Electronic Arts today launched its new e-sports video game tournament, exclusively on the Playstation 3. The EA Sports Challenge Series is designed to determine the most skilled Madden NFL 12, NHL 2 and FIFA 12 players, and is offering cash prizes of up to $140,000 to the best players.

The tournament qualifiers are running from now until March 12 2012, allowing gamers to compete against each other from the comfort of their own home. Entry to the tournament costs $10, and players winning six games in a row will progress to the live final in New York.

Virgin Gaming is hosting the tournament, and gamers that want to compete can register and participate immediately. Although $10 will buy you base level entry, it is possible to fast track your way to the finals, by buying into higher level matches, for an additional fee. Sports game fans with deep pockets can even stump up $448 to bypass the qualifying stages completely, and head straight for the finals.

Rob Segal, chief operating officer of Virgin Gaming, explained the reasoning behind the large cash pot on offer “Virgin Gaming is earning a reputation for hosting the biggest gaming tournaments, but our members have been asking for even larger prize pools. That’s what drove the creation of the EA Sports Challenge Series; the idea came from them.”

Public awareness of competitive e-Sports is still pretty low, something of which Billy Levy, president of Virgin Gaming, is acutely aware:  “I believe the public understands that people play competitively, but I don’t think they realize the scale of some of these tournaments. Players are making real money competing, with some tournaments offering up one million in cash.”

Major League Gaming has a professional e-sports league, which recently recorded record viewing figures of more than 3.5 million. This EA and Virgin Gaming initiative, by contrast, seems to be aimed at all gamers, regardless of  their previous experience of competitive online gaming.

Levy obviously believes that the time is now right for competitive gaming to reach a wider audience, saying that “Once people realize that Virgin Gaming is an extension to their gaming experience, similar to an in game add-on or a DLC update, you will really start to see the shift.”