Alibaba enters the e-sports arena with massive tournament

The Chinese e-commerce behemoth will throw its first e-sports tournament ever -- and it'll have a prize pool of $5.5 million.

Artwork from Starcraft II, one of the games that'll be part of Alibaba's newly announced e-sports tournament.

Alibaba, one of the world's largest e-commerce platforms, has jumped onto the e-sports bandwagon.

The company on Wednesday announced the World Electronic Sports Games (WESG) tourney, a worldwide tournament that will begin in April and finish off in December. In e-sports, fans watch skilled computer-gamers compete live or over the Web.

Featuring a variety of popular games, WESG will have a massive prize pool of well over $5.5 million (AU$7.15 million, £3.8 million).

Dota 2, Starcraft 2, Hearthstone and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are among the games that will be part of the tournament. Conspicuous by its absence is the ultrapopular League of Legends, which may have been excluded because it's owned by Alibaba rival TenCent.

E-sports have exploded in recent years and in 2015 hit a viewer base of 134 million people, according to SuperData research. The same firm said the industry was worth nearly $750 million last year, a number that's expected to grow to $1.9 billion in 2018.

Alibaba, meanwhile, is one of China's largest Internet companies and last year made a record $1 billion revenue in 8 minutes. Its entry into the e-sports realm is the latest indicator of the industry's growing mainstream appeal.

Much more is expected to be added to the $5.5 million base prize pool through crowdsourcing. The prize money is already among the largest in e-sports, even when not taking into account the potential crowdsourced dollars.