The Esports World Cup Foundation announced the Esports World Cup Club Program, a financial incentive scheme to compensate teams for fielding multiple rosters in games that will have a presence at the Esports World Cup (the new name for the Saudi Arabian multi-week Gamers8 festival) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, this summer. Twenty-two organizations (22) were directly invited to the program (though not formally revealed), while an additional six can apply for inclusion until Feb. 15.
According to its initial announcement, the EWC Program is available to 28 clubs worldwide—22 that have been directly invited by the EWC, and six that will be accepted through a vetted open application process.
Organizations applying to be one of the six applicants are expected to demonstrate a “track record with a long-term strategy in the esports industry, have demonstrated the ability to build teams in one or more esport titles, and have the ability to engage with a global fanbase,” according to the EWC’s official announcement.
Further, the EWC notes that organizations “accepted into the Program that show competitive excellence, draw the most viewership, and generate social engagement leading up to and during the World Cup will be eligible for an annual six-figure payout.”
The Application Process
The EWC will process applications following the Feb. 15 deadline and select an undetermined number of potentially viable organizations for a “short list.” Those applicants will be invited “to expand upon their initial application with additional details and context.” This will be followed by a “pitch phase,” where applicants “will be asked to summarize their submissions to the selection committee in a live setting.” The selection committee will use these live pitch sessions and previously submitted information to then select the final six organizations for the program.
Looking at the actual application questions (found here), the EWC is looking for applicants to explain how participation in EWC fits with their overall vision or strategy and how being part of the program would help them enter into new esports titles.
Other criteria EWC is looking for include the esports titles a club is currently active in, its top three players, and the total number of followers on social media and streaming platforms (Twitter/X, TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, and other active platforms not listed such as Kick). The number of followers on these platforms is important, as the goal is to grow awareness for its 2024 event and get more international viewers to tune in for the multi-week competitions.
It should be noted that teams selected in the program are not guaranteed a spot at the Esports World Cup—even if they receive stimulus money; teams that want to compete in international competitions for games such as Dota 2, Counter-Strike 2, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, and other titles, will still have to earn their spots by competing and winning to get there.
Clubs accepted into the Esports World Cup Program will be eligible for an “annual six-figure payout directly tied to the clubs’ competitive performance and ability to drive viewership and fan engagement,” according to the announcement. This year the program will also offer a “one-time stimulus” to the teams that want to enter into new esports titles to compete in a cross-game tournament.
Gamers8 offered a similar one-time stimulus, but the amount being offered to clubs in 2024 is substantially more, according to sources we spoke to. According to our sources, the 28 organizations will have access to up to $600K USD each, depending on hitting certain milestones and how many esports titles they are capable of competing in. In total, that’s around up to $16.8M that has been allocated by the Esports World Cup Foundation for this initiative in 2024.
Sources who spoke to esports journalist Richard Lewis this week claim the following on how some of that money will be distributed:
For a select number of people “chosen” by the Esports World Cup, they will be given a one-time cash injection, irrespective of what is referenced in the previous statement, for the mere act of wanting to enter into another esports title that the Esports World Cup will host tournaments for. Or, putting it another way, they will pay for their partners to pick up a team in a discipline they don’t already represent. These numbers have not been publicly made available but multiple sources have stated that they range from $100,000 – $300,000 depending on the game. And understand this isn’t a business transaction in the traditional sense, it’s just a one-off payment for organizations that theoretically might not even qualify for the World Cup itself.
TEA could not independently verify these numbers.
The stimulus is meant to entice teams in the program to field multiple rosters in esports that are part of the Esports World Cup. Team Vitality, which is likely one of the 22 teams directly invited into the program, announced that it will field a StarCraft II roster, for example. Guild Esports also recently announced that it has signed a Counter-Strike 2 roster. The idea is that teams will compete in multiple esports titles to gain an overall score based on a to-be-announced points system and ultimately be crowned the overall champion of the event – details on that are still forthcoming. One of the big tells of who has already been accepted into this incentive program will be announcements on new rosters in games we already know are part of the Esports World Cup, though all of the official titles have not been announced, and from what we have been told some publishers are still negotiating terms with the Esports World Cup Foundation.
While all of the games that will be present have not been announced, we do know that—as part of the ESL FACEIT Group’s regular circuits for StarCraft II and Counter-Strike 2—there will be stops at the multi-week, multi-discipline esports event. EFG announced recently that the 2024 ESL Pro Tour Championship will take place at the Esports World Cup in Riyadh this summer.
