The Asia-Pacific region will soon be home to the most lucrative professional table tennis league in the world, when the new T2 Asia-Pacific (T2 Apac) kicks off its inaugural season next year.
While the roster of players has yet to be finalised, the line-up of 24 is expected to feature some of the world's best (12 men, 12 women) competing in men's, women's and mixed-team events.
Its prize purse of US$1.5 million (S$2.06 million) far surpasses any of the events on the International Table Tennis Federation's (ITTF) professional circuit, with the World Tour Grand Finals the richest event at US$500,000.
Hong Kong will host the first season from July to December next year, in between breaks on the existing professional table tennis calendar, before the league moves to a new host country in subsequent seasons.
With endorsement from both the ITTF and the Asian Table Tennis Union, T2 Apac is headquartered in Singapore and will make table tennis the latest sport to inspire spin-offs from its traditional format.
Alternative formats of cricket (Twenty20) and tennis (International Premier Tennis League) have also been introduced in recent years to capture new audiences.
Some of the world's best 24 male and female paddlers will compete in the T2 Apac.
T2 Apac, the brainchild of Shanghainese entrepreneur Frank Ji, will be made for digital consumers, with matches played and shot entirely in studios instead of stadiums.
To make the game more spectator-friendly, it will incorporate slow-motion presentation while adopting a player draft and unique scoring system. Time limits will also be imposed on each match.
ITTF president Thomas Weikert welcomed the addition of an event that he hoped would help the sport gain greater popularity.
He said: "Just in the last few years, interest and participation in the sport has grown tremendously all over the world. We wish T2 Apac the best of luck with their plans to become a successful league and boost the sport in the Asia-Pacific region."
While it will be based in the region, the league will also be represented by players from beyond the Asia-Pacific. It has appointed world No. 9 Vladimir Samsonov as its director of player operations.
The Belarusian is hoping to use the league as a platform to help paddlers become bigger sports personalities. He told The Straits Times he is confident the project will gain support from players to officials because it is "special".
Samsonov, who lost the singles third-place play-off at the Rio Olympics to Japanese Jun Mizutani, said: "The calendar is always full but there are ways to fit it in. At the end, we want only the best for table tennis, to make it bigger, to give players more opportunities, to give fans more opportunities to know players.
"It's for the good of table tennis. I think we will all profit in the end."