Blizzard is to launch a global World of Warcraft tournament in April, offering cash prizes for the best players in the Arena combat system. The grand prize will be USD 75,000.
The tournament will be played on special servers that allow players to instantly create level 70 characters with "epic" equipment (i.e. the best available), thus levelling the playing field, and placing the emphasis on skill and tactics.
WOW's arenas provide head-to-head, player-versus-player combat for small teams of two, three or five. The first tournament will be for 3-vs-3 matches only.
Each competitor will have to pay an entry fee: EUR 15 (GBP 12) in Europe, KRW 20,000 in South Korea, USD 20 in North America, or NTD 450 (that's New Taiwan Dollars) for Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau.
The tournaments start in April with two rounds of online qualifiers in each of the four regions, running for six weeks. The top four teams from each round will advance to regional finals to compete for USD 27,000 of prizes.
Then the winners from each region will be invited to a global championship event - venue unconfirmed, but Blizzard's Worldwide Invitational in Paris at the end of June would seem likely - to compete for USD 120,000 in prizes, including the USD 75,000 reward for the champions.
Blizzard has long supported the eSports scene, particularly with its RTS games, Warcraft III and Starcraft. The latter is a sensation in South Korea, with matches being televised, and top competitors (who play at a rate of up to 300 actions per minute - that's five clicks per second) achieving the status of pin-ups.
This is the first time the company has based an official tournament around World of Warcraft, though - and indeed, the first instance of a major pro-gaming event based on an MMORPG that we can think of.
"eSports is one of the most exciting facets of online gaming today," said Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime. "We're pleased to expand World of Warcraft's tournament options for players who want to focus mainly on the competitive aspect of the game."