
Alibaba will stump up US$5.5 million in prize money for WESG, which will be boosted by crowdsourcing, making it one of the largest prize pools in e-sports.
The entry of Alibaba, one of China's largest Internet companies which last year made a record $1 billion revenue in 8 minutes, into the e-sports realm is the latest indicator of the industry's growing mainstream appeal, CNET notes.