Other officially announced games include Mobile Legends: Bang Bang—which will host its championship in Riyadh this year—and Dota 2. EFG announced plans to funnel winners of Dota 2 Pro Tour Season 2 events for 2024 into a Riyadh Masters event—much like it did at Gamers8 last year—but this time around it is an official stop on the calendar. EFG plans to host DreamLeague events (DreamLeague Season 22 and Season 23) and ESL One events that lead directly into the Riyadh Masters this summer.
Likely (But Not Confirmed) Game Candidates
It is not beyond the realm of possibility that games that were a part of Gamers8 in 2023 (the predecessor to the Esports World Cup run by the Saudi Esports Federation) could make a return to the Esports World Cup in 2024. Those games included TEKKEN 7, EA SPORTS FC 2024 (EA’s replacement for its FIFA games), PUBG, PUBG Mobile, Rainbow Six Siege, RENNSPORT, Street Fighter 6, and Rocket League.
TEA reached out to Epic Games to ask if it was negotiating with the Esports World Cup Foundation to include Rocket League and Fortnite in this year’s event, but it did not respond to a request for comment, at the time of this writing.
Given that Savvy Games Group owns a 96% ownership stake in Japanese game developer SNK, we might see a competition around its most popular fighting games such as King of Fighters, as well.
Speculation: Other Possibilities
And while it has not been announced, we imagine that the Overwatch Champions Series announced at the end of January that is being operated by Saudi-owned ESL FACEIT Group (EFG) could hypothetically make a stop at the Esports World Cup—at the very least, for the EMEA region (which includes Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa).
Given Activision Blizzard’s newfound relationship with EFG, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that we could also see some kind of Call of Duty or Warzone presence during the Esports World Cup as well, given that high-profile Call of Duty pros like Scump and other Call of Duty content creators are actively promoting it in the West. It would not be much of a leap to believe that some sort of exhibition or show match might be planned.
TEA reached out to Activision Blizzard prior to the publication of this story to ask if it is currently in negotiations with the Esports World Cup Foundation, but the company has not responded to our request for comment, at the time of this writing.
Riot Games is considering a League of Legends exhibition competition during the Esports World Cup as well (a fact it confirmed in January), but as this would likely be a one-off event, it would be unlikely that it would be part of this incentive program.
A Riot Games spokesperson reiterated its statement from Jan. 2 in an email on Sunday, noting that—while the company is still exploring options to work with third-parties (including the Esports World Cup), it has not finalized any plans. The statement from Jan. 2:
We’ve been evaluating our approach to third-party events. Done right, third-party tournaments could provide teams and pro players additional, optional competitive opportunities as well as new revenue streams. We also know fans have been asking for more international and cross-regional tournaments, and while these events wouldn’t be operated by Riot, we think they could be part of delivering on that request, in addition to competitions we produce.
Last year’s Asian Games was one great example of the positive impact third-party events can have on our esports, and we think there’s room for more if planned thoughtfully. We’ve been in conversations with various tournament organizers — including the Esports World Cup — about unlocking teams’ participation in such events. We’re in active exploration of these opportunities, including if and when they can fit within the 2024 calendar, but nothing has been confirmed at this time. We’ll have more information to share as we complete the evaluation process.
TEA also reached out to Electronic Arts to ask if it was currently negotiating with the Esports World Cup Foundation to bring EA Sports FC 24 and/or Apex Legends esports competitions to the event this summer, but the company did not respond to a request for comment at the time of this writing.
EFG is a wholly owned subsidiary of Savvy Games Group, which is in turn owned by the Saudi Arabian government’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund. EFG owns and operates a number of tournament organizers and broadcast production companies including DreamHack, ESL, FACEIT, Esports Engine, and Vindex. Further, the Esports World Foundation derives funding from the PIF and is (as far as we know) still directly tied to the Saudi Esports Federation.
The Esports World Cup will be a multi-title, multi-week competition held on an annual basis during the summer, but precise details on which publishers, game makers, and teams will be involved have not been disclosed. The event will replace the Saudi Esports Federation’s other big event, Gamers8, which featured an overall prize pool of more than $45M in 2023. The event is operated by the Esports World Cup Foundation, a non-profit backed by the Saudi government.