LONDON (Reuters) – Formula One has more than doubled the prize money for this year’s esports world championship, with the virtual teams racing for a very real pot of $500,000 (£381,534) compared to last year’s $200,000.
The series, which starts on April 8 and has New Balance as title sponsor, will also have more races than last year’s competition which the sport said was watched by 5.5 million viewers.
The Pro Draft, from which teams must select at least one of their drivers, will take place in July with four live events — one more than last year — between September and December to decide the champion and winning team.
Britain’s Brendon Leigh has won the title for the past two years, in 2018 with the team of real life world champions Mercedes.
The top team in 2018 took home $50,000, with the runners-up $40,000 and third placed outfit $34,000. Nine of the 10 teams — all but Ferrari — took part.
Formula One did not give details for the breakdown of the 2019 prize pot.
“We are committed to exponential growth in the world of esports, and as a result the 2019 season is going to be even bigger and better,” said Formula One’s managing director Sean Bratches.
“Having more than doubled the prize fund, we plan to attract even more talent to the series and to continue the upward trajectory we are on.”
The esports championship will also follow Formula One’s lead in awarding an extra point for the fastest race lap from this season.
There will also be greater Chinese involvement, with a Chinese championship to launch later this year.
“The China Championship will give a select number of the fastest and most skilled Chinese gamers automatic entry into the prestigious Pro Draft in 2020,” Formula One said.
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)