Update: We've added day two and three of Ric's diary to the story. You can find them by clicking the link at the bottom of the article.
Nothing in Dubai feels real. The skyline is filled with giant buildings, lit up like Christmas trees at night. I haven't seen a hotel so far that's been smaller than at least 15 stories. I thought my sixth-floor flat in Sheffield was pretty big. It's nothing compared to this.
You've got The World, an archipelago built to look like a map of Earth. The Burj Khalifa and Burj Al Arab, almost impossibly tall in the distance. And everything's always so clean. No cigarette butts on the floor, no litter of any kind. Like no one's set foot anywhere in the city, despite the thousands upon thousands of people wandering around.
Inside the Festival Arena, the home of the 2018 PUBG Mobile Star Challenge Finals, this unreality is exacerbated. An enormous catwalk protrudes from a huge stage, fitted with three cinema-sized screens. Twenty shipping containers are stacked along the sides, each housing four players on super-comfy gaming chairs, each with a new Samsung Galaxy Note 9 in their hands.
Indoor fireworks burst up from the ground as dancers pour onto the catwalk from behind the stage or by jumping down from the top of a crate, mock fighting to energetic tunes blaring out of powerful hidden speakers. Even though I'm right there in the arena, it feels like I'm just watching a movie.
It's extravagant for a game which is only around 9 months old. PUBG Mobile launched worldwide in March 2018, and here, in November 2018, we're watching twenty teams fight for a prize pool of $402,000.
One of the other press folk remarks that this is Tencent making a statement. Look, they're saying. You could be here, playing your favourite mobile game in one of the most opulent cities in the world, trying to win your share of $402,000. And this is just the beginning.
But underneath all the fireworks and dry ice and booming music, there's an almost unwelcome reality. Teams of people backstage keeping the servers alive, others watching the broadcast to make sure it doesn't drop out at any point. Caterers, cleaners, security everywhere.
And, of course, the players themselves. Past experience with esports tournaments suggested that the majority of players would be mere teenagers, blessed with good eyesight and quick reflexes, along with the time and lack of responsibilities to focus on just playing a video game for ten hours a day.
PUBG Mobile seems to have attracted a different audience. Two members of international team Full Send are parents who are sorely missing their children. I ask what they'd do with the $50,000 they'd get if they won the competition. They both say they'd put a down payment on a house.
One of US team Cloud9 is a car salesman by day. He's so far spent around $1,500 on loot crates out of his own cash because he wants to get legendary items and it's only $2 a try. I don't dare ask what he'd spend $50,000 on.
It's a weird disconnect to the lights and sounds and explosions. Sometimes you forget that real, actual people are playing these games, human beings with families and debt and anxieties you might never find out about. And there they are, playing a video game for large sums of money.
A player named Rolex helps push this unwanted real world away. Rolex is so called because he owns two Rolex watches and was struggling to come up with a name for himself. So now he's called Rolex. I hope he does well and buys himself another Rolex.
The PUBG Mobile Star Challenge Final continues later today. You can catch up on all seven hours of yesterday on the Twitch stream below.