Epic Games will provide $100 million in prize money to various esports tournaments for its hit game Fortnite throughout the 2018-19 calendar year, the developer announced on Monday.
Epic did not announce what tournament organizing partners or other details about its plan to make a splash into esports, although it said it plans "to be more inclusive, and focused on the joy of playing and watching the game."
The news is the first time the AAA publisher will provide support for Fortnite competitive play, which launched its battle royale game mode for Windows, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in September. Epic then released a mobile version for iOS in April, with plans to launch an Android version in the coming months. The $100 million prize pool would shatter the record for the most money awarded in a year for one title, which is held by Valve's Dota 2 at roughly $35 million over several tournaments in 2017.
In April, internet giant Tencent announced it would invest 100 million Chinese yuan ($15.75 million) in Fortnite esports, marketing and infrastructure in China. That company acquired distribution rights for Fortnite, adding to its ever-growing portfolio that includes League of Legends, Arena of Valor and others. Tencent is a 48.4 percent stakeholder in Epic Games and a content partner of ESPN.
The large financial commitment comes after Fortnite became one of the most played video games in the world, both for players and for spectators.
According to Epic, the game had over 45 million players in January. It is the most popular game in the battle royale genre, with a total market share of 16.3 percent -- more than its competitors, PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds and H1Z1 -- according to data aggregated by Newzoo.
In May, Fortnite was the highest-viewed game on Twitch, with a total of 127.9 million hours consumed by viewers, per data company Statista. This charge has been led by a number of streamers, including Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, a former competitive Halo player, who broke the individual Twitch stream viewing count with a total of 628,000 concurrent users during a livestream with rappers Drake and Travis Scott and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in March.
A number of amateur Fortnite tournaments and events have seen success. On Friday, YouTuber Daniel "Keemstar" Keem and UMG Events hosted a tournament that featured a number of professional Fortnite players, Ninja and influencers like Logan Paul. Other events, like one Ninja hosted at Esports Arena in Las Vegas in April, also gained a significant amount of traction by livestream viewers.