EA’s “Apex Legends” is getting an esports series, and the first competition will be held in January 2020.

Fresh off winning best multiplayer title at The Game Awards last week, EA announced an open format tournament series for the battle royale game with four types of events, ranging from online tournaments to big ticket global live events.

Officially called the Apex Legends Global Series, the events will carry a total prize pool of $3 million.

“There are no guaranteed slots … anybody can participate,” said Todd Sitrin, vice president and general manager of EA’s competitive gaming division, contrasting the series to franchised leagues with professional players. Eligible players for Apex must live in one of 60 approved countries and meet minimum age and PC processing requirements.

The decision to forgo franchises and professional players is in line with other EA esports titles, such as Madden NFL and FIFA, as well as Epic Games’s competing battle royale, Fortnite. It differs however from franchised leagues with professional players, such as those for Blizzard’s Overwatch and Riot Games’s League of Legends and Activision’s Call of Duty League.

Sitrin said the series will include 12 live events, an additional 10 online tournaments, and other events that have yet to be announced.

Gamers, who must be at at least 16 years old — unless they live in Japan (17), Russia (18) or South Korea (18) — will start in online tournaments and live Challenger Events, fighting for a chance to earn a spot in the Premier and Major Events. The live events will fall into three tiers, in ascending order of prestige: Challenger Events, Premier Events and Majors. In Challenger Events, players will compete against other competitors from their own country. Premier Events will be set at the regional level— think North American or Europe. Those players with the highest points totals in online and live events will be invited to Majors, the series’ marquee events. The first major is scheduled for March 13-15, 2020.

There will be a total of four Majors, ending with the Apex Legends Global Series Championship, the crowning tournament of the series. Each Major will include 100 squads, each consisting of three players.

“It is a game that is built for competition,” said Sitrin of the Respawn title, noting it was crafted with an eye towards both gameplay and spectating.

EA hopes to build on the two esports series it currently runs, the Madden NFL Championship Series and the FIFA eWorld Cup. Another series, for FIFA Online 4, a free-to-play version of FIFA in Asia, was announced yesterday.

From a broadcast and streaming perspective, Sitrin said EA has learned to focus on three main elements, namely educating viewers on how they can improve their own abilities, showcasing the personalities of competitors and offering viewers a surprise in some regard.

For Apex, that surprise, or differentiating factor, according to Sitrin, is the Match Point format. Match Point, which was introduced in September’s Preseason Invitational in Poland forces squads to attain a certain number of points, derived from how well they place and number of kills in a round, as a condition of winning. It is only after this point limit is met that a squad’s victory in a match will enable them to win.

Like EA’s other esports properties, Sitrin said some Apex events will be broadcast on linear TV in addition to digital distribution, but declined to say which network will air it and which events will be shown.

Even as EA has experience with esports, Madden and FIFA trail far behind the two biggest U.S. franchised leagues and Fortnite in terms of viewership. The League of Legends World Championship had almost 4 million peak viewers this year and Fortnite’s World Cup Finals had 2.3 million. By contrast, the Madden NFL 19 Bowl had about 97,000 peak viewers and FIFA eWorld Cup had about 244,000, according for Esports Charts.

Still, Madden NFL more than tripled its view count from the previous year’s high and FIFA drew more than twice as many views from the 2018 eWorld Cup. Both games are among the highest selling game franchises of all-time.

For Apex, just like any other battle royale game, Fortnite remains the top property, with its $100 million competitive prize pool — including a $3 million grand prize at last summer’s Fortnite World Cup — and the most mainstream cultural relevance of any esports title, with traditonal pro athletes doing in-game dance moves, top gamers playing with celebrities like Drake, and in-game collaborations (and advertisements) with Star Wars, Marvel, NFL and even Nerf.

“We don’t spend a lot of time talking about individual franchises and how we have to separate ourselves out,” Sitrin said when asked about competing with Fortnite.

Fans of Apex Legends have been waiting for a more structured competitive series to emerge since the game launched in February with 10 million players in its first 3 days — besting Fortnite when it launched. Apex Legends would top all free-to-play games with its $92 million haul, according to SuperData, in its first month.

However, despite such heights, the game lost steam a few months later, as SuperData reported a 74 percent decline in revenue in late May, with data analyst StreamElements reporting a 75 percent drop in peak viewership that same month.

But EA hopes the competitive series announcement, the win at The Game Awards, and the Match Point format will help Apex Legends continue its recent gains, which include seeing its best revenue month, in October, since the game was released, according to SuperData.

Ultimately, Sitrin said, the success of the endeavor, much like in entertainment or traditional sports, will ride on being able to elicit “reaction” and “emotion” from viewers and establishing a “connection to players.”

“In the end, esports is about people, and it’s about story lines, about what is compelling entertainment," Sitrin said. “The best players in the world are going to be on a stage and we’re going to make sure the world knows who these people are.”

